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Grop Assignment Argenti, Smith, Alzahrani

Page history last edited by Alessandra Argenti 8 years, 1 month ago

The effects of synchronous and asynchronous communication on building social presence in distance learning courses.

Group members:

Alessandra Argenti (Kenya)

Altynay Smith (Kazakhstan)

Moammar Alzahrani (Saudi Arabia)


This is the link to watch our Prezi presentation:



For our colleagues who may have a bad Internet connection, here's the text version of our presentation, although we strongly suggest to watch the Presi one.



With the introduction of the Internet, thousands of online courses have been developed and the demand for them is growing at a rapid rate Baker (2010).
As distant learning courses are growing, there are many concerns regarding communication gaps being created as part of the separation between the teacher and the learners.

 “Transactional distance, is a learner’s perception of psychological and communication gaps caused by a physical separation within a classroom, is a continuous and relative construct which is determined by amounts of communication and structure; when there are higher amounts of communication and less structure, a distance learner is likely to perceive a smaller degree of transactional distance”.  (Moore,1991)

The distance in terms of geographical locations can today be resolved through electronic communication eliminating distance issues with tools like discussion boards, emails, blogs, Skype and chat rooms which are made available thus achieving a social environment with similar characteristics as face to face classrooms (Baker, 2010).

Thereby the concept of social presence is central to online learning because it is prerequisite for avoiding the negative effects of transactional distance, and in establishing an online learning community that promotes knowledge creation through interaction (Beldarrain, 2006).

Social presence is “the degree to which a person is perceived as a "real person" in mediated communication” (Gunawardena, 2009).

Social presence is the “…ability of participants in a community of inquiry to project themselves socially and emotionally, as “real” people through the medium of communication being used" (Wikipedia, 2013).

Studies have indicated that students who have the right environment to enjoy interaction with their peers, hence have higher levels of social presence, reported better perceived learning and satisfaction with the course (Chou, 2002; Hammond 1999 in DeSanctis, Fayard, Roach, & Jiang, 2003; Wu & Hiltz, 2004; Lowenthal, n.d.).  

This could be attributed to three major paradigms that have evolved since the 1976. One of them was developed by Short, Williams and Christie (1976) who defined social presence as being embedded in the qualities and features of the medium at hand (Lowenthal, n.d.). This paradigm emphasized the role of the medium at hand, which could have qualities as social or isolating, cold or warm.

Gunawardena and Zittle (1997 in Yamada & Kitamura, 2011) have argued, however, that mediums are socially neutral and social presence is achieved through the quality of interaction. This is the second paradigm that affected the ways that social presence was viewed and thus how it was defined.

In 2000 the third paradigm has emerged which was developed by Garrison, Anderson and Archer (Yamada & Kitamura, 2011). It emphasizes participants’ individual abilities to construct social presence through their active role in the learning group.
This later paradigm is used in this work for defining social presence.

The purpose of this work is to identify the role of asynchronous and synchronous communication in distance learning courses for promotion of social presence.


Asynchronous interaction and social presence 

Asynchronous communication could be defined as communication that takes place through a medium without immediate response and distributed over a period of time. The medium for asynchronous discussion which is most commonly used in education is a threaded discussion board.

Asynchronous communication is vital for distance learning because it accommodates the needs for communication for learners in different time zones and availabilities (DeSanctis et al., 2003). Hammond (1999) goes as far as defining asynchronous communication as “democratic” (p.354) due to the fact that it allows learners to pace their communication patterns themselves. Some authors argue that asynchronous discussion promotes higher levels of knowledge constructing (Johnson, n.d.).

For example, Wu and Hiltz’ (2004) study of 166 blended learning students indicated that over half of students reported enhanced learning as a result of asynchronous interaction with peers.  This could be explained by the cognitive reprocessing which online learners experience as a result of peer review and feedback as well as the process of formulating coherent argument in writing to post on the discussion board (Sutton, 2001).

Some argue however, that asynchronous discussion contributes more towards knowledge creation than social presence (Chou, 2002; Mcisaac, 2010).

The effect of asynchronous communication on social presence is discussed later in this work.

In summary it seems that despite being a great tool for learning, asynchronous communication has a number of issues that need addressing before social presence can be created. The range of issues includes but is not limited to: the amount of interaction amongst learners, the time lag between responses, the style of writing, learning environment factors, the amount of learners interacting and length of threads, lack of visual clues and divergent backgrounds amongst learners.

