The Community of Inquiry makes use of cookies. By continuing, you consent to this use. More information.
D. Randy Garrison
February 27, 2019

Metacognition is key to learning how to learn. Metacognitive approaches to learning starts with designing and planning the learning experience. Metacognition means increasing awareness of the learning process and taking responsibility to control the learning process. In the context of a community of inquiry (CoI) this is a shared experience of inquiry that considers the transactional environment. To help us understand this approach let me begin by providing a brief overview of the Shared Metacognition construct developed in the context of the CoI framework. The CoI theoretical framework provided the “context to conceptually and operationally define and operationalize metacognition in a socially shared environment” (Garrison, 2017, p. 62) as well as rigorously testing the construct for its structural and transactional integrity. Shared metacognition (MC) exists at the intersection of the cognitive and teaching presence constructs and goes to the heart of a deep and meaningful educational learning experience. As such we must understand shared MC and its role in a community of inquiry.

The premise here is that developing metacognitive awareness and ability is core to becoming an effective inquirer. Metacognition has been generally accepted as consisting of two components – awareness of the inquiry process and implementation strategies (regulation). Awareness allows the learner to monitor and actively manage/regulate the inquiry process. In short, metacognition awareness and implementation abilities provide the knowledge and strategies to monitor and manage effective inquiry. Most importantly, in a collaborative learning environment, awareness and implementation strategies are developed through critical discourse and the requirement of participants to explain and justify one's thinking to self and others. The approach to developing a viable metacognition construct forcollaborative learning environments is to subsume self and shared regulatory functions within a single construct. The Shared Metacognition construct (Garrison, 2017; Garrison & Akyol, 2015a, 2015b) reflects the dynamic dimensions of self and co-regulation each exhibiting a monitoring (awareness) and a managing (strategic action) function (see figure below).

To explore the practical implications of shared MC we must focus on the intersection of Cognitive Presence (CP) and Teaching Presence (TP). That begins with a consideration of TP categories (planning & organization; facilitation; and direction) as they overlap with CP operationalized through the phases of Practical Inquiry (problem defining, exploration, integration and resolution). While we have made progress in defining and measuring the construct of Shared MC, we are in the infancy of determining effective implementation and support for this process. However, with the conceptual construct of Shared MC and the CoI framework as a foundation we begin with the practical implications of research found in a recent article exploring teacher support of metacognition (Zepeda et al., 2018).

Design and Organization. With regard to metacognitive support and conceptual growth, Zepeda et al. (2018) provides us with some clues as to where we might begin focusing our implementation efforts. They concluded that “teachers from high-conceptual growth classrooms engaged in more cognitive talk than teachers in low-conceptual growth classrooms” (p. 13). The idea is that cognitive talk (discourse) gets students to think about their understanding and become open to sharing their thinking. This, of course, resonates very much with the essence of a community of inquiry. More specifically, the study suggests that questioning more easily supports metacognition. Of particular interest here is that planning is considered to be a key metacognitive skill. From my perspective I would argue that to be introduced to and understand the process of Practical Inquiry (ie, awareness) is an essential predicate to implementing and supporting shared MC. Furthermore, I would state that planning should be done collaboratively that requires an awareness and appreciation of the phases of inquiry. This understanding of inquiry will encourage and support assuming responsibility for the inquiry process.

The focus on planning brings to the fore the importance of design and organization that we discussed in a previous editorial (January, 2019). The seven principles are (Garrison, 2017, p. 112):

  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

The second, fourth and sixth principles reflect the need to plan for collaborative inquiry. Parenthetically, the first, third and fifth principles reflect social presence issues, and notwithstanding their importance, we will focus on teaching presence as it relates to cognitive presence (i.e., the primary focus of the Shared MC construct). With regard to planning for critical reflection and discourse, it is extremely important to provide a metacognitive map of the inquiry process (CP) so participants are aware of and understand the dynamic of purposeful inquiry (fourth principle). This will create an important awareness of their role in the progression of their activities and tasks as well as provide greater assurance of efficiency and effectiveness in managing and achieving intended learning outcomes. It has been shown that awareness of the type of contribution encourages students to reflect on their thinking, explore metacognitive regulation, and encourage productive activities (Garrison, 2017). The practical advantage of shared MC awareness is to facilitate management of the inquiry process and enhance timely progression through the inquiry phases without stalling on any one of the phases.

