The 4 Types of Online Learning Communities Part 2- Community of Inquiry

July 27, 2018


Welcome to part two of the Online Learning Communities Series. Click here to read part one.

To understand our next featured community, think about a time that you engaged in a learning cohort or community.

  • How would you describe the level of social presence that the community members brought in?
  • How did you define the cognitive interaction within the learning community?
  • How did you measure the teaching engagement and what it brought to the learning community?

These three components are crucial to the second online learning community framework that we are highlighting - The Community of Inquiry (CoI).

The Community of Inquiry (COI) has emerged in the past two decades as the most widely cited model for both course development and teaching research in online education. It is an instructional design model for e-learning developed by Randy Garrison and Terry Anderson et al, which is grounded in the work of John Dewey and C.S. Pierce concerning the nature of knowledge formation and the process of scientific inquiry.

Community of Inquiry is defined as any group of individuals involved in a process of empirical or conceptual inquiry into problematic situations. It is a dynamic process model designed to define, describe, and measure elements supporting the development of online learning communities.

The theoretical framework represents the process of creating deep and meaningful (collaborative-constructivist) learning experiences through the development of three interdependent dimensions of presence: social, teaching, and cognitive.

Source: Wikipedia

When all three elements interact, it’s then that students are able to experience deep and meaningful learning.


Social presence is “the ability of participants to identify with the community (e.g., course of study), communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop interpersonal relationships by way of projecting their individual personalities.” (Garrison, 2009) Social presence involves three categories: open communication, group cohesion, and affective expression.

Open communication - Learners build and sustain a sense of group commitment. It

encourages critical reflection and discourse through a process of recognizing,

complimenting, and responding to the questions and contributions of others.

Group cohesion - Learners interact around common intellectual activities and tasks. It is

achieved when students identify with the group and perceive themselves as a part of the

community of inquiry.

Affective expression - Learners share personal expressions of emotion, feelings, beliefs, and

values. Affective expression using emoticons, capitalization or punctuation, self-disclosure

and use of humor are indicators of the interpersonal communication aspect of social


Cognitive Presence is the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001). Cognitive Presence has four phases. This is based from The Guide for Identifying and Eliciting Cognitive Presence.

1.Triggering event: Learners recognize the problem and have a sense of puzzlement by the given question or task.

2. Exploration: Learners use different sources and discuss with others to solve ambiguities.

3. Integration: Learners reflect on the task, link ideas, and try to come up with solutions.

4. Resolution: In this final phase, learners apply the knowledge created to new situations; they test solutions or defend solutions.

Teaching Presence is the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001). It is the key element that facilitates the establishment and growth of social and cognitive presences.

The Community of Inquiry model emphasizes creating an effective learning environment where students feel connected with other learners and with the instructor. It is based on providing engaging, collaborative and well-designed learning activities. How learning unfolds in Communities of Inquiry is based on the interaction of social, cognitive, and teaching presence.

What are the crucial tasks or activities for each dimension?

The selection, design and facilitation of learning activities are crucial in addressing the three presences. Activities that can be done to improve on the different dimensions are as follows:

a. Social Presence – the main task is to seek the most effective practices that will set the climate and support the community in building shared understanding. According to a study by Rovai (2007) activities that can help in promoting social presence are:

·      Addressing the person by name

·      Allowing for sharing of personal and professional experiences

·      Encouraging participation

Other strategies to employ are:

·      Facilitating and modeling discussions, comments, sharing of one’s opinions

·      Personal anecdotes

·      Encouraging personal reflections

·      Being personal with learners

Modeling social cues like those mentioned above will most likely encourage learners to do the same, thus enhancing the learning community experience.

b. Cognitive presence - to encourage high levels of cognitive presence, one needs to include purposeful design of the discussion prompts. Discussion prompts are very important strategies to use in promoting cognitive presence. It provides the structure and directs the activity of the learners. There are three different types of discussion prompts:

Problem-based prompts typically focus on a problem that is related to the content area and

ask learners to discuss and work together to formulate solutions.

Project-based learning - similar to problem-based learning, project-based learning has

learners develop solutions to problems. However, students create concrete products or

artifacts that engage them in solving the problem. These are often scenario based and

directly related to ‘real-world’ situations.

Debate prompts - they help learners challenge what they know, form arguments, advance

arguments, and work through conflicts in concepts and assumptions. Engaging in a debate

requires learners to examine, compare, and contrast other solutions, exposing the

advantages and disadvantages of the positions. Through debate prompts, learners also get

experience with persuasion and the art of respectful disagreements.

Skillful implementation of facilitation strategies – the presence of the facilitator is not the only important aspect in cognitive presence. The quality and effectiveness of the facilitation strategies also need emphasis. Questioning and assuming a challenging stance were both identified as effective facilitation strategies

Questioning- is considered the best facilitation strategy. It guides learners in the cognitive

process and helps prompt learners to dive deeper into the materials presented.

Challenging stance involves prompting learners to consider different viewpoints by

presenting various perspectives. It also helps learners to defend their position by providing

evidence and credence to their position.

c. Teaching Presence is the backbone of the online learning community. Some of the activities that highlight teaching presence are:

·      Promptness in giving feedback

·      Providing multifaceted feedback – i.e. text, audio or video feedback

·      Provide opportunities for peer facilitation


An educational community of inquiry is defined as “a group of individuals who collaboratively engage in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct personal meaning and confirm mutual understanding” (Garrison, 2011, p.2). The Community of Inquiry (CoI) theoretical framework embraces deep approaches within the social, cognitive and teaching presence dimensions to create conditions that encourage higher order cognitive processing, engagement and deep learning.


Anderson, T., L. Rourke, D.R. Garrison and W. Archer (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context, Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 5 (2).

Garrison, D. R. Communities of Inquiry in Online Learning: Social, Teaching and Cognitive Presence. In C. Howard et al. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of distance and online learning. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, in press.

Rovai, Alfred P. Internet and Higher Education , v10 n1 p77-88 2007.

Our team can help you create and cultivate the most dynamic online learning community on the planet! Sign up today for a free 30 minute consultation ($125 value) with Lana, to review your community goals and needs.

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