The advantage of time flexibility allowed by asynchronous communication could potentially have a negative impact on social presence. This can be the case when the discussion is not progressing or is progressing at a slow pace, which could lead to students feeling isolated (Johnson, n.d.). For example Mcisaac (2010) in her study of 51 graduate students found that learners had expectations about the appropriate response time to their post and if they have not received any response within that time they reported feeling isolated and later showed lower levels of social presence.

This finding is supported by the research of An, Shin, and Lim (2009) who discovered that learners who felt that their opinion was ignored or not acknowledge became withdrawn and less likely to interact.

Taking into account that interaction seems to be vital for learner’s success the issue of withdrawal ought to be addressed. An, Shin, and Lim (2009) suggest promoting greater involvement by instructors to address posts that have been left unanswered by other learners and to stimulate learner involvement by asking questions. At the same time authors suggest that once the discussion has been brought to an active level then instructor’s involvement should decrease.

Chou (2002) discovered that the style of writing may affect the learner’s perceptions about other participants and hence affect their willingness to participate. According to his research a formal style of writing often led to longer response times, since students viewed it as less socially present and were reluctant to reply. At the same time many of them reported using formal styles of writing due to the fact that learners believed that their writing could be viewed by tutors and acted upon. The implication of this study for tutors who monitor asynchronous interaction is to emphasize at the beginning that the language of writing is not assessed and that the interaction is for the benefit of participants only. Interestingly enough it was discovered that female students tended to use a more social tone of writing (Wu & Hiltz, 2004). Thus it could be assumed that female students would report higher levels of social presence in asynchronous discussion, but there seems to be no strong evidence of this (Kim, Kwon, & Cho, 2011).
Other factors might come into play when social presence is constructed. For instance, Kim, Kwon and Cho (2011) discovered no connection between the number of previous online courses taken by the learner or full time employment and social presence. On the other hand Mcissac (2010) discovered that environmental factors contribute to student’s perceived levels of social presence, such as accessing asynchronous discussion via private computer or public computer, having a comfortable, distraction free atmosphere while doing it. All of which factors were reported to affect social presence.

Other issues indicated in creation of social presence within asynchronous discussions was the length of threads within the discussion boards. Learners were less likely to follow long threats and were frustrated if too many people participated in discussions (An et al., 2009; Cui, Lockee, & Meng, 2012). This issue could be addressed by dividing learners into groups or by limiting the amount of learners registering on the course.

Some authors argue that for creation of social presence, asynchronous communication lacks visual clues, similar background and common attributes amongst learners (Chou, 2002). On the other hand in a distance learning group the likelihood of having learners from similar background can be low. Therefore Yamada and Kitamura (2011) suggest spending time on introducing learners to each other. The authors have also identified that learners’ use of greetings and participants names, asking each other questions can enhance the sense of intimacy, coherency and thus social presence. In this way the issues of social identity and trust could be avoided (DeSanctis et al., 2003).


Synchronous communication and how it affects the social presence

 “Learning is a social process which relies on interaction and open communication”
(Kear, 2010).

Two methods of synchronous communications are the most used in distance education as teaching tools: chat rooms and instant messaging  (Kear (2010).

1-   chat rooms

A chat room is used to communicate and all participants are available online at the same time with information being transferred with very little delay.

2-   Instant messaging

This is also text base however a list of contacts or buddies could be added, notifications will be provided to users when others in the contact list sign on.

New tools for distance education: virtual environments

“Students have the opportunity to work collaboratively with other students, teachers and scientists at multiple locations throughout the world and to be introduced to subject matter experts outside their fields of study. These capabilities foster the creation of user-centered educational strategies. However, tremendous challenges remain”
(Jarmon, Leslie 2008).

Students seem to be motivated when using virtual environments thus supporting social interaction through synchronous communication (De Lucia &et al, 2008. Sallnas, 2004).

Second life could be used as a form of online learning where meetings could be arranged to create a simulation of real life classes that could potentially address any social presence issues. With communications being instant synchronous lectures could be held via Second Life. Second life also allows for students to submit work through sharing files in online classrooms. Using also simulations for learning allow people to be at the same place even though they are separated.
 “A virtual world is an “electronic environment that visually mimics complex physical spaces, where people can interact with each other and virtual objects, and where people are represented by animated characters (avatars). Virtual worlds enhance interpersonal communication across distances beyond what text communication has to offer. Virtual reality places respondents in a common environment. Respondents in virtual meetings are able to examine the same digital object—for example, a medical assessment or procedure or a design project—and discuss it and interact with it despite their physical distance”.
(Dean, Murphy & Cook, 2009).

