Social Presence

An elderly man says "since we are classmates, I thought I would just join you" to a younger peer.

Social presence, the second factor in the community of inquiry model, refers to “the ability of participants to project their personal characteristics into the community, thereby presenting themselves to the other participants as ‘real people’” (Garrison et al., 1999, p. 32). Social presence allows learners to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings and experiences with their peers. While social presence is sometimes considered to simply be peer interaction; however, that is an erroneous interpretation, and social presence is impacted by more than just interaction (Joo et al., 2011).

The MOOC provided multiple opportunities for learners to connect with each other in order to create an engaging learning experience. The “Welcome forum” at the beginning of the course encouraged learners to share their personal stories, read the personal stories of others, and create a shared experience with a global learning community. Throughout the entirety of the course, learners were able to share their thoughts and ask questions of and with their peers through various avenues:

  • Replying to posts on the discussion forum
  • Collaborating with one another through Padlet
  • Following each other on social media, as well as follow and tweet the course-specific hashtag
  • Posting in the course Q&A forum

The MOOC also encouraged learners to set up their profile on the Canvas platform. Setting up a profile would mean that every discussion post would be accompanied by a photo of the author, adding an additional element of social presence to the discussion forums.

Overall, this MOOC sets an excellent standard for connected and collaborative learning. Both of the authors enrolled in online courses that utilized LMS platforms while completing their respective undergraduate degrees. In these instances, social presence was relatively low: discussions seemed limited, there were no collaborative tasks, and limited to no opportunities for students to connect: a truly passive learning experience. This was not the case in this MOOC.

The following suggested recommendations only add to the already successful level of social presence demonstrated by this MOOC:

  • In the “Welcome forum” discussion post, learners could be encouraged to upload a small video, audio clip, or link to a personal digital media account (i.e. Twitter, Instagram, TikTok or a personal blog) along with sharing their personal story to further increase possible connections.
  • Synchronous video-conferencing, using platforms such as Zoom, could be introduced more regularly, and could be used to foster conversations between learners instead of being used to deliver a lecture. This tool has transformative capabilities, including creating breakout rooms for small group discussion, chat messaging within the video to allow for multiple communication streams, streaming in through audio-only, and screen sharing so that learners and instructors can work through any complexities, share resources, and work collaboratively as part of one learning community.


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Learning To Learn Online Copyright © by Nicole Crozier and Joanna Lake is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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