The Evolution and Influence of Social Presence Theory on Online Learning

The Evolution and Influence of Social Presence Theory on Online Learning

Patrick R. Lowenthal
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-830-7.ch010
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The theory of social presence is perhaps the most popular construct used to describe and understand how people socially interact in online learning environments. However, despite its intuitive appeal, researchers and practitioners alike often define and conceptualize this popular construct differently. In fact, it is often hard to distinguish between whether someone is talking about social interaction, immediacy, intimacy, emotion, and/or connectedness when they talk about social presence. Therefore, this chapter outlines the evolution of the construct of social presence in an effort to understand better its relationship to online learning.
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In the late 1980s and early 1990s, researchers began to study the effects of computer-mediated communication (CMC). Some concluded that CMC was inherently antisocial and impersonal (Walther, 1996; Walther, Anderson, & Park, 1994). While Hiltz & Turoff (1993) acknowledged that interpersonal relationships might be fostered through CMC, early research suggested—and convinced others—that CMC was better at task-oriented communication (Walther & Parks, 2002). These early CMC researchers turned to social presence theory to make sense of their findings.

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