Furthermore, De Lucia (2009) conducted a study that included over 1000 students regarding using simulations in teaching and having a social presence proved to be high on students agendas. Finally, there are many forms to communicate a piece of information and according to Sallnas (2004) voice communication increases the social presence feel amongst users.
As in a face to face environment, expressions having the ability to engage and having a social presence enhances the value of some points that could be visible through facial expression and through actions. Thus having such presence in online learning could result in a higher cognitive presence level (Garrison et al, 2000).

A virtual world is an “electronic environment that visually mimics complex physical spaces, where people can interact with each other and virtual objects, and where people are represented by animated characters (avatars). Virtual worlds enhance interpersonal communication across distances beyond what text communication has to offer. Virtual reality places respondents in a common environment. Respondents in virtual meetings are able to examine the same digital object—for example, a medical assessment or procedure or a design project—and discuss it and interact with it despite their physical distance(Dean, Murphy & Cook, 2009).


Issues facing instructors as mentioned before, are a major factor in delivering online lessons successfully, as physical presence differs from virtual presence (Scollins-Mantha, 2008) and Balaji and Chakrabarti, 2010). By following simple guidelines creating an online community via interactions has proved to produce relationships, which can produce enhanced results and course satisfaction.

New strategies have been put in place in SL.
Motivating students is in fact a key factor to success and this is also to tutors attitudes that play an important responsibility in encouraging students in creating a friendly environment that helps them to be active members of the learning group throughout the course time (Angelaki and Mavroidis) (2013).
In this way SL offers instructors the chance to build a collaborative social environment where students can share information and thoughts with the right balance between their instructor’s guidance and their discovery learning.
Interactions are done through offering students access to information and the ability for them to interact, ask questions while teachers can provide immediate feedbacks within a suitable time frame. (Scollins-Mantha, 2008).

The structure of a topic, for example, can be organized to create a learning environment that allows students to contribute through assessments and feedback provided online.
Virtual environments like SL can be, in this pedagogy, a great toll in the hand of a teacher and his learning group.

In particular, 3-D virtual world learning environments such as SL feature multiple channels for engagement, communication, collaboration, modelling, data visualization and simulation, sound and spatial relationships, language immersion, and opportunities for crossing physical, geographical, and even temporal boundaries”
(Jarmon, Leslie, 2008).

Synchronous communication has in this way the important effect to reduce transactional distances by generating a successful, collaborative learning environment. Presence and involvement are vital components in ensuring deeper level of students’ engagement towards a meaningful learning experience.
(Serce &
et al, 2011. Kop, 2011)

 “Virtual worlds are also often purported to have other instructional benefits, such as allowing for creativity within a rich media environment, providing opportunities for social interaction and community creation, facilitating collaboration, increasing a sense of shared presence, dissolving social boundaries, lowering social anxiety, enhancing student motivation and engagement, and accommodating millennial generation learning preferences

(Jarmon, Traphagan, Mayrath &Trivedi, 2009).



Despite some limitations asynchronous interaction is an invaluable tool for promoting meaningful learning and social presence in busy real life situations of distance learning, which may be difficult to substitute with anything else. The tools available for learners are now able to offer blended learning environments able to fill the gaps that synchronous communication alone cannot fulfil. Many courses successfully use a combination of asynchronous and synchronous interaction in order to achieve greater social presence and better learning outcomes.

The advance of technology has made information readily available to students from all corners of the world to unite under one umbrella, the World Wide Web. This section discussed using synchronous and asynchronous communication with students that don’t necessarily need to be present at a specific place to participate in classes.

Social presence and cultivating social presence have also been discussed (media integration and use, and instructor’s quality teaching) to understand the alternative teaching methods that make successful a distance learning environment based on asynchronous and synchronous communication tools.
It was found that online learning based on synchronous and asynchronous communication is beneficial in many ways however there’s a need for constant contact between teachers and students for it to be successful.
"It is virtually impossible to engage students in purposeful and meaningful inquiry without the Internet and communication technologies to participate and sustain discourse that is central to higher order learning. Well-designed blended learning can be a much more engaged and meaningful learning experience than sitting passively in a lecture hall" 
(Garrison &Vaughan, 2008).






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