Social Presence In Online Learning: 7 Things Instructional Designers Can Do To Improve It

Social Presence In Online Learning: 7 Things Instructional Designers Can Do To Improve It
Summary: Social presence in online learning stimulates the whole eLearning experience, enhances learners-instructors interactions, and improves learners to learners activities as well. But how can Instructional Designers and eLearning instructors do to boost social presence in their courses and trainings? In this article, I will share 7 things they can do to achieve this goal and improve the overall eLearning experience.

7 Things Instructional Designers Can Do To Improve Social Presence In Online Learning 

Social presence is one dimension of the whole online learning experience. Perhaps it is one of the hot trends in research among scholars and practitioners in the eLearning field. However, for some Instructional Designers like me, social presence is the next growing trend for online learning. Developers of authoring tools, applications, and Learning Management Systems are paying more attention to enhance the social presence experience in online learning. Why? I believe it was not until great online networking service companies like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Snapchat created ways to make users feel and be more “sociable” that they were in order to attract millions of people to use their websites and mobile applications. I believe that for eLearning to keep growing in a similar way social networks have done companies must adopt innovative ways to make learners feel more “sociable” while using the learning tools and systems available.

Learning systems that possess characteristics of social presence enhance the learner experience. Social presence can be defined as being connected and interact with other human beings as “real people” through the medium of communication being used. Therefore, a “good” social presence environment is the one where learners express their emotions and feelings and interact with one another in a way that promotes their learning. On the other hand, the perception of a negative social presence context inhibits learners for expressing themselves as real people; thus diminishing the learning experience. The question is: What can Instructional Designers and online instructors do to promote social presence in online learning? I’ll share 7 things you can do to promote social presence in your courses and trainings:

  1. Encourage learners to incorporate their feelings, experiences, examples, and ideas in works completion.
    It is not just about just about meeting the minimum work requirements. You have to frequently promote learners to bring what they have to share to the class from their own experience. Students open themselves when talking about their situations and how they handle it and get their emotions out more often.
  2. Use video feedback.
    Visual feedback enables instructors to be more effective in establishing social presence in online learning because they can speak with emotions, talk in a conversational manner, and create a sense of closeness with students. Learners can also ask questions in real time thus promoting a better instructor-learner interaction. In case real time is not an option, allow learners to respond to the feedback using video as well in an asynchronous mode. There are many companies out there working on improving the way video is used to improve these interactions.
  3. Incorporate personal profiles and photos.
    Learners like to learn something about each other to feel more connected. Personal profiles and photos help especially at the beginning of the courses as natural “ice breakers”. Request learners to post “full body photos”, to take advantage of the body language factor and heighten social presence. Face only photos do not display the social cues that a full body photo shows. Ask for profiles to incorporate what learners like to do in their social life: This is one of the successful characteristics of the social networks that Instructional Designers can put into practice immediately.
  4. Provide messages that are respectful, positive, encouraging, timely, and frequent.
    Online instructors have to be proactive in their communications with learners to encourage social presence. Providing messages that are respectful, positive, encouraging, timely, and frequent assists learners to develop social presence and caring behaviors. This also advances affectionate interactions, mutual respect, and finding meaning in relationships with learners, peers, and instructors.
  5. Be responsive to students needs.
    Learners value the timeliness of information and feedback. Students acknowledge the importance of understanding the expectations of the course, including assignment requirements and due dates, and value feedback on their performance. Timely feedback means to learners that their work is given priority and allows them to make adjustments as the course or training advances.
  6. Ensure quality of the media.
    Use high quality media that promote a better view of personal traits such as physical distance, eye contact, smiling, and other social cues that enhance social presence in online leanring. Instructional Designers must be careful with their instructions about how to make good videos, especially in High Definition (HD), and take high quality photos that foment a richer social presence environment.
  7. Encourage learners to evaluate their positive and negative feelings.
    For example, offering optimistic comments about learners’ participation and contribution to the course forms a sense of intimacy among learners. Sharing experience about assignments and training activities creates this sense of belonging to a group, which facilitates and enhances social presence.

Considering how to improve social presence can help learners experience and improve learning in your courses and trainings. Use the 7 recommendations explained in this article to boost your overall learning experience. Students will be grateful to you and will come back to take more classes with you.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin.