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May 19, 2014 Phylise Banner

The Pedagogy of Learning Design: Creating Learning Communities with Social Presence

This is the second post in a series titled The Pedagogy of Learning Design by Phylise H. Banner. To read the first in the series click here: The Pedagogy of Learning Design: A Translation of Pedagogies.

Interlocking headsLet’s have a look at how social presence guides the design and development of learning spaces where emotional expression, open communication, and group cohesion come into play!

Creating Learning Communities with Social Presence

In the first installment of this series I introduced a pedagogical, designed approach to instruction based on three key elements in effective e-learning: social presence, teaching presence, and cognitive presence. This installment will focus on social presence – the creation of a welcoming setting that is open and inviting so that our learners will want to engage with each other, the instructor/facilitator, and the learning content.

We have all experienced that awkward moment when we were new to our surroundings, and had to stretch our comfort level in order to reach out to others in group situations. Being welcomed into a new environment helps us to settle in, and to trust our surroundings enough to be comfortable sharing within established communication venues.

That welcoming setting embodies social presence. Conversation about the design of our training environments needs to include words like “open,” and “inviting,” so that our participants will want to engage with the facilitator, with the content, and with each other. Interaction is key to establishing a sense of belonging within a vibrant learning community, and every learning event helps build that community.

Social presence examples include allowing risk-free expression, drawing in participants, encouraging collaboration, establishing instructor/facilitator presence, and engaging in supportive contact and interactions.

Beyond the Ice Breaker

Establishing social presence begins with the creation of an environment where your learners feel secure enough to share their own stories and fully interact with each other.

As facilitators, we tend to spend much of our time instructing or managing the learning environment, and little time sharing ourselves. If we are delivering learning materials that someone else created, how much of ourselves do we include?

Take time to weave your own narrative into your learning events – not just highlights from your resume. Create an ice breaker activity that enables you to participate along with your learners. Sharing information, such as your hobbies, personal, and professional interests, helps to establish common ground with your participants.

Ice breaker activities are at the core of social presence. Even a quick “let us know where you’re from” in the chat window can make a difference in setting the stage for engaged learning.

Curb Your Enthusiasm?

Never! Share your enthusiasm! Your own enthusiasm will spark interest in the learning content and instructional activities. Share the reasons why you are excited about the subject matter, and take pride in your expertise. Sharing your enthusiasm and expertise builds a sense of trust, setting the groundwork for participants to come together as a group of learners and follow your lead throughout the learning experience.

Room to Breathe

Too often we design learning events that are rushed and overloaded with densely packed content. Take a moment to recall a moment when you felt rushed yourself, or packed too tightly into a learning event time constraint. Right there you’ll quickly lose that social presence you worked so hard to establish.

Design and structure your time thoughtfully, and leave time for your audience to share. Not just a word or two, but really SHARE. Learning is social, and sharing helps us remember and learn. Sharing can take the form of a quick poll, a quick “yes” or “no” in the chat box, but sharing can also include team breakout rooms with reports back to the main room. Leave enough time for your participants to participate!

Ask for Feedback

Think about how you can let your learners know that you want to hear from them by providing opportunities for feedback, creating an open environment where they feel comfortable sharing their learning experiences with you and your team. Consider designing a feedback event as follow up to a learning session. Instead of the same old survey, host a feedback open house where participants can become involved in the review of learning content and activities. Invite them to help you design a better learning journey!

I have done this many times, and it has always proven to be a success. Many organizations want their employees to have more involvement in their own professional development. Providing more than a survey instrument to these employees has been very rewarding, and builds greatly on trust and established social presence!

No One Left Behind

You have welcomed your learners, let them get to know you, to trust your expertise, and to participate in their own learning. You’ve even provided them with an opportunity to make their learning better. Social presence reigns large! Bravo! But, wait … there’s one more thing …

Be sensitive to participants who linger in your virtual learning spaces. Often they are lingering for a reason. It takes some people longer to trust in a virtual learning environment, just like a real world one. You may have learners who have questions that they want to ask, but not in front of the entire room. You may have learners who just don’t understand the material and really need to.

Take a moment to send a note to the lingering crowd to be sure that everyone has what they need before you end your learning event. A hurried “goodbye” sends the wrong message to this group. A thoughtful wrap-up provides closure, and supports social presence.

All Together Now

Creating a community of learners depends on the design of learning events which provide participants with opportunities to get to know each other, to get to know you, to trust your expertise, to participate with each other, to provide feedback, and to have closure.

Social presence concepts guide the personal side of learning, and remind us that we are all human. To me, that’s the most important part!

In the next installment, we’ll take a look at teaching presence, and explore the concept of building learner understanding through direct instruction.


Published by Phylise Banner May 19, 2014
Phylise Banner