Social presence in massive open online courses

Oleksandra Poquet, Vitomir Kovanovic, Pieter de Vries, Thieme Hennis, Srecko Joksimovic, Dragan Gasevic, Shane Dawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The capacity to foster interpersonal interactions in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has frequently been contested, particularly when learner interactions are limited to MOOC forums. The establishment of social presence – a perceived sense of somebody being present and “real” – is among the strategies to tackle the challenges of online learning and could be applied in MOOCs. Yet, thus far social presence in MOOCs has been under-researched. Few studies that had examined social presence in MOOCs did not account for the peculiar nature of the open online learning. In contrast to the existing work, this study offers an understanding of learner perceptions of social presence nuanced to diverse MOOC populations. In particular, we compare perceptions of social presence across the groups of learners with different forum participation in three edX MOOCs. The findings reveal substantial differences in how learners with various forum activity perceive social presence. Perceptions of social presence also differed in courses with the varying volume of forum interaction and duration. Finally, learners with sustained forum activity generally reported higher social presence scores that included low affectivity and strong group cohesion perceptions. With this in mind, the study is significant in its evidence contributing to the current body of knowledge around the social presence. Its findings also raise questions about the transference of existing socioconstructivist constructs into the MOOC contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-68
Number of pages26
JournalInternational Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • massive open online course
  • distance learning
  • online learning
  • digital education
  • collaborative learning
  • cooperative learning
  • educational technology
  • learning analytics


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