The primary research question beyond confirming the construct should be to study how to develop awareness and management of shared MC; and how this awareness can be used to achieve deep learning outcomes. Any number of practical research questions evolve from an awareness of shared MC. For example, from a teaching presence perspective we could explore the effect of shared metacognitive awareness on cognitive and social presence; or does shared MC awareness expedite the inquiry process (cognitive presence construct) compared to a control group? Similarly, with regard to social presence, does shared MC awareness enhance open communication through an understanding of the integral role of reflection and discourse? There are any number of specific examples of research questions that link shared MC awareness to practical inquiry, learner characteristics and disciplinary demands. All of these questions can be studied quantitatively using the Shared MC and CoI questionnaires.

The following cognitive presence issues (see Garrison, 2017) associated with design and organization are also a source of worthwhile shared MC research questions awareness and management of a community of inquiry.

  • expectations of assessment of cognitive development,
  • organization and limitation of curriculum,
  • selection of appropriate learning activities,
  • provision of time for reflection,
  • integration of small discussion groups and sessions,
  • provision of opportunities to model and reflect upon the inquiry process,
  • design of higher-order learning assessment rubrics.

Facilitation. The next logical area for exploration relates specifically to the TP responsibilities of implementation and support of shared MC. Here again we return to the Zepeda etal. (2018) article. They observe “that the high-conceptual growth classrooms had more metacognitive supports for personal knowledge, monitoring, evaluating, directive manners, and domain-general frames than the low-conceptual growth classrooms (p. ??). More specifically, they state that “Teachers in classrooms with high-growth scores on a conceptual learning assessment used more metacognitive talk than teachers in classrooms with low-growth scores” (p. 1?). This finding supports the argument that metacognitive talk concerning the inquiry process and task goals could have enormous value from a pragmatic perspective in understanding and promoting shared MC in a collaborative learning environment. As such, communities of inquiry have enormous potential to support shared MC through critical reflection and discourse that includes questioning, feedback and direction.

Shared MC research questions that arise specifically from issues of facilitation begin with relevant, puzzling and challenging questions and discussion that precipitate reflection about and management of the inquiry process. Research questions might explore any number of questions associated with the effectiveness of teacher facilitation that encourages shared MC awareness and management. Students taking control of the inquiry process also need to be studied in terms of the effectiveness of the learning process and outcomes. More specifically, what is the effect of student moderated discussions on shared MC (self and co-regulation). One interesting approach here would be to assess the effectiveness of participants regularly identifying the nature of their contributions from the perspective of the phases of inquiry and moving discourse forward. More complex questions relate to assessing the balance of self and co-regulation of learning with regard progression of inquiry and quality of learning outcomes. Research questions exploring self and co-regulation of learning go to the essence of shared MC and the potential of a community of inquiry.

Direct Instruction. Direct instruction is the third category of teaching presence that needs to be explored from the perspective of shared MC. Direct instruction from a metacognitive perspective should be approached with the intent of improving inquiry competence through the awareness and management of the collaborative inquiry process that leads to higher-levels of academic achievement. Direct instruction is productive when it stimulates reflection about the ideas as well as the learning process. Deep and meaningful learning depends on diagnosing misconceptions and formative evaluation where participants collaboratively shape the inquiry dynamic. This means often means intervention on the part of the instructor of record by presenting relevant content and regulatory arguments that can guide an efficient inquiry dynamic. At times this may require an intervention to provide a needed metacognitive perspective. Direct instruction is an important teaching presence responsibility to support the development of shared MC. At the same time research has shown that too much direct instruction will seriously limit metacognitive reflection and discourse. The point is that students must have the responsibility and control to individually and collaboratively monitor and manage the inquiry process that best facilitates deep and meaningful learning. This requires a delicate balance where the situation may call for learner control, while at other times the discussion may need direction or be brought to a close with awareness of constraints that restrict developmental progress. Direct instruction must encourage participants to not only collaboratively look deeper into a topic but understand metacognitive self and co-regulation of the inquiry process (i.e.,shared MC monitoring and management).

SharedMC research questions associated with direct instruction relates to when and how to effectively and efficiently enhance metacognitive awareness management responsibilities. Research needs to explore the positive and negative influences of direct instruction on metacognitive awareness and management of inquiry and approaches to learning. For example, what kind of direct interventions stimulate discourse that will enhance MC awareness and move the inquiry process forward; and conversely, when does intervention restrict development of inquiry? When responding to specific questions we need to understand how to use this as an opportunity to encourage further reflection before providing answers that risks curtailing reflection and discourse. Also, an important research question is when is it advantageous to step back to get the big picture of the inquiry process and assess if a new tactic is warranted.

