Social presence is an important and well-established construct in learning scenarios that make use of online-based technology to mediate learning activities and communication among students, like online learning and distance education. Researchers and practitioners refer to social presence to better understand the socio-emotional dimension of these learning scenarios and/or improve the quality of the experience. As a construct that has emerged out of a socio-psychological research tradition, social presence has mostly been understood as a state variable, the result of situative/contextual factors, like the communication media, group size, or instructional design. What has been entirely overlooked is the possibility that some students are inherently more prone to experiencing social presence, while others may be less inclined to these perceptions.

This study published in Open Education Studies, authored by Joshua Weidlich, Karel Kreijns, and Theo Bastiaens, provides a first step toward investigating the merits of an individual difference perspective on social presence. Using individual differences in personality as a starting point, data was collected from 201 distance education students. They reported on the Big Five personality inventory as well as the social presence scale at the end of their online classes. Results suggest that no single personality dimension is associated with perceptions of social presence but that, however, different personality configurations (personality clusters, see below) showed such associations.

These results point to the merits of considering individual differences in our conception of social presence. In practice, this may place limits on distance educators’ efforts to improve social presence for all students, as it appears that some are simply more prone than others. For research, this should be seen as a starting point to a more thorough consideration of a trait view of social presence.

This study is the fifth and final study of the Dissertation by Joshua Weidlich: Presence at a distance: Empirical investigations toward understanding, modeling, and enhancing social presence in online distance learning environments.

Citation: Weidlich, J., Kreijns, K., & Bastiaens, T. (2021). Individual differences in perceptions of social presence. Exploring the role of personality in online distance learningOpen Education Studies. doi: