D. Randy Garrison
February 13, 2020

My focus in this post is an article by Holly Fiock exploring instructional design principles and strategies associated with the Community of Inquiry framework. This is an important and challenging topic. Fiock “describes a practical approach for implementing instructional strategies in order to build a Community of Inquiry (CoI) into an online course” (p. 134). The article begins by reviewing each of the presences from the perspective of instructional design. This is consistent with previously published work (Garrison, 2017, p.112). From here the author reviews peer-reviewed journals for empirical research that confirm instructional strategies regarding student learning or perception of online learning communities. Strategies from this review were organized based on Sorensen and Baylen’s principles that were adapted from Chickering and Gamson’s seven principles of best practice. Using these principles Fiock created “a working document of CoI instructional strategies” (p. 140). For each of the principles, a significant number of instructional activities were identified associated with the three presences of the CoI framework.

This review is significant to the field of online instructional design and in particular to the CoI framework as it identifies evidence-based strategies and conceptualizes them into a working design document. To be clear I support this kind of research and agree with the premise of the article that the “CoI framework does not provide specific instructional guidelines for implementation” (p. 139). Furthermore, I agree with the conclusion of this paper that the review “identifies evidence-based strategies and conceptualizes them into a working design document” (p. 148). However, notwithstanding the value of this research, I have to note that the article incorrectly suggests that there are no instructional design principles and approaches derived from the CoI theoretical framework. Some time ago we offered a set of principles grounded in the CoI framework (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008). While we have not produced a comprehensive list of instructional strategies that correspond with these principles, I have discussed their instructional implications from the perspective of the core presences (Garrison, 2017). Therefore, I do not fully agree with Fiock’s that “there is a void of how to implement instructional strategies aligned with the CoI for practitioners” (p. 148).

Design in terms of the CoI framework (a collaborative constructive learning environment) is associated with shaping and directing the inquiry process understood in a meaningful theoretical structure that can be systematically applied by designers. As I have stated previously (Garrison, 2017), the CoI principles reflect a deep approach to learning that will guide the creation of a supportive and critical community of inquiry. In this regard, the CoI design principles are organized around the dimensions of teaching presence (design, facilitation and direction). In turn, each of the teaching presence dimensions incorporate issues of social and cognitive presence. For ease of reference the seven principles are:

  1. Plan for the creation of open communication and trust
  2. Plan for critical reflection and discourse
  3. Establish community and cohesion
  4. Establish inquiry dynamics (purposeful inquiry)
  5. Sustain respect and responsibility
  6. Sustain inquiry that moves to resolution
  7. Ensure assessment is congruent with intended processes and outcomes
(Garrison, 2017, p. 112)

At this point I must emphasize that these principles are derived from a theoretical framework while the principles that shaped Fiock’s results were ultimately based on a survey by Chickering and Gamson that lacks the coherence, comprehensiveness or guidance of a theoretical framework. That said, consistent with the position of Fiock, we do need the guidance of specific methods and techniques. In this regard I have addressed the challenge and called for more work in this area of developing instructional strategies consistent with a community of inquiry (Editorial 18). That said, the question I am left with is how Fiock’s instructional strategies might align with or be transcribed onto the structure of the CoI principles? Hopefully somebody will take up this challenge.

In conclusion, I want to add one more thought. Notwithstanding the need for specific instructional strategies and techniques, design must also include activities that focus on awareness of the inquiry process and the importance of taking collaborative responsibility and control of the discourse. We have explored this through the construct of shared metacognition. From this perspective, design must keep in mind the need to develop sustainable shared metacognitive awareness of the collaborative inquiry process that is the core of a community of inquiry (Editorial 2).


Fiock, H. S. (2020). Designing a Community of Inquiry in Online Courses. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 21(1), 134-152.

Garrison, D. R. (2017). E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Community of Inquiry Framework for Research and Practice (3rd Edition). London: Routledge/Taylor and Francis.

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. (2008). Blended learning in higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.



D. Randy Garrison
Professor Emeritus, University of Calgary
D. Randy Garrison is professor emeritus at the University of Calgary.Dr. Garrison has published extensively on teaching and learning in adult, higher and distance education contexts. He has authored, co-authored or edited twelve books and well over 100 refereed articles/chapters.His recent books are Thinking Collaboratively: Learning in a Community of Inquiry (2016) and E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Community of Inquiry Framework for Research and Practice (3rd Edition) (2017); for which he won second place for the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Division of Distance Learning Book Award, 2017.



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The Community of Inquiry is a project of the Centre for Distance Education at Athabasca University, researchers of the Community of Inquiry framework, and members of the CoI community.