Topic 4: Learning places that spark emotional interest

“designers and educators need to create places that are not only safe to learn, but also spark some emotional interest” (Fielding 2006)

To me the fourth topic of the course with its focus on emotional presence (Cleveland-Innes, 2008) – and particularly emotional presence within the Community of Inquiry framework (Cleveland-Innes & Campbell 2012; Vaughan, N. D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. , 2013) – turned out to be some of the most interesting and rewarding sessions of the course. For whatever reason I think my initial associations with online networked learning had been expectations of the opposite of emotional presence – I vaguely expected that we would learn a great deal about how to handle different technical tools in order to facilitate more efficient learning, but hardly anything that was connected to feelings. I had participated in a number of good workshops on digital tools earlier, with enthusiastic and competent teachers where we practised “learning by doing”. And we are all familiar with the phenomenon of social media and their increasing role in people’s lives, where the focus obviously is on emotional aspects rather than technological issues. And still these seminars on the role of emotions in learning and the importance of connecting to others (students and fellow teachers) with all your dimensions turned out to be a real eye-opener to me. I have now listened to the initial webinar presentations by Marti Cleveland-Innes and Anne Whaits several times and will probably return to their publications a number of times in the future.

So why was this so important to me? To begin with I suppose that we can all recognize the feeling when a theoretical model puts into words or pictures something that you already knew intuitively, but that you haven’t analysed consciously yet. And since we are all university teachers and have been socialized into academic thinking born of specific traditions, the role of emotional presence in your teaching and the extent to which your students show or hide emotions in class, may not have appeared to be central to your planning and evaluation of academic knowledge and progress. And suddenly you realise that you have overseen something very important and that this is perhaps the starting point for everything else.

The three-fold model that Cleveland-Innes presented  in the padlet for this topic states that an educational setting consists of three main focus areas: teaching presence (NB not teacher’s presence, it could also be peer collaboration teaching), social presence and cognitive presence. All the areas are obviously interrelated and connected with central teaching tasks such as engagement with participants, engagement with content and engagement with goals and directions.

And so the main question posed is: Is emotional presence the 4th presence, residing next to the others? Should we always try to manifest our teaching selves in those four dimensions in order to facilitate learning among our students? Again the academic eye wants to structure things in all too neat boxes. In the interactive padlet it was obvious that some of the participants of the course found it rather difficult or even impossible to separate social presence from emotional presence, which I found interesting.  But the answer given by Cleveland-Innes was that emotional presence should not be regarded as a separate skill or aspect. Instead it should be seen as the underlying prerequisite of it all. Perhaps – if we imagine a house with several floors – we could regard emotional presence as the very foundation of the whole building. Without being emotionally present and without being able to promote and maintain your students’ emotional presence and engagement with what we are trying work with together  your cognitive, social and teaching presence may not fulfil their intended effects at all. The interesting challenge, then, is to be able to convey this in an online environment, especially if we tend to underestimate the role of emotional presence in an academic setting (see

I think that it would be rewarding to investigate the link between the notion of a student’s emotional presence and his or her intrinsic motivation (motivation being born out of the individual’s personal interests, longings and curiosity rather than external motivation triggered by good notes, for example, or other rewards; see Gardner 1965 and Ryan and Deci, 2000, among others). The importance of intrinsic motivation for deep learning effects is well-researched and widely discussed – and all teachers do recognize this in their practice when you see a “light” in the eyes of your students. Still, in real life,  the boundary between what should be termed “inner” and “outer” motivation respectively has turned out to be less clear-cut than academic models would want them to be. An outer reward could lead to a real interest in a subject, whereas intrinsic motivation can also rise and fade during the day – and there is also the common possibility of mixed motivations and factors, long-term and short-term.

To sum it up – perhaps the idea of emotional presence, combined with the insight of different motivational aspects on a scale consisting of different intrinsic and extrinsic factors, could help lead teachers and students to even better course designs and learning paths – regardless of these paths being trodden in class or online. The most important aspect of emotional presence in online courses, however, seems to be that you as a teacher have to consciously build in possibilities of showing emotional presence in a Zoom room, for example. As we all experience now during the Corona pandemic, we sit at home and try to connect through a screen. If we only focus on the academic content of a course, the students will – as somebody so nicely put it in the interactive padlet – use a lot of energy to hide and suppress emotions that could otherwise be put into learning.  Small details such as giving room for small-talk, having a connecting week with personal presentations and time for getting used to each other as well as the technology (as we had in this course),  and letting students show appreciation,  enthusiasm or doubt during the course, may be a lot more important for their actual learning than you think.

To further investigate the role of emotional presence and the possibilities of facilitating and enhancing emotional presence in a teaching and learning online context will be one of the most inspiring challenges that I take with me from this course.


Beetham, H., & Sharpe, R. (2019). Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age:  Principles and Practices of Design. Routledge.

Cleveland-Innes, M. & Campbell. P. (2012): Emotional presence, learning, and the online learning environment. 

Lehman, Rosemary M. (2010): Creating a Sense of Presence in Online Teaching: How to “Be There” for Distance Learners.  Cleveland.


71 Replies to “Topic 4: Learning places that spark emotional interest”

  1. Another thoughtful and well-structured response. You should consider continuing with this blog!
    The difficulty I have with emotional presence is that it is “emotional” and therefore hard, if not impossible, to plan and control. Emotions can motivate or hinder learning and we are not always in control of them or how our actions affect others. You can design a “perfect” course but fail to inspire the students due to factors you are unaware of or have little control over. Maybe that’s what makes each course a challenge – you never know what will happen.

  2. Thank you for your thoughful blog on this important matter. I find emotions to be one of my inspiration when I teach; when I see the light in my students’ eyes. Here is where the cognitive, social and teaching presence is so important. The emotional prescens really transcends the three and I liked your comparison with it being the very foundation of the whole building.

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