On the Nature and Development of Social Presence in Online Course Discussions

K. Swan
L. F. Shih


“Social presence,” the degree to which participants in computer-mediated communication feel affectively connected one to another, has been shown to be an important factor in student satisfaction and success in online courses. This mixed methods study built on previous research to explore in greater depth the nature of social presence and how it develops in online course discussions. The study combined quantitative analyses of survey results from students enrolled in four online graduate courses, and qualitative comparisons of students with the highest and lowest perceptions of social presence. Quantitative results revealed significant correlations between perceived social presence and satisfaction with online discussions, and teased apart the respective influences of the perceived presence of instructors and peers. The findings indicate that the perceived presence of instructors may be a more influential factor in determining student satisfaction than the perceived presence of peers. Correlations with other course and learner characteristics suggest that course design may also significantly affect the development of social presence. Qualitative findings support the quantitative results. In addition, they provide evidence that students perceiving the highest social presence also projected themselves more into online discussions, and reveal meaningful differences in perceptions of the usefulness and purpose of online discussion between students perceiving high and low social presence.


Asynchronous Discussion, Social Presence, Online Learning, Interaction, Threaded Discussion, Computer-mediated Communication, Community


This study supports previous research stating increased interaction in computer-mediated classes increases social presence of students and also increases students’ satisfaction levels. The authors of this paper found that students may find the perceived presence of an instructor to have a greater influence on student satisfaction as compared to the perceived presence of peers. Qualitative results support the above quantitative findings and add on that a student’s perceived social presence can result in different projections of themselves in online discussions. As a result, instructors hold a large responsibility in creating welcoming and engaging online discussions. Student demographic differences were not found to be influential, however, age did have a small affect.

APA Citation

Swan, K., & Shih, L. F. (2005). On the nature and development of social presence in online course discussions. Journal of Asynchronous learning networks, 9(3), 115-136.

About the Study

Links to Article https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=5%2C50&sciodt=0%2C50&cites=124784805693487657&scipsc=&q=Swan%2C+K.%2C+%26+Shih%2C+L.+F.+%282005%29.+On+the+nature+and+development+of+social+presence+in+online+course+discussions.+Journal+of+Asynchronous+learning+networks%2C+9%283%29%2C+115-136.&btnG=
Mode Online
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks
Type of Research Mixed methods
Research Design Interviews, Survey research (qualitative or quantitative)
Intervention/Areas of Study Course and program evaluation, Course design, Engagement, Instructor-student interactions, Social presence, Student motivation, Student-student interactions
Level of Analysis Student-level
Specific Populations Examined Graduates
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest Masters-granting, Doctorate-granting
Specific Course or Program Characteristics
Outcome Variables of Interest Academic achievement or performance, including assessment scores and course grades, Instructional effectiveness, Satisfaction
Student Sample Size 0-99
Citing Articles https://scholar.google.com/scholar?cites=16149129396238877843&as_sdt=5,50&sciodt=0,50&hl=en