In the last decade, we have seen the emergence of virtual learning environments. Initially, these environments were a little more than document repositories that tutor used unicast to the students. Informed in part by social constructivist theories of education, later environments included capabilities for tutor–student and student–student, synchronous and asynchronous communication. The initial research of this paper reports the typical low usage of these capabilities. The main research attempted to ameliorate this problem by the provision of tools to promote a sense of social awareness as self-presence and copresence, and evaluation techniques to analyse e-learners' interactions. Data was obtained from prepost questionnaires, log files and social network analysis which augmented the data provided by the tools embedded in Moodle. The results indicate the importance of social awareness in effective e-learning; the quality of active participation can be increased by the use of associated tools. The e-tutor's role is still pivotal to facilitate and to support such engagement towards collaborative learning. Implications for future research suggest that social awareness tools and evaluation techniques can create awareness cues in an interface with a potential impact on learning.