Teaching and Learning in a Net-Centric World

New report on Emotional Presence in online education

I awoke to a new report this morning Measuring and Understanding Learner Emotions: Evidence and Prospects. The report is the first paper from the Learning Analytics Community Exchange which is a 2.5 year  EU funded project focused on learning analytics and data mining for educational use. I must say I was delightfully surprised to see the first output from a group using data analytics to focus on emotions!  Bart Rienties and Bethany Alden Rivers from the Open University in the UK have done an excellent job of reviewing work in this important area and developing a conceptual model for its further development.

Of course I was pleased to see that they built on the now venerable Community of Inquiry model developed over 15 years ago by Randy Garrison, Walter Archer and myself. I was equally pleased to see the enhancement of our model to include Emotional Presences as first argued by my colleague and Director of our Centre for Distance Education, Marti Cleveland-Innes.  Marti had asked me years ago why we didn’t include emotional presence in our original model. I rather glibly replied that the COI model was developed by 3 men from southern Alberta (Canada’s cowboy country) and that REAL men in our limited world didn’t do emotions!! More rationally, I argued that emotional presence was subsumed both theoretically and empirically by a number of the indicators of  social presence that we had described in the initial model. However, these arguments  didn’t preclude her continuing arguments and this paper shows she is not alone.

Rienties and Rivers add the emotional circle to our original Venn diagram as below.

expanded COI Model

The 28 page report then goes on to briefly review types of research techniques that have been used to define and measure emotional presence. The same challenge we undertook using transcript analysis of educational computer conferences  to validate the original model. The research methods covered include three established research methodologies:

  • content analysis
  • natural language processing
  • identification of behavioural indicators

and four others that the authors describe as using “new data” as opposed to “existing data”. I can’t really understand the difference either conceptually or methodologically, except I guess to suggest that the later methods require generation of original data for research purposes.

  • quantitative instruments
  • offline interviews and purposeful online conversations
  • wellbeing word clouds
  • intelligent tutoring systems

In any case the paper reviews and provides nice table summaries of studies done using each method.

This work is a treasure trove for researchers looking for both new methods and an expanded (yet time proven) conceptual model to guide research in online and blended learning.

One of the values of the original COI model was its simplicity. Peter Shea and his colleagues have argued for a “Learning presence” which takes into account the learners self-efficacy, confidence and capability to learn.  While not denying the value of “learner presence” it takes the model into psychological realms that our more sociological orientation had avoided in the initial formation.  Adding any additional presences, adds complexity and besides the aesthetic value of a simpler, three circle Venn diagram, Occam’s Razor calls for simplicity of explanation whenever possible.  So can learning in educational contexts be adequately described and measures without reference to emotions? I think it can, but this review convinced me that something is lost when the emotional aspect of human experience in education is ignored.

Given the application of the model to formal education, I was surprised to not see a bit more emphasis on teacher emotion. I know from my own experience, the emotional challenges that I deal with when teaching either online or in a classroom.In any case, this review is not the last word, but a great starting point for further research in “emotional presence”.


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  1. Sheri O Sheri O
    December 16, 2014    

    Adding emotional presence to the COI model as a distinct category calls into question the role of emotions in learning and in teaching. I do wonder if Occum could slice the model by teacher and learner presence save the community created by all the learners/teacher/ institution greatly influences interactions too. Teachers certainly respond emotionally to activities in the community and between learners and learner and teacher, so the idea of an emotional component to the model is appropriate. So complex.

    Pat Thomson, an Education professor from the UK (originally Australia) who writes really great posts for doctoral researchers, just wrote a blog post about the emotional let down upon completion of the PhD. http://patthomson.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/the-post-phd-slump/

    The role of emotions in learning and teaching needs more attention and understanding and deserves a space in a model.

  2. Yolanda Gayol Yolanda Gayol
    December 16, 2014    


    I agree with you regarding the simplicity of your model. In fact. As you think of learning presence, in terms of Bloom, it includes cognitive, affective and psychomotor skills. I don’t see the need to change the COI Model. The new “emotional presence” could be further expanded as part of learning presence

    Congratulations for your fantastic journey and the Sabbatical in China.
    I will keep reading you….Happy holidays


  3. Carola Steinberg Carola Steinberg
    December 17, 2014    

    I agree that the model should be extended to include ‘Emotional Presence’. Educational research has side-lined emotions for so long, that unless emotions become a focus of research in their own right, they will not receive the conceptual and empirical attention they deserve. Yes, including an ‘Emotional Presence’ complexifies the model – but isn’t that exactly what emotions do in our lives? Why should it be any different in research? In order for us to more fully understand learning, teaching, assessment and the structures of schooling, the emotions of learners, teachers, school leaders, department officials and other stakeholders in education need to researched.

  4. Ian Cowley Ian Cowley
    December 17, 2014    

    I like your angle, Yolanda. However, I think there is a distinction between Bloom and emotions. The affective domain refers more to opinions, I feel, than emotions. For example, I may be ‘affectively’ pro-life, agnostic, and patriotic yet feeling sad today. Tomorrow I will feel happy yet still hold those same affective opinions.

  5. Bart Rienties Bart Rienties
    January 6, 2015    

    Thanks all for your feedback and Terry Anderson in particular. This is really helpful! We are currently setting up a small bid for UK funder JISC about role of emotions using learning analytics, which will hopefully allow us to empirically test some of the issues we raised in the LACE report. If you are interested to support us, feel free to vote for us at:


    Or if you are interested to help out, let me know as well of course….

    Many thanks!

    Bart Rienties

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