. A final area associated with shared MC implementation and support is associated with assessment that should facilitate focus and sustainability of collaborative inquiry. It is well known that assessment can have a significant impact on how students approach learning, especially with regard to encouraging personal and shared responsibility and control of the inquiry process (self and co-regulation). Sustained, formative evaluation is required to address the complexity of the development and delivery of an online and blended community of inquiry. At the end of a course it is often appropriate to extract key concepts, assess the inquiry process and direct students to further learning challenges. This is important from both a cognitive and social presence perspective. Summative assessment can create a sense of accomplishment, offer direction for further study, and provide a record of achievement. Socially it is an opportunity to have some closure and a sense of accomplishment. Finally, it is only through rigorous and systematic assessment and evaluation research that educators and administrators will be able to develop an understanding of the complex issues associated with judging the worth of the educational experience.

Shared MC research questions associated with assessment will focus on formative learning feedback that informs individuals and the group how they could improve their approach to learning and intended outcomes. The goal is to create an environment for thinking and learning collaboratively based on authentic and constructive feedback.


In a modern connected society learners must be cognizant of the process of thinking and learning collaboratively. A major part of this is an awareness and understanding of shared metacognition as constituting a fusion of self and co-regulation responsibilities. Students should be provided opportunities to manage and monitor their learning activities if they are to judge the success of these strategies and tactics. That is, students need to be aware of their thinking and that of others to effectively regulate thinking and learning critically. This awareness will go along way to move discourse beyond the early exploratory phase and move the discourse on to the integration and application of new ideas and concepts. Shared metacognitive awareness and regulation is developed through activities that are not overly scripted and shared MC is developed through distributed teaching presence.

Finally, two invaluable tools in the research into the implementation of shared MC in a community of inquiry are the Shared MC Questionnaire combined with the CoI Questionnaire. Both instruments have been validated (see September, 2018 Editorial 15 and October, 2018 Editorial 16). Both of these instruments are attached (see Garrison, 2017 for further description).


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

Garrison, D.R., & Akyol, Z. (2015a). Toward the development of a metacognition construct for the community of inquiry framework. (Developing a shared metacognition construct and instrument: Conceptualizing and assessing metacognition in a community of inquiry) Internet and Higher Education, 24, 66-71.

Garrison, D.R., & Akyol, Z. (2015b). Corrigendum to ‘Toward the development of a metacognition construct for communities of inquiry.’ The Internet and Higher Education, 26, 56.

Zepeda, C. D., Hlutkowsky, C. O., Partika, A. C., & Nokes-Malach, T. J. (2018, October 29). Identifying Teachers’ Supports of Metacognition Through Classroom Talk and Its Relation to Growth in Conceptual Learning. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication.

View statistics



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 fifteen books; 94 articles; 68 book chapters; 40 conference proceedings; and more than 100 academic presentations. His major books are: Garrison, D. R. (2017). E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Community of Inquiry Framework for Research and Practice (3rd Edition); Garrison, D. R. (2016). Thinking Collaboratively: Learning in a Community of Inquiry; Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. (2008). Blended learning in higher education: Framework, principles and guidelines; Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (2000). A transactional perspective on teaching-learning: A framework for adult and higher education. Curriculum vitae



Community of Inquiry Research: Two Decades On
D. Randy Garrison
May 1, 2024
A decade after the publication of the seminal article describing the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2000), we provided a personal perspective concerning its development and

New book: The Design of Digital Learning Environments: Online and Blended Applications of the Community of Inquiry
Stefan Stenbom
January 31, 2024

Shared Metacognition and the Emergence of AI
D. Randy Garrison
November 1, 2023
Artificial intelligence brings increasing attention to critical thinking and discourse. From an educational perspective, my rationale is that the community of inquiry framework, whose

Social Presence Reconsidered
D. Randy Garrison
October 3, 2023
My previous editorial addressed the generic nature of the CoI framework. Given the relevance and validity of the CoI framework in face-to-face settings, this editorial considers the

CoI Framework in Face-to-Face Environments
D. Randy Garrison
August 1, 2023
I think it is safe to say that the general perception of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework is that it is specific to an online or at best blended learning environment. The reality
The Community of Inquiry is a project of Athabasca University, Mount Royal University, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, as well as researchers and members of the CoI community.