Published on 2015/08/19

Community of Inquiry: Transforming the Hybrid Learning Environment

The EvoLLLution | Community of Inquiry: Transforming the Hybrid Learning Environment
The community of inquiry framework allows for the creation of highly engaging, immersive online, in-person and blended learning experiences that can significantly improve retention and success for online learners.

How do we create not only the richest interaction with content for online students but ownership of the learning that takes place around that content? How do we build a learning community that sustains and enriches that process for students? How do we transform our teaching to facilitate the deepest learning possible for all?

Years ago, when I was first making the leap from a blended learning environment to fully online teaching, I found myself asking those questions.  I already was somewhat comfortable with non-lecture forms of teaching, born out of necessity when I accepted my first videoconference-delivered blended course. But without even the fuzzy televised images of students checking in from the far-flung corners of Wyoming, how would my students and I build mutually beneficial connections and engage with the content that brought us together?

In my quest for answers, I discovered the Community of Inquiry (CofI) framework of online learning and teaching, developed by D. Randy Garrison, Terry Anderson and Walter Archer. A 2000 article in The Internet and Higher Education, provided the overview and the spark for an extended application to my teaching practice.

The Community of Inquiry is grounded in three “essential elements” of learning and interaction:

  • Social presence—facilitation of “affective expression,” open communication and group cohesion.
  • Teaching presence—design and organization, facilitation, direct instruction.
  • Cognitive presence—engaging with content and ideas that are the focus of the course, via a triggering event, exploration, integration and resolution.

As an instructor, the appeal was clear: the CofI frame tended to the unique human/social and cognitive needs of online students, reducing the distance between learners while actively engaging them with the course content. It also articulated the instructional role in ways that made sense and fit my other distance-delivered teaching experiences.

Adding to the appeal for me was the research-informed and –tested nature of the Community of Inquiry model. The framework itself is grounded in research and has been the subject of others’ research and critiques. Also emerging from research: an assessment tool that both facilitates CofI-grounded course evaluation and a useful list of actions and conditions that represent all three presence types.

Over the years, applying the Community of Inquiry to my own teaching set my courses on a path to interactive, community-based learning for everyone. I particularly found value in using the intersections between the “presence” types—regulating learning (cognitive/teaching), supporting discourse (cognitive/social), and setting climate (social/teaching)—to enrich the overall experience and outcomes.

The next three posts series will go into instructional implications of each presence type in greater depth. In the meantime, here are a few examples—largely from my own teaching practice—to embody them.

Cognitive Presence:

  • Individual and collaborative projects that promote inquiry
  • Selection of challenging but accessible content with clear connections to current and future practice
  • Discussions, grounded in that course content, that promote critical thinking
  • Assignments (e.g., journal entries, self-assessments) that promote reflection

Social Presence:

  • Space for introductions, with personal welcome by the instructor
  • Clarity about expectations for sustaining a safe and collegial environment
  • Opportunities for formal and informal collaboration
  • Processes that encourage and recognize active participation

Teaching Presence:

  • Clear communication about goals, assignments, submission processes, etc.
  • Strong, supportive, appropriately challenging presence in discussions and elsewhere in the classroom
  • Active attention to student participation (and early intervention to identify, address potential problems)
  • Expecting, modeling critical reflection
  • Providing timely feedback on assignments

This is the first of a four-part series by Debra Beck outlining the Community of Inquiry framework from a postsecondary perspective. Please click here to receive updates when future installments are published.

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Readers Comments

Rebecca Cuthbert 2015/08/19 at 4:37 pm

It can be so helpful to both have these kinds of frameworks and to see strong examples of people putting them into practice. Sometimes a breakdown of how to apply different components of tools like this is all others need to get started.

Wilma Roberts 2015/08/20 at 4:29 pm

It makes sense that we’re now turning all of our learning about online and blended programs into concrete tools to both reflect our research about how successful it can be, and support those looking to make the most of their online programs. We are slowly developing a body of scholarly work about how to approach non-traditional education.

Debra Beck 2015/08/26 at 10:23 am

This one really saved my teaching life, Rebecca. I discovered it early in my online teaching career and it has proven to be a valuable framework for thinking about how we create stimulating, high-quality learning experiences for my students. (I also happen to see it as a great way of thinking about teaching generally, even though that is a big stretch from the research that supports this one.)

Speaking of research, that’s one of the additional draws to this framework for me, Wilma. There are critiques of C of I (some referenced on the main C of I site); but for the most part, follow-up studies generally support the main work.

By the way, part 2 just went live here: It explores social presence in a bit more depth.

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