Community of inquiry model

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1 Definition

The community of inquiry model is an instructional design model for e-learning developed by Randy Garrison, Terry Anderson et al (University of Calgary). Its purpose is to provide a framework for the use of CMC in supporting an educational experience.

See also: equivalency theorem, inquiry learning, social presence, community of practice, knowledge-building community model, community of learning, virtual community, social software Note: Links to the original web site are broken as of dec 2014, see The Community of Inquiry or the Community of Inquiry on the EQuiv Website instead.

2 The model

“"A critical community of learners, from an educational perspective, is composed of teachers and students transacting with the specific purposes of facilitating, constructing, and validating understanding, and of developing capabilities that will lead to further learning. Such a community encourages cognitive independence and social interdependence simultaneously."” (Garrison & Anderson, 2003:23)

The community of inquiry model defines a good e-learning environment through three major components. On the communities of inquiry web site (retrieved 15:45, 6 July 2006 (MEST)) these are defined as follows:

  1. Cognitive presence is the extent to which the participants in any particular configuration of a community of inquiry are able to construct meaning through sustained communication. (Cognitive Presence)
  2. Social presence is the ability of learners to project their personal characteristics into the community of inquiry, thereby presenting themselves as 'real people.' (Social Presence)
  3. Teaching presence is defined as the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educational worthwhile learning outcomes. (Teaching Presence)

The relationship and function of these components is explained in this picture

The community of Inquiry model. Copyright 2007 R. Garrison, T. Anderson, W. Archer and L. Rourke et al., University of Calgary, reprinted with permission by Terry Anderson

Note the pivotal role of social presence in not only setting the educational climate but also in supporting discourse and creating the educational experience. We defined social presence as "the ability of learners to project themselves socially and affectively into a community of inquiry" (Rourke, Anderson, Archer, & Garrison, 1999). We spent some time developing tools to measure social presence in asynchronous text conferencing systems and validating these tools via interviews and surveys (Rourke & Anderson, 2002). This work has been extended and quantified by a number of researchers (Tu, 2002; Stacey, 2002) demonstrating amongst other findings that social presence is correlated with student satisfaction and higher scores on learning outcomes (Richardson & Swan, 2003). - Anderson, (2005:2), retrieved october 25 2007.

Stephen Downes made a suggestion to extend "presence" by "network". “The COI exists within the larger context of the educational semantic web. I also envisioned the larger Net with all of its social, teaching and cognitive stimulation and support as being outside - but directly linking in to the three presences. Visualized as the whole the model immersed in the flow of the Net. Stephen's additions make that more clear and explicitly site the encompassing effect of the Net on learning and living these days.” (Virtual Canuck, retrieved 15:45, 6 July 2006 (MEST).)

3 COI codes

Garrison, Anderson & Archer (2001) includes a table that illustrates “the relationship among the three essential elements in a community of inquiry, as well as the indicators of those elements that occur in a computer conference or other venue for a true community of inquiry, and the categories into which we have grouped the indicators.”

Community of Inquiry Coding Template
Elements Categories Indicators (examples only)
Cognitive Presence Triggering Event Sense of puzzlement
Exploration Information exchange
Integration Connecting ideas
Resolution Apply new ideas
Social Presence Emotional Expression Emotions
Open Communication Risk-free expression
Group Cohesion Encouraging collaboration
Teaching Presence Instructional Management Defining and initiating discussion topics
Building Understanding Sharing personal meaning
Direct Instruction Focusing discussion

The following items were used by Akyol et al. (2001) to code transcripts, i.e. student's online forum activities

Social presence:

  • Affective expression
  • Open communication
  • Group cohesion

Cognitive presence (four phases of the practical inquiry model)

  • Triggering event
  • Exploration
  • Integration
  • Resolution

Teaching presence

  • Design and organization
  • Facilitating discourse
  • Direct instruction

4 COI Questionnaire

The following questionnaire was used and published in Akyol et al. (2001). The COI model three dimensions (cognitive, social and teaching presence) are measured with a five point scale (strongly disagree - strongly agree):

Teaching Presence

  1. The instructor clearly communicated important course topics
  2. The instructor clearly communicated important course goals
  3. The instructor clearly communicated important course topics
  4. The instructor clearly communicated important due dates/time frames for learning activities
  5. The instructor was helpful in identifying areas of agreement and disagreement on course topics that helped me to learn
  6. The instructor was helpful in guiding the class towards understanding course topics in a way that helped me clarify my thinking
  7. The instructor helped to keep course participants engaged and participating in productive dialogue
  8. The instructor helped keep the course participants on task in a way that helped me to learn
  9. The instructor encouraged course participants to explore new concepts in this course
  10. Instructor actions reinforced the development of a sense of community among course participants
  11. The instructor helped to focus discussion on relevant issues in a way that helped me to learn
  12. The instructor provided feedback that helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses
  13. The instructor provided feedback in a timely fashion

