What is the Community of Inquiry model?

Key terms

Community of Inquiry: A social constructivist model of the processes which...

Practical tip

As we review the basic tenets of the CoI model, keep in mind your course...

Useful links

CoI website, with sections on teaching presence, social presence, and...

The Community of Inquiry framework (CoI) focuses on the intentional development of an online learning community with an emphasis on the processes of instructional conversations likely to lead to substantial learning engagement (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). The model articulates the behaviours and processes required to nurture knowledge construction through the cultivation of various forms of 'presence', amongst which are teaching, social, and cognitive presence. According to the authors of CoI, it is through the skilful marshalling of these forms of presence that online academic staff and students, in collaboration, develop a productive online learning environment through which knowledge is constructed. The CoI model, with more than 15 years of research and refinement, is arguably the most compatible framework for constructivist learning in higher education online settings.

Community of Inquiry (CoI)

A social constructivist model of the processes that support learning in an online environment.

(You can learn more about the fundamentals of CoI in the 'Introduction' course of the Teaching Online programme, and more on implementing the model in the course on 'Being a successful online teacher'.)

The three presences of CoI

The CoI framework asserts that online knowledge building (described as cognitive presence) is a result of collaborative work amongst active participants in learning communities characterised by instructional orchestration appropriate to the online environments (teaching presence) and a supportive and collegial online setting (social presence).

cognitive presence

A constituent of the CoI model; referring to the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning in online courses.

teaching presence

A constituent of the CoI model; referring to the design and organisation of course materials and activities, facilitation of learning, and direct instruction in online courses.

social presence

A constituent of the CoI model; referring to the degree to which participants in online environments feel affectively connected to one another.

A closer look at teaching presence

Let's consider the relationships within the CoI model in more detail, beginning with teaching presence.

In the following activity, click on each segment to find out more about teaching presence.

Firstly, let's consider what teaching presence actually is: The goal-directed collaborative interaction known to support a sense of connectedness and active learning can be effectively orchestrated by the three elements of teaching presence: effective design, facilitation, and the direction of cognitive and social processes on the part of online teachers.

And, now, we can consider the three constituent elements of teaching presence in more depth:

Instructional design and organisation

Under the category of instructional design and organisation, the CoI authors include:

  • Setting curriculum
  • Designing methods
  • Establishing time parameters
  • Utilising the medium effectively
  • Establishing group norms via conventions of 'netiquette'.

Facilitating productive discourse

The task of facilitating discourse is necessary to maintain learner engagement and refers to focused and sustained deliberation that marks learning in a CoI. The indicators that reflect discourse facilitation include:

  • Identification of areas of agreement and disagreement
  • Seeking to reach consensus and understanding
  • Encouraging, acknowledging, and reinforcing student contributions
  • Setting the climate for learning
  • Drawing in participants
  • Prompting discussion
  • Assessing the efficacy of the process.

Direction and leadership

Indicators of direction and leadership (also referred to as direct instruction) include:

  • Presenting content and questions
  • Focusing the discussion on specific issues
  • Summarising discussion
  • Confirming understanding
  • Diagnosing misperceptions
  • Injecting knowledge from diverse sources
  • Responding to technical concerns.

A closer look at social presence

Did you know?

Although a number of variables have been identified as factors...

Social presence has been defined as the ability of learners to project their personal characteristics into the online learning environment, thereby presenting themselves as 'real people'. It is considered to be a crucial element of successful collaborative online learning environments, but is not easily achieved. Researchers (Rourke, Anderson, Garrison & Archer, 2001) have identified at least 12 components or indicators that define social presence and the important social dimensions of learning in the absence of face-to-face interaction. These fall under three broad categories of:

  • Affect
  • Interaction
  • Cohesion.
In the following activity, click on each segment to find out more about social presence.

Learners in well-functioning online collaborative environments will demonstrate social presence indicators in their discussions and other interaction. It is, of course, very useful to understand these indicators if you are attempting to build a good collaborative online course of your own. The 12 indicators of social presence fall under the three categories of affect, interaction, and cohesion.

Let's now consider these three categories, and the indicators therein, in greater depth.

Affective indicators

Expressions of emotion: These include both conventional and unconventional expressions of emotion using textual features such as repetitious punctuation, conspicuous punctuation, or emoticons.

Use of humour: The authors of the CoI framework include joking, teasing, cajoling, and all forms of humour under this category.

Self-disclosure: This can be identified when online learners present details of their lives outside of the course context and/or express vulnerability.


Cohesive indicators

Vocatives: This indicator reflects when students explicitly refer to one another by name.

Inclusive pronouns: Students sometime intentionally address their group as 'we', 'our', or 'us'.

