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Social presence theory was the term first proposed in 1976 to explain how telecommunications influence how people communicate (Short, Williams, & Christie, 1976). Short and colleagues (1976) defined social presence as the degree of salience (i.e., quality or state of being there) between two communicators using a communication medium. This theory became particularly important for online educators trying to understand how people communicated in primarily text-based online courses during the 1990s (Lowenthal, 2009). In fact, social presence was identified as one of the core elements of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, a widely used guide for planning, developing, evaluating, and researching online learning (Boston et al., 2011; Kumar & Ritzhaupt, 2014; Swan, Day, Bogle, & Matthews, 2014). The CoI framework is a dynamic process model of online learning based on the theory that effective learning requires a community based on inquiry (Garrison, 2011,2015). At the heart of the model are the interdependent constructs of cognitive, social, and teaching presence (Swan, Garrison, & Richardson, 2009). Social presence, the first element, is the ability of participants "to project their personal characteristics into the community, thereby presenting themselves to other participants as 'real people'" (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000, p. 89). The second element, teaching presence, involves instructional management, building understanding, and direct instruction. And the third element, cognitive presence, is "the extent to which the participants in...a community of inquiry are able to construct meaning through sustained communication" (Garrison et al., 2000, p. 89).

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This document was originally published in Social Presence in Online Learning: Multiple Perspectives on Practice and Research by Stylus Publishing, LLC. Copyright restrictions may apply.