Online Instructor Presence: How much is enough?

Modern college and university education concept. Student cap on tablet computer with sticking textbook, writing tools and magnifying glass. Flat style vector illustration isolated on white background

By Natalia Matusevscaia, Learning Strategist at ellicom

I am currently enrolled in an online program on the fundamentals of graphic design, which consists of five courses. All the courses look similar because they are designed and developed by the same university, are structured the same way, and have the same type of assignments and peer review assessments. All five courses focus on the basics of graphic design and offer a lot of opportunities for practice and exploration. Sounds good, right? Still, I felt very unhappy in one of these courses. What do you think went wrong?

No, I was very interested in the subject (I would not willingly take a course and pay for it if I do not want to know about the topic). No, the assignments were interesting and involved exploration, trials, and sharing with other students. No, I did not feel alone, but connected with other students who are interested in the same subject. I had a good learning experience, mostly through discovery learning, but I did not feel that there was somebody leading and influencing this experience with personal expertise and guidelines. Yes, I had a very poor instructional experience.

You can see different approaches to increasing instructor presence in an online course. Some online instructors say they post one or two sentences on their personal life in the students’ forums, such as “I had a great day with my children today” or “I was running around trying to accomplish all my tasks for today in time.” These instructors believe that it is important for the learners to feel they are real and have a life outside of the course. I can definitely argue with this belief.

First of all, the online instructor is not necessarily a real person. In many e-learning courses, avatars and voice-over instruction can also encourage student-instructor contact without how-I-spend-my-day chat. Secondly, I believe every word said and every move made by the instructor should be directed toward the main goal: creation and organization of a valuable learning experience. Here you can find the description of the most effective models and strategies for creating and nurturing instructor immediacy in online and virtual learning environments.

Doug Hamilton, an online instructor, says that it is important to be serendipitous and opportunistic to create valuable learning opportunities in every learner’s comment or instructor’s explanation. I would just add that it is vital for an online course to have a golden balance between intrusive instruction and pure discovery learning. It does not bring value to my graphic design course that I felt like I was grasping in the dark, trying to find my own way in learning.



D’Augustino, S. (2016). Creating Teacher Immediacy in Online Learning Environments. Retrieved from

Hamilton, D. How do you maintain instructor presence online? [Video file]. Retrieved from







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