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D. Randy Garrison
June 19, 2017

The topic of this post is to explore the issue of learning outcomes and the Community of Inquiry framework. This is significant and interesting in that the CoI framework is not based on outcomes directly but instead the process of practical inquiry and how participants collaboratively construct knowledge in a deep and meaningful approach (Akyol, Arbaugh, Cleveland-Innes, Garrison, Ice, Richardson, & Swan, 2009). This is the dynamic that educators have a direct influence over. However, while the focus of the CoI framework is on the educational transaction it is not disassociated from intended learning outcomes. Explicitly the inquiry process is intended to realize deep and meaningful learning outcomes. The issue of learning outcomes associated with the CoI framework may be the most important and challenging focus of future research.

To this end I would like to briefly discuss two recent articles that address the issue of an apparent lack of evidence associated with whether a CoI fosters deep and meaningful learning outcomes. The first article by Maddrell, Morrison and Watson (2017) suggests that "the CoI framework as an educational process model remains challenged" (p. 1). This conclusion was based on the finding that perceived participation in a community of inquiry was not associated with instructor assessed learning; notwithstanding the findings indicated a "significant positive correlation... between the instructor-assessed project score and the cognitive presence subscale" (p. 8). Considering the very limited research in this area I strongly believe it is premature and counterproductive to draw definitive conclusions in this regard.

For example, another recent study seems to suggest that the CoI framework is not challenged with regard to predicted learning outcomes. The study by Yang, Quadir, Chen and Miao (2016) explored the relationships between the CoI presences and subjective and objective learning outcomes. The conclusion was "that online presence has a significant influence on learning performance" (p. 11). While all the presences contributed to learning outcomes, "cognitive presence played the most important role..." (p. 18). This seems to be consistent with the discounted finding with regard to cognitive presence of the previously discussed research. However, an important insight of the Yang et al. research was that cognitive presence is dependent upon teaching presence. Although there was a significant relationship of the presences with objective/actual learning outcomes, each of the presences explained a greater percentage of subjective/perceived learning. This is an interesting finding and worthy of further discussion and study.

To be clear the CoI framework is a process model and its relationship to actual learning outcomes has remained an open question. What I have argued, however, is that deep and meaningful outcomes are very challenging to measure and typical course grades seldom reflect deep and meaningful learning outcomes arising from collaborative inquiry (Garrison, 2017). For this reason and limited CoI outcomes research, conclusions regarding actual learning outcomes are premature. For this reason I sincerely welcome research that will explore CoI learning outcomes in a diversity of settings using various practical inquiry designs and communication technologies.

In conclusion, I believe exploring learning outcomes along with shared metacognition that links cognitive and teaching presence (blog to be posted in the future) are two of the most promising areas of future research and theoretical development associated with the CoI theoretical framework.


Akyol, Z., & Garrison, D. R. (2008). The development of a community of inquiry over time in an online course: Understanding the progression and integration of social, cognitive and teaching presence. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 12(3), 3-22.

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.

Maddrell, J. A., Morrison, G. R., & Watson, G. S. (2017). Presence and learning in a community of inquiry. Distance Education. Retrieved June 10, 2017 from:

Yang, J. C., Quadir, B., Chen, N-S. & Miao, Q. (2016). Effects of online presence on learning performance in a blog-based online course. Internet and Higher Education, 30, 11-20.



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



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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.