What is the Value of Social Presence in Online Learning?
When a student learns online, he is physically
distanced from his peers and instructor. Depending on the design of the course that can lead
to a rather isolating experience. Now when we reframe the process of learning
from the formalized classroom experience and start to imagine learning as a real life and
lifelong process, the role that social interactions play in oneÕs development of knowledge, skills,
and abilities is clear. Learning is simply a social process. And when learning occurs in physical isolation
from oneÕs peers and teacher and a learner engages purely through computer-mediated experiences,
that digital landscape must be designed to create that socialization. Learning in isolation week after week, month
after month is not only unenjoyable, it can prevent students from moving from surface
learning to deep learning and increase the likelihood of a student dropping a class. But not all online classes are the same and
as an online instructor you have an opportunity to make some important decisions about the
flavor of your online class. So, is it going to be like a fast food experience?
The information is communicated clearly and tasks are achieved in a very timely, efficient
manner. In this type of class the objectives are mastered and the learner will move on.
But we might want to pause and ask ourselves, ÒIs this the type of experience that will
inspire a person to take a new path in life or transform an individualÕs way of seeing
the world?Ó Is this what we refer to as deep learning? Or are you going to create an online class
that is more like a rich, community-centered gathering? Is your class going to be fueled
by relevant activities that invite learners to identify and share real-life experiences
or examples? Is your class going to cultivate an appreciation for the diversity of the learners
enrolled and welcome them into a community in which they each are encouraged and expected
to give and take? The choice is yours. But, at this point, whatÕs critical to the
development of your recipe is understanding the ingredients of a rich, community-oriented
online learning experience, as well as forming an awareness of the improvements community-oriented
online classes can have on student learning. The first ingredient in developing a community-oriented
online class is instructor presence. This ingredient requires an instructor who is visible,
actively engaged in the flow of the learning, and demonstrates an awareness and sensitivity
to the diversity of student needs. Instructor presence plays an important role in motivating
and engaging online learners week after week. The second ingredient is social presence. As you can see from these excerpts from online
teaching literature, experts have differing perspectives on how to define social presence.
But in its most simple essence, social presence is the opposite of the feeling of being alone.
When a student experiences a high degree of social presence in an online class, she associates
herself as being part of a group, she experiences a sense of belonging, she is aware that other
real people with their own unique thoughts, feelings and perspectives are involved in
the learning process with her. Perhaps whatÕs most fascinating about social
presence is the demonstrated impact it has on improving the online learning experience.
When social presence is fostered, student satisfaction increases, the voluntary interactions
between students improve, and students identify an increase in their depth of learning, as