Community of Inquiry

Establishing a learning community that is effective and motivating.

On this page:

The importance of a learning community

Three circle venn diagram with outer circles containing: Social presence, Cognitive presence and Teaching presence. The center of the circles contains: Learning Experience.

The Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework recognizes the importance of interactions between the teaching, social and cognitive presences in creating positive and collaborative learning communities. Originally the framework was designed for online learning environments, but it can also be applied to blended and in-person courses.

Meaningful collaboration occurs through the interaction of three equally important elements: social, cognitive and teaching presences. The founders of the model, Garrison, Anderson & Archer (2000, 2001), offer the follow definitions of the three presences:

  • Social Presence: The ability to interact with others in a meaningful way.
  • Cognitive Presence: The extent to which the participants can construct and confirm meaning through sustained communication.
  • Teaching Presence: The design, facilitation and direction of cognitive and social processes for meaningful learning.

These presences interact, and if one is missing, then learning suffers. For example:

  • No Social Presence: Students may interact with content and the instructor, but they will not have the emotional, cognitive or motivational support that comes from working with others.
  • No Cognitive Presence: There may be friendly discussion but minimal learning.
  • No Teaching Presence: Students may learn and support each other but inefficiently without the guidance or direction of an expert.

All parts must be present for a community to fully support learning.

Creating a community of inquiry

Each presence can be promoted in tandem with the following strategies.

Creating social presence

Goals: Students apply skills of communication, collaboration and expression.

How to support:

  • Model effective social skills and interactions
  • Create social learning activities such as discussions or group work.
  • Use discussion boards and online social learning platforms
  • Invite students to share their personal and professional experiences
  • Increase participation by providing a variety of modalities through which students can express themselves
  • Use icebreakers that build trust and give students an opportunity to introduce themselves and meet others

Creating cognitive presence

Goals: Develop an understanding of course content. Build skills of critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and self-regulation.

How to support:

  • Incorporate frequent assessment and feedback
  • Use diverse resources and modalities to help learners understand key concepts
  • Give multiple opportunities for retrieval and rehearsal
  • Identify big ideas and help make connections
  • Support the transfer of knowledge
  • Have students reflect on experiences and learning
  • Scaffold instruction moving from lower-order to higher-order thinking
  • Create activities that allow learners to reflect individually and discuss as a group

Creating teaching presence

Goals: Strategically design and organize the course. Meaningfully deliver content and materials.

How to support:

  • Set a welcoming tone at the very start of the course
  • Provide timely and supportive feedback
  • Provide explicit expectations, directions and criteria
  • Create a positive learning environment
  • Interact with students regularly
  • Model skills and strategies
  • Build a peer-feedback element into assignments

Improve your learning community

Review your course and determine what the learning community looks like in your classroom. Remember to keep these factors in mind to successfully build a positive and supportive learning community:

  • Content being learned
  • Assessment of the content
  • Peer-to-peer and student-instructor interactions
  • Collaborative nature of the class
    • Step 1: As you review your course, in addition to thinking about the factors above, consider the following questions:
      • What is one aspect of your course that works well for building a community of learning?
      • What is one aspect of your course that you could revise to enhance each CoI presence and why?
      • What are some barriers you and your students may have to overcome to build a supportive and inclusive learning community? What steps can you take to reduce these barriers?
    • Step 2: After reviewing your course, begin to add or revise course elements to ensure your course fosters a positive, community-centered learning environment.