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D. Randy Garrison
November 25, 2021

My goal here is to simply draw your attention to a study that provides a comprehensive overview of Community of Inquiry (CoI) instrument studies directed to confirmation of the original CoI three-factor structure (Yang & Su, 2021). The authors note that these studies have largely revalidated the CoI instrument through either exploratory, confirmatory, or both statistical methods. Parenthetically I note that this post updates previous posts where I have discussed significant contributions to refining and revising the CoI instrument (Editorial 20; Editorial 31). Furthermore, before addressing the primary focus of the Yang and Su (2021) study, I want to emphasize that this article provides an excellent reference for the extensive research over the last decade directed at confirming the validity of the three-factor structure of the CoI theoretical framework. The article also notes that systematic reviews of studies on the validation of the CoI instrument can be found in Kozan and Caskurlu (2018) and Stenbom (2018).

The purpose of the Yang and Su (2021) research was to conduct a construct-validation study of the CoI instrument. The authors state that most studies have used a correlated-factor model that cannot fully describe the CoI framework in that they do “not include an intersection of all three presences” (p. 26). They correctly observe that this is unfortunate since the CoI framework emphasizes the importance of the intersection of the three presences. This is an important observation as a behavioral understanding of the CoI framework best revealed at the intersection of the presences. Moreover, meaningful interpretation of these areas of overlap provides not only an understanding of a community of inquiry but a first test of a theoretical validation. For example, focusing on the intersection of cognitive and teaching presences provided the stimulus to develop the shared metacognitive construct that is consistent with its foundational premise and essential to a practical application of the framework. Similarly, the other intersections are consistent with theoretical expectations of collaborative learning such as the importance of setting climate for open communication and collaborative inquiry. The bottom line is that more attention should be directed to the intersection of the three presences. This approach offers the greatest opportunity to understand and develop collaborative inquiry.

Without getting into the statistical weeds of the Yang and Su study, they found the bifactor structure showed the best fit. The relevance is that this model “incorporated the overlap of each pair of presences and the intersection of all three presences ... thus indicating the bifactor structure [is] more aligned with the CoI framework” (p.27). However, further psychometric analysis suggested that cognitive presence “items were probably not measuring cognitive presence effectively [and] the CP items should probably be revised, with the support of subject matter experts, to cover cognitive presence more in-depth.” (p. 35). Notwithstanding this insight, the authors concluded that the bifactor model provided “are liable and valid representation of the CoI instrument and a fuller representation of the CoI theoretical framework” (p. 36).

In conclusion, the CoI questionnaire has proven to be an essential tool to the study and practice of communities of inquiry. The takeaway here should be a further interest in refining this instrument for the purposes of researching and implementing effective communities of inquiry. Constructive criticism should not discount the importance and strength of the CoI questionnaire. Instead, hopefully this and similar research will encourage continued development of a more refined version of the CoI survey instrument.


Kozan, K. (2016). The incremental predictive validity of teaching,cognitive and social presence on cognitive load. The Internet and Higher Education, 31, 11-19.

Yang, H., & Su, J. (2021). A Construct Revalidation of the Community of Inquiry Survey: Empirical Evidence for a General Factor Under a Bifactor Structure. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 22(4), 22-40.

Stenbom, S. (2018). A systematic review of the community of inquiry survey. The Internet and Higher Education, 39, 22-32.



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.