Salutations:This occurs when students greet one another or explicitly say goodbye or otherwise close out a comment or discussion.


Interactive indicators

Continuing a thread: Online learners do this frequently when hitting 'reply' rather than starting a new thread.

Quoting from others' messages: This indicator reveals that learners are aware of and referencing the words of others, sometimes directly (by copying and pasting) or indirectly.

Asking questions: Again, online learners do this frequently (depending on the design of the course) – asking either other students or the teacher questions in discussion forums or other activities.

Complimenting: Students will often express gratitude or praise one another on posts and ideas.

Expressing agreement: Online learners demonstrate this interactive indicator when they let classmates or the teacher know that they share perspectives or opinions.

These indicators of social presence may seem small or inconsequential, but taken together they do represent the many ways in which online learners can engage each other socially while never meeting face-to-face. Why might the seemingly trivial interactions that go together to define social presence in online learning matter? Or do they? Consider, in turn, each of the categories of social presence – affective indicators, cohesive indicators, and interactive indicators. For each set of indicators think about whether or not they matter in online learning environments and why.

A closer look at cognitive presence

Key terms

Critical thinking: The process used to arrive at reasoned conclusions...

The final category in the CoI framework is cognitive presence. This concept has been defined as the extent to which participants in a community of inquiry are able to construct meaning through sustained communication (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2000). It thereby represents the crucial process by which learning develops in collaborative online educational environments. Cognitive presence reflects higher-order knowledge acquisition and application and is most associated with the literature and research related to critical thinking and problem solving, nearly universal goals of higher education (Garrison et al 2001).

critical thinking

The process used to arrive at reasoned conclusions based on a reasoned process; using the conceptualisation, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation of gathered information.

The four phases of cognitive presence are the phases of practical inquiry adapted by the CoI authors from Dewey (1933):

  • Triggering event
  • Exploration
  • Integration
  • Resolution.
In the following activity, click on each step to find out more about the phases of cognitive presence.

Let's consider the four phases of cognitive presence in more depth, in particular the actions and processes that can feature in each one.

Triggering Event

  • Evocative discourse
  • Recognising the problem
  • Sense of puzzlement.

Triggering events are often teacher-generated. They may take the form of a seed question in an online discussion forum (Archer, 2010), an assignment being set, a news event or a problem being posed.


Exploration

  • Inquisitive discourse
  • Divergence
  • Information exchange
  • Suggestions for consideration
  • Brainstorming
  • Leaps to conclusion.

Exploration usually takes place as an online discussion where students can debate and substantiate their understanding by investigating relevant information. This could also be a live chat in a virtual classroom or online brainstorming activity.


Integration

  • Tentative discourse
  • Convergence amongst group members
  • Convergence within message
  • Connecting ideas – synthesis
  • Creating solutions.

Written assignments, presentations, journal activities or wiki projects can provide opportunity for integration. They may be group or individual tasks that require students to combine ideas and come to a consensus on the concepts raised in the Exploration phase.


Resolution

  • Committed discourse
  • Vicarious application to real world
  • Testing solutions
  • Defending solutions.

Resolution may take the form of a practical activity such as a project presentation session, an experiment or a practical placement. Debriefing activities can also allow students to achieve resolution and might take the form of a live chat or dedicated 'debrief' online discussion forum.

Most of those who work with the CoI framework suggest that designers must develop engaging tasks that include an outcome or a product, and that teachers must encourage and support learners' work for practical inquiry to proceed through to resolution. What kinds of activities can you include in your own course and what kinds of strategies can you use to support and guide students through the stages of inquiry that are meant to support critical thinking and higher order learning?


Key terms

Community of Inquiry: A social constructivist model of the processes which support learning in an online environment. Featuring:

  • Social presence: The degree to which participants in online environments feel affectively connected to one another.
  • Cognitive presence: The extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning in online courses.
  • Teaching presence: the design and organisation of course materials and activities, facilitation of learning, and direction and leadership in online courses.

Practical tip

As we review the basic tenets of the CoI model, keep in mind your course and how it may already fit into this framework or how it may be modified to do so. For example, as you learn more about what teaching presence means and how it supports the student learning, consider how you may become more 'intentional' in establishing your own teaching presence in your online course.

Useful links

Did you know?

Although a number of variables have been identified as factors which potentially influence the effectiveness of collaborative learning, all these factors are related in one way or to one single key element: social interaction. The affective indicators of social presence are a signal that social interaction is occurring.

Key terms

Critical thinking: The process used to arrive at reasoned conclusions based on a reasoned process; using the conceptualisation, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation of gathered information.

Higher order knowledge: Knowledge generated using 'higher order' skills such as analysis and evaluation (as per critical thinking); the use of 'order' is based on learning taxonomies, such as Bloom's.