Transitioning to the Online Environment – Social Presence

Social presence is “the ability of participants to identify with the community (e.g., course of study), communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop inter-personal relationships by way of projecting their individual personalities” (Garrison, 2009). Learners want to get to know their instructors as people as well as in their roles as mentors and content experts. Online students require the social presence of the instructor and other students to feel like they are part of the online learning community, reduce feelings of isolation, and build trust and community.

Tips for developing social presence:

  • Create a discussion forum for participants to introduce themselves, and model expectations by posting your own self-introduction and providing some personal information. Notify students that they should do so only to the extent they feel comfortable.
  • Address class participants in the discussion by name.
  • Include personal information that you feel comfortable sharing (i.e., hobbies, work experience, family, pets, etc.) in your instructor profile on the course website.
  • Create a “water cooler” or “internet cafe” forum where participants can discuss topics that are not related to the course material or post personal or anecdotal information.
  • Try to use humor, and use the smiley emoticon to signal that you are trying to be humorous.
  • Personalize your course introductions and announcements with audio or video.

A strong social presence builds a climate of trust as well as an environment of comfort and safe risk-taking. This foundation makes the learners ready for your teaching and cognitive presence.


Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T. & Archer, W. (2001). Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education. American Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), 7–23.