1 Community of Inquiry Framework

Online teaching and learning differs from in-person teaching and learning in some key ways. The community of inquiry framework offers a helpful perspective for considering these differences and for creating an enriching online educational experience.

What Is a Community of Inquiry?

A community of inquiry (COI) is a theoretical framework for online learning research and instructional design that was originally described by D. R. Garrison in the early 1990s. Based on John Dewey’s community of inquiry and Mathew Lipman’s concept of critical thinking (1991), COI has been successfully applied and validated in online and blended K–12, undergraduate, graduate, and professional educational settings.

The COI model consists of three separate but integrated elements: social, teaching, and cognitive presence.

  • Social presence is a cooperative effort between the instructors and the students, rather than solely a function of time. It evolves in a safe environment for expression; through group cohesion or identity; and through affective expressions (such as the use of emoticons or humor).
  • Teaching presence refers to a combination of creative, administrative, and behavioral processes that occur as part of course design and implementation. It is constructed through well-structured learning activities; proactive and explicit instructions and feedback; and the inclusion of discussion summaries, corrections of misconceptions, and confirmations of learner understanding.
  • Cognitive presence is the extent to which learners construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse.

(Garrison et al, 2000


Why Teaching and Social Presence?

Teaching and social presence are intrinsically linked and, together, lead to cognitive presence and student success in online learning. Consider the following research findings:

  • High levels of instructor teaching and social presence correlate with high levels of student social presence (Rovai, 2002; Shea et al., 2010).
  • Social presence tends to precede cognitive presence (Rovai, 2002; Shea et al., 2010).
  • A majority (70%) of variance in cognitive presence relates to positive perceptions of teaching presence and the ability to establish social presence (Shea & Bidjerano, 2009). In other words, students achieve better learning outcomes when they perceive that their instructor is present in the course and actively working to create a positive social experience for students.
  • Effective teaching presence may be the most important factor in establishing high levels of cognitive presence (de Leng et al., 2009; Shea & Bidjerano, 2009).


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Online Teaching Handbook Copyright © 2021 by The Center for Excellence in Learning, Teaching, and Technology at The University of Baltimore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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