Getting to Know Your Learners

The need for inclusion and feeling like you belong to a group is a primary neurological need. A sense of belonging (or lack thereof) has long been shown to be a primary reward/threat for the human brain.

Activities for Getting to Know the Learners

Begin the semester by establishing a community of learners with a focus on engagement. Here are some examples of the different ways you can learn more about the learners in your course.

  • Prepare a welcome letter with an option for students to respond
  • Request and compile introductory biographies from students
  • Survey students to find out more about their past learning experiences and preferences
  • Schedule small group or one-on-one introductory meetings
  • Make time for Icebreaker activities in the first few classes
  • Use online polls in class to identify shared characteristics, learning preferences, and opinions among student.

Get to Know Your Learners’ Needs and Expectations

The following questions can be embedded into ”‘Getting to Know You”’ activities to provide insight into who your learners are and about their needs and expectations.

  • Are they all ready to learn? How do we know?
  • Are they always prepared? Why/why not?
  • Do your students feel like they belong? Why/why not?
  • What is your role in your students’ learning and educational experiences?
  • Do they have reliable internet connections?
  • Do they have the necessary equipment and environment to succeed in face-to-face and/or online classes?

Get to Know Your Humber Students – Adaptable Survey

The following set of questions will help you get a better sense of who your learners are, why they are in your class, and what their expectations and preferences are around learning. In turn, you will be better able to align your content and lesson approaches to the needs in the room.

Note: We adapted some of the questions found here from a survey developed by Jessica O’Reilly at Cambrian College. You can find her her original survey linked here.


First, consider when and how you would like to share this survey with students (e.g., prior to the first class, in the first class, or after the first class). Think about using a survey tool like Microsoft Forms to format your survey so that you can easily share the survey link in an email to students. However, you could also collect student responses on paper forms during an in-person class.


Determine if you would like to make the survey anonymous or if you would like to connect student names to their responses. Keep in mind that students might be more open to sharing honestly if the survey is anonymous. If you would like to identify students, consider asking for their pronouns and preferred names as part of the survey questions. If you plan to keep the survey anonymous, think about a separate first-day activity where you can gather student names and pronouns.


Next, decide what kinds of questions you want to ask your students. Be strategic. A survey with too many open response boxes or numerous questions will have lower engagement than a brief survey that students can complete in 10-15 minutes. Reflect on what you would really like to know and what responses would be useful to your course planning. Be sure to communicate with students the value of sharing their responses with you and how you plan to use their feedback to design and deliver learning experiences that meet their needs and expectations.

Adaptable Survey Questions

You can access the Learner Preference Survey below.

Learner Preference Survey

You may want to aim for 5 -10 questions, but the types of questions you choose will impact the length of the survey (e.g., short answer vs. multiple choice). Think about completing the survey yourself or sharing it with a colleague to test how long it will take before sending it to students.

Feel free to modify any of these questions to suit your purposes and add questions of your own. Keep in mind that you should avoid asking questions that would violate student privacy (e.g., asking for a cell phone number or questions about disabilities).