Extending social presence theory: Social presence divergence and interaction integration in online distance learning

Joshua Weidlich, Derya Orhan Göksün, Karel Kreijns

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Social presence is an important concept for understanding psychosocial processes in learning scenarios that make extensive use of mediated communication like online distance learning. Despite this centrality, a coherent and nuanced theory of social presence is yet to emerge from the literature. Past research has shown associations with desirable affective variables like satisfaction and perceived learning, yet our knowledge as to when and for whom these effects are expected is still very limited. By introducing two contextual explanatory variables, we provide the means toward a more mature theory of social presence. The first variable, social presence divergence, relates students experiences to their preferences, yielding three distinct scenarios: too little, too much, and just the right amount of social presence. The second variable, interaction integration, considers the centrality of social interaction in the learning scenario, suggesting that this functions as a moderator. In a sample of teacher education students (N = 305), we find evidence that these variables interact with social presence and affective dependent variables as expected. These results add nuance and context to the discussion about the practical relevance of social presence. The implications of these findings as well as limitations of this study are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-412
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Computing in Higher Education
Issue number3
Early online date16 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Distance education
  • Divergence
  • Interaction integration
  • Online learning
  • Social presence
  • Social presence theory


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