Social Presence

  1. Getting to know other course participants gave me a sense of belonging in the course
  2. I was able to form distinct impressions of some course participants
  3. Online or web-based communication is an excellent medium for social interaction
  4. I felt comfortable conversing through the online medium
  5. I felt comfortable participating in the course discussions
  6. I felt comfortable interacting with other course participants
  7. I felt comfortable disagreeing with other course participants while still maintaining a sense of trust
  8. I felt that my point of view was acknowledged by other course participants
  9. Online discussions help me to develop a sense of collaboration

Cognitive Presence

  1. Problems posed increased my interest in course issues
  2. Course activities piqued my curiosity I felt motivated to explore content related questions
  3. I utilized a variety of information sources to explore problems posed in this course
  4. Brainstorming and finding relevant information helped me resolve content related questions
  5. Online discussions were valuable in helping me appreciate different perspectives
  6. Combining new information helped me answer questions raised in course activities
  7. Learning activities helped me construct explanations/solutions Reflection on course content and discussions helped me understand fundamental concepts in this class
  8. I can describe ways to test and apply the knowledge created in this course
  9. I have developed solutions to course problems that can be applied in practice
  10. I can apply the knowledge created in this course to my work or other non-class related activities

Extra questions (?)


  • Overall, I was satisfied with this course


  • I learned much in this course (Disagree - Neutral - Agree - Strongly agree)

Please answer the following questions below.

  1. How has teaching, social and cognitive presence positively affected you in terms of satisfaction and learning?
  2. Which aspects of teaching, social and cognitive presence has negatively affected your satisfaction and learning?
  3. How has your sense of community positively or negatively affected your satisfaction and learning in this course?
  4. Any other insights do you have in terms of the effectiveness of this course?

5 Software

6 Links

  • Communities of inquiry This site documents the work completed during a Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities research funded project entitled "A Study of the Characteristics and Qualities of Text-Based Computer Conferencing for Educational Purposes.

7 References

  • Akyol, Zehra; Norm Vaughan, D. Randy Garrison (2011) The impact of course duration on the development of a community of inquiry, Interactive Learning Environments Vol. 19, Iss. 3, 2011
  • Anderson, Terry (2005). Distance learning - social software's killer ap ?, 17th Biennial Conference of the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia, 9-11 november 2005. PDF
  • Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2001). Critical Thinking and Computer Conferencing:A Model and Tool to Assess Cognitive Presence. American Journal of Distance Education. PDF
  • Garrison, D. Randy; Terry Anderson, and Walter Archer (2001). Critical Thinking, Cognitive Presence, and Computer Conferencing in Distance Education, American Journal of Distance Education, 15(1). PDF Reprint
  • Garrison, Randy & Terry Anderson, (2003). E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice, 2003, p. 23.
  • Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.
  • Rourke, L. & Anderson, T. (2002). Exploring social presence in computer conferencing. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 13(3), 259-275. PDF
  • Richardson, J.C. & Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses in relation to students' perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7 (1), pp.68-88. HTML
  • Rourke, L., Anderson, T., Archer, W. & Garrison, D.R. (1999). Assessing social presence in asynchronous, text-based computer conferences. Journal of Distance Education, 14 (3), pp.51-70. PDF
  • Shea, P. (2011). Learning presence in the Community of Inquiry Model: Towards a theory of online learner self- and co-regulation. In T. Bastiaens & M. Ebner (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications (pp. 2556-2565). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.
  • Shea, P., & Bidjerano, T. (2009). Community of inquiry as a theoretical framework to foster ‘epistemic engagement’ and ‘cognitive presence’ in online education. Computers and Education, 52(3), 543-553.
  • Shea, P., Gozza-Cohen, M., Uzuner, S., Mehta, R., Valtcheva, A. V., Hayes, S., & Vickers, J. (2011). The community of inquiry framework meets the SOLO taxonomy: A process-product model of online learning. Educational Media International, 48(2), 101-113.
  • Shea, P., Hayes, S., Vickers, J., Gozza-Cohen, M., Uzuner, S., Mehta, R., & Rangan, P. (2010a). A re-examination of the community of inquiry framework: Social network and content analysis. The Internet and Higher Education, 13(1-2), 10-21.
  • Shea, P., Vickers, J., & Hayes S. (2010b). Online instructional effort measured through the lens of teaching presence in the community of inquiry framework: A re-examination of measures and approach. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 11(3), 127-154. Retrieved October 25, 2011, from
  • Stacey, E. (2002). Social presence online: Networking learners at a distance, education and information technologies. Education and Information Technologies, 7 (4), pp.287-294.
  • Tu, C.H. (2002). The measurement of social presence in an online learning environment. International Journal on E-Learning, 1 (2), pp.34-45. pdf