Community of Inquiry

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What is the community of inquiry framework?

The objective of the community of inquiry framework is to create collaborative learning communities. Originally the framework was designed for online learning environments, but it can also be applied to blended and in-person courses.

The educational experience in a community of inquiry has learners constructing knowledge through discourse and shared understanding. Educators work with their students to actively and collaboratively explore, create meaning and verify their understanding of knowledge. Meaningful collaboration occurs through the interaction of three equally important elements: the 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 is the ability of learners to project their personal characteristics into the community of inquiry, thereby presenting themselves as ‘real people.’
  • 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.
  • Teaching Presence is the design, facilitation and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educational worthwhile learning outcomes.
Three presences of the Community of Inquiry Framework Model: social presence, cognitive presence and teaching presence.

Three presences of the Community of Inquiry Framework Model.

It’s easy to see the importance of these presences and how they interact when one is missing. In a course without cognitive presence there may be friendly discussion but minimal learning. Without 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. Finally, without a teaching presence, students may learn and support each other but inefficiently without the guidance or direction of an expert. All of these parts must be present for a community to support learning.

How do I create a community of inquiry?

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

Creating social presence

  • 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

  • Use diverse resources and modalities to help learners understand key concepts.
  • Guide learners to move from low-order to high-order thinking (see Bloom’s Taxonomy).
  • Create activities that allow learners to reflect individually and discuss as a group.

Creating teaching presence

  • Set a welcoming tone at the very start of the course.
  • Use videos and synchronous sessions to introduce yourself, your topic and course essentials.
  • Provide prompt and customized feedback.
  • Build a peer-feedback element into assignments.

The design of the Open SUNY Course Quality Review (OSCQR) Rubric was informed by the community of inquiry framework. Visit for more suggestions on how to cultivate the social, teaching and cognitive presences in your course.