Designing sociable online learning environments and enhancing social presence: An affordance enrichment approach
Abstract Due to the unique characteristics of online distance learning, socio-emotional aspects are an important design consideration but, at the same time, often challenging to realize. This study is concerned with the sociability of online learning environments and reports on a field-setting pre-/posttest quasi-experiment (n = 143) with a novel approach to designing sociable learning environments and fostering socio-emotional variables like social presence. After enriching the learning environment with social affordances, technically realized through Moodle plugins (“Meet the Students”, “Course Contacts”, and “Dialogue”), students of a one-month long online course reported the learning environment to be significantly more sociable than in the control condition. Downstream effects on other socio-emotional variables of the SIPS model ( Sociability , Social Interaction , Social Presence , Social Space ) were also observed. Students also reported the learning experience to be more satisfying. Interestingly, actually engaging with the plugins was not related to these perceptions, possibly suggesting a veneer of sociability instead of a deep-seated social fabric. Lastly, we found no effect on learning achievement. These findings are a first step in experimentally validating the ecological approach to designing sociable learning environments. Implications, open questions, and avenues for future research are discussed.