Arbaugh on Virtual Immediacy

Arbaugh (2001) reports on research about the effect of immediacy behaviors in online learning.  She begins by defining immediacy behaviors as “communication behaviors that reduce social and psychological distance between people” (p. 43).  In a face-to-face setting, this might include nonverbal actions such as eye contact, smiling, movement around classroom, body position; and verbal acts such as including personal examples, using humor, providing and inviting feedback, and addressing and being addressed by name.  Past research has found that both verbal and nonverbal immediacy behaviors are associated with student motivation and learning.

In a virtual setting, however, nonverbal immediacy behaviors are “severely limited” (p. 44), but verbal immediacy behaviors are still possible.  Arbaugh uses Gorham’s (1988) verbal immediacy scale, which looks at two components:

  1. “classroom” demeanor: “instructor’s use of personal examples, humor, and openness toward and encouragement of student ideas and discussion” (p. 45), and
  2. “name recognition, referring to the extent to which the instructor was addressed by name by students and vice versa” (p. 45).

This list made me reflect on how I can improve my “immediacy behaviors” when teaching, whether face-to-face or online.  And I liked this argument from Arbaugh, which points to some of the transformative potential in blended and distance learning, if the pedagogy is creative and sound:

The online learning environment can in fact reduce the traditional social distance between instructor and student…because the online environment may be more dependent upon the collective effort of all class participants rather than primarily the instructor to assure a successful course…. (48)


Arbaugh, J.B. (2001). How Instructor Immediacy Behaviors Affect Student Satisfaction and Learning in Web-Based Courses. Business Communication Quarterly, 64(4): 42-54. doi:10.1177/108056990106400405.


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