Being socially present in a time of social distancing: investigating the online social learning experiences of teacher-trainees during COVID-19

Maryam Husain Almahdi, Ghadah Al Murshidi, Osama Al-Mahdi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: This paper investigates the social online learning experiences of teacher trainees during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study's model gauges the relationships between social presence, sense of community, and collaborative learning in online work-based learning environments. Design/methodology/approach: This study uses a cross-sectional design, specifically an online questionnaire, to collect data from teacher-trainees in different years of their university programs. Findings: The findings indicate significant and positive relationships between social presence and both sense of community and collaborative learning, and between collaborative learning and sense of community in a work-based online learning environment. Moreover, collaborative learning was found to mediate the relationship between social presence and sense of community in the study's model. Research limitations/implications: The use of questionnaires to collect self-reported data from a mostly female undergraduate sample is expected to affect the generalizability of the results. Experiments or observation methods and a wider sample of participants can be used in future research to build on the findings of this study. Practical implications: The authors recommend that educators play an active role in improving the students' online social learning experiences, especially their social presence and collaborative learning. By using different interactive methods (e.g. encouraging students to ask questions, express emotions, share resources, and reflect on their learning in a group), educators can help students achieve a sense of community and, hence, realize the many beneficial outcomes tied to community creation in online learning environments. Originality/value: The study contributes to knowledge by highlighting students' social experiences while learning online, a usually overlooked area of study. These insights are especially important in a time when online learning has become a necessity rather than a choice and when students are in dire need of social support and community. Researching the online social learning experiences of teacher-trainees lends additional value to the study, as it is necessary for future teachers to experience and master this type of learning during their pre-service training so they can apply it with higher levels of confidence and efficacy in their future classrooms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)667-681
Number of pages15
JournalHigher Education, Skills and Work-based Learning
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Sept 8 2023


  • Collaborative learning
  • Online learning
  • Sense of community
  • Social presence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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