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When thinking about online learning, many are likely to see the issue with some suspicion.

Adapting to novelty or innovation might take us out of our comfort zone. Certainly, authentic learning is disruptive. We might also think that an online course may be bad, easy or fruitless in comparison with a traditional course. It may indeed be the case. However, the same is also true for a conventional course. Ultimately, it all depends on the design of the course, the curriculum and the instructor.

A well designed course is based upon solid pedagogical principles regardless of physical or virtual space. For instance, authentic learning principles can be applied to both traditional and online education. On a following post we will discuss design issues, but we will now focus on the instructor.

Literature acknowledges the significance of teacher immediacy behaviors in students’ learning. Several studies have associated this behaviors with enhanced learning outcomes. High teacher immediacy have significant impact on affective and cognitive learning and is has also been associated with increased student motivation.

Teacher immediacy is related to social presence. Social presence theory is used to give context to behavior, relationships and interactions within the context of mediated communication. It is defined as the degree to which learners perceive others as real within this context. Social presence is comprised of the following indicators:

Immediacy: T​he amount of “perceived physical and/or psychological closeness between people”. Immediacy is characterized by the teacher’s verbal and nonverbal gestures such as smiling, nodding, voice inflection, etc. (individualized feedback, personalized exchanges, use of inclusive language, concern for others).

Interactivity: The quality and quantity of communication between teacher and student, and students to students. (between learner and instructor; learner and learner; and learner and content).

Intimacy: A sense of connection one feels in a close relationship. The depth of self­-disclosure between individuals determines the level of intimacy. (trust, association, familiarity, self­-disclosure, affiliation).

As we can see, dealing with distance in teaching situations requires specialized instructional techniques. The creation of an inclusive learning environment that contributes to the perception of other ́s presence will foster the feeling of community of learners.

Reference: Marino, Kathleen J., “A Qualitative Study Exploring Faculty Perception and Adaptation of Social Presence in the Online Classroom” (2012). Seton Hall University Dissertations and Theses (ETDs). Paper 1796.

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