Social Presence in E-learning

Fully online learning environments pose many challenges. Deciding on the best teaching practices can be a difficult task. Technology is constantly evolving and e-learning environments differ in many ways compared to on-site and hybrid learning. However, e-learning research provides evidence to help plan on flipping some challenges into opportunities. The focus of this posting is on the benefits of instructors practicing social presence in their e-learning classrooms and how that benefits learning. 

A common challenge in fully e-learning classrooms instructor’s knowledge limitations. There is commonly a problem of lacking evidence-based research to support best higher education e-learning practices (Bo & Fu, 2018) . Also, institutions can lack internal e-learning support to assist with learning technologies and pedagogy; for example, instructional designers are resourceful experts in pedagogy and way to utilize technologies purposefully. Many instructors can mistakenly “copy and paste” on-site or hybrid teaching into the fully online classroom (Hibbert, 2015). Online classrooms require consideration for how the social distance of the space impacts and changes the way learning happens.

However, researched based evidence is providing exciting opportunities to learn how to and re-image teaching online. E-learning has existed and evolved for a number of decades (Bonk, Lee, Kou, Xu, & Sheu, 2014; Hibbert, 2015). Due to recent consequences of Covid-19, the influx of e-learning has undeniably increased. This has shed light onto the need to understand how 21st century fully online learning can best be supported. The communication of Ideas and knowledge within a digital social milieu shift (Faiella, 2013). Evidence suggests that utilizing technologies such as voice recording and video can establish social presence.

In addition, e-learning has grown dependent on learning management systems (LMS). Instructors and students can experience data privacy and organization of classroom content in LMS. Also, multimodal tools to record voice and video content can be easily integrated. Fully online courses lack in-person connection and physical movement communication cues. An instructor that implements audio and visuals of themselves to learners can establish more connection. Learners will develop a perception of the instructor caring for the student; thus, inducing a learner’s positive attitudes to be experienced. Instructor’s social presence can also help with alleviating anxiety in an online classroom (Paolo, Wakefield, Mills, & Baker, 2017; “Best Practices”, n.d.). Instructors can decide, build, and implement a number of ways for learner’s to experience social experience in an LMS environment.

Instructors can decide on how the communication nodal pathway of interactions will work in their online classroom. Instructors should consider multimodal ways to communicate for greetings or assessments. Instructors can also consider how learners’ exposure to social presence can be expanded also through peer interactions. Collaborative communication can increase the amount of nodal connection among peers; thus, Zygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development can be practiced. Learners typically reach higher cognitive understanding through exposure to multiple perspectives. For example, collaborative activities can range from analyzing case study discussions, evaluation critiques, creating projects, and application of knowledge in simulations. An instructor can choose to integrate social presence in a number of ways to best support learning. 

Online learning environments require different considerations for learners compared to on-site and hybrid learning. Online classrooms can greatly benefit from the inclusion of social presence from the instructor and peers. Communication technologies that integrate with LMS provide opportunity for multimodal interactions. Learners can communicate in a number of ways that can increase their positive attitudes, while alleviating anxiety. However, it is strongly recommended to include a form of communication expectations in the syllabus (“Best Teaching”, n.d.); thus, learners will know what to expect from your online teaching philosophy. Also, feel free to reach out to instructional designers to assist in pedagogical strategies.


Best practices (n.d.),

Bo, W. V., & Fu, M. (2018). How is learning motivation shaped under different contexts: An ethnographic study in the changes of adult learner’s motivational beliefs and behaviors within a foreign language course. Frontiers in Psychology.

Bonk, Curt & Lee, Mimi & Kou, Xiaojing & Xu, Shuya & Sheu, Feng-Ru. (2015). Understanding the self-directed online learning preferences, goals, achievements, and challenges of MIT opencourseware subscribers. Educational Technology & Society. 18. 349-365. 

Faiella, F. (2013). Knowledge, networks and learning theories. Knowledge Cultures, 1(6), 107.

Hibbert, M. C. (2015). Student experiences with instructional videos in online learning environments. Teachers College, Columbia University.Paolo, T. D., Wakefield, J. S., Mills, L. A., & Baker, L. (2017). Lights, camera, action: Facilitating the design and production of effective instructional videos. Tech Trends, 61(5), 452-460.