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  6.  — Online presence and community of inquiry

Online presence and community of inquiry

The Community of Inquiry model is an established framework for online learning and a useful way to think about mixed-mode teaching.

“An educational community of inquiry is a group of individuals who collaboratively engage in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct personal meaning and confirm mutual understanding.”

The Community of Inquiry

Three students testing a car's electrical systems

Social presence and community development

‘Social presence’ is “the ability of participants to identify with the [learning] community, communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop interpersonal relationships by way of projecting their individual personalities.”1 While face-to-face and blended modes are at least implicitly social in nature, the online learning context is entirely internet and device mediated.

Opportunities for students to learn about each other and to build safe, supportive and trusting relationships must be designed for in the online learning environment. In the early stages of an online course the development of the online learning community needs to be a focus before students can be expected to engage deeply in the cognitive aspects of the course (cognitive presence). The need to quickly establish social presence is crucial for the online students to feel included in a mixed-mode learning community.

How to foster online communities

The guide: Adding some tec-variety: 100+ activities for motivating & retaining learners online 2 may provide some ideas for developing community and engagement. The first section covers tone/climate (psychological safety, comfort and sense of belonging). In addition, see: Creating Community: University of Notre Dame.

Cognitive presence

“The extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse.” 3 Regular and engaging activities are required to maintain the development of higher-order thinking.

Teaching presence

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”. 4 This includes pre-course design and development of resources and tasks, and during the course, adapting content to learners’ needs and interests, providing academic guidance and learning support. See also: Some indicators of teaching presence.

This role has much in common with that of the process facilitator. 5

The Community of Inquiry Model

Community of inquiry Venn diagram. Social presence = Engagement with participants. Cognitive presence = Engagement with content. Teaching presence = engagement with goals / direction. Overlaps support discourse, regulating learning, and setting the climate.

Image adapted from The Community of Inquiry (colours altered). Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Page updated 16/03/2023

  1. Garrison, D. Randy. “Communities of Inquiry in Online Learning.” In Encyclopedia of Distance Learning, Second Edition, edited by Patricia L. Rogers, et al., 352-355. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2009.
  2. Bonk, Curtis J., and Elaine Khoo. Adding Some TEC-VARIETY: 100+ Activities for Motivating and Retaining Learners Online. and Amazon CreateSpace, (2014).
  3. D. Randy Garrison, Terry Anderson, and Walter Archer. “Critical Thinking, Cognitive Presence, and Computer Conferencing in Distance Education.” American Journal of Distance Education 15, no. 1 (2001): 7-23. DOI: 10.1080/08923640109527071.
  4. Anderson, Terry, Liam Rourke, D. Randy Garrison, and Walter Archer. “Assessing Teaching Presence in a Computer Conferencing Context.” Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 5, no. 2 (2001).
  5. Goodyear, Peter, Gilly Salmon, Jonathan M. Spector, Christine Steeples, and Sue Tickner. “Competencies for Online Teaching.” Educational Technology Research & Development 49, no. 1 (2001): 65–72.

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