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Anatomy of asynchronous online learning: A study of factors that contribute to perceptions of social presence

, State University of New York at Albany, United States

State University of New York at Albany . Awarded


Social presence, the perception of connection with others through text-based computer-mediated communication, has been found crucial in the formation of a virtual learning community (Harasim, Hiltz, Teles & Turoff, 1995; Gunawardena, 1995, Gunawardena & Zittle, 1997). The study examined the role of social presence in relation to students' perception of online asynchronous learning utilizing fifty-one participants enrolled in two graduate level courses in education. Multiple methods were employed to explore the role of social presence in asynchronous learning environments with a particular focus on online class discussions. The data consist of subjects' (51) responses on a social presence inventory, class discussion messages posted by five students with the highest social presence scores and five students with the lowest social presence scores through a semester, and interview data collected from these students pertaining to their perceptions of online class discussions.

The study not only found measures of perceived presence significantly related to satisfaction with online class discussions but also that perceived social presence was a predictor of perceived interaction, perceived learning, and satisfaction with instructors. The study found that students' perceived social presence also coincided with the social presence behaviors they projected in online class discussions, indicating that students who perceived higher degrees of social presence are more able to project themselves affectively and socially in the online environment. In addition, the study illustrated differences in perceptions of and reactions to online class discussion among students with differing levels of perceived social presence.

The study closes by exploring the implications for its findings for learning and teaching in online asynchronous learning environments, and emphasizes the development of virtual learning communities. A sense of social presence, an indication of a sense of belonging in a learning community, occurs with a high level of cognitive participation in an online learning environment, which, in turn, requires instructional arrangements that (1) take into account learner characteristics, (2) support cognitive discourse, and (3) foster relationship-building among learners.


Shih, L.F. Anatomy of asynchronous online learning: A study of factors that contribute to perceptions of social presence. Ph.D. thesis, State University of New York at Albany. Retrieved October 15, 2019 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 22, 2013. [Original Record]

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