Instructors’ Perceptions of Presence in Online Learning

Richardson, J.C., Besser, E., Koehler, A., Lim, J., & Strait, M. (2016). Instructors’ perceptions of instructor presence in online learning environments. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 7(4), 82–104.


This qualitative study was completed to explore the perceptions of instructors on their presence in online courses. Four research questions are posed concerning importance of instructor presence, communication strategies as instructor presence, presence behaviors or strategies, and the impact of predesigned courses on instructor presence of the non-designer instructor. Interviews of 13 instructors in an online master’s program were conducted in this explanatory multiple-case study. Results were coded and analyzed for similarities and differences.

The authors present in-depth discussions of the results, sharing quotes from many of the participants. Each of the four research questions were addressed separately.

  • How much importance do online instructors place on instructor presence in their courses?
    • All participants agreed that their presence was important, more so to the student than the teacher. Most felt that the students needed to see them as an export as well as someone who cared about them.
  • How do instructors perceive particular communication strategies taken by them as promoting their instructor presence?
    • The majority of instructors expressed the importance of setting the tone as friendly and approachable. This was accomplished through announcements, course biographies, and make the content relatable to the real world.
    • Many of the participants discussed how they would intentionally adjust their communication for the online environment. The expressed the importance of approaching students as learners to enable them to become more responsible for their learning.
    • Sharing information was an area where the participants’ thoughts varied. The group was split between personal and professional sharing.
    • Feedback was considered a form of presence, and most valued the importance of positive and encouraging feedback.
  • How do instructors perceive their instructor presence behaviors or strategies as helping them connect to students?
    • Some participants stated they felt instructor presence was more beneficial for students who are struggling or “at-risk”.
    • Some instructors expressed that they were unsure of the effect of their presence on student learning but agreed that it impacts student participation.
  • How do non-designer instructors perceive the impact of predesigned courses on their instructor presence?
    • Most (all but one) felt their presence was not impacted in a course designed by someone else.
    • Participants did, however, indicate that teaching a course they did not design can be frustrating and create feelings of being restricted.

The authors’ discussion on the results summarizes with the need for more research and how the results from this study have implications for course design. It is suggested that all online courses have ample opportunity for instructor presence.

The mention of various approaches to instructor presence is an area of interest. Looking closely at the impact of the methods discussed, from announcements and introductions to discussions and feedback, would be beneficial in course design. A comparison of these results with studies on students’ perceptions of teacher presence would also be warranted.



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