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D. Randy Garrison
August 8, 2022

It is with some ambivalence that I draw your attention to an article that highlights arguable opportunities for improvement of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework (Shea, Richardson, & Swan, 2022). The focus of this article is on social presence and “learning presence” as related to regulation of learning. While there are interesting observations regarding social presence, my focus and concern in this post is with the topic of “learning presence” and specifically with regulation in a collaborative community of learners. However, before I can address the important issue of regulation, I must first reiterate my issue with the inclusion of “learning presence” as a fourth presence in the CoI framework.

The original proposal to create a “learning presence” element was made as an argument to consider self-regulated learning in the CoI framework (Shea & Bidjerano, 2011). My fundamental concern continues to be that this construct does not fit within the CoI framework. The issue is that this construct is a violation of the basic premise of a community of inquiry. That is, adding “learning presence” as a fourth element challenges the integrity of the framework by violating the collaborative-constructivist premise and parsimony of the framework. At the time we stated our position as follows:

A major conceptual difficulty that is missed is that all participants in a community of inquiry reflect varying degrees of each of the three presences. That is, each participant assumes teaching, cognitive, and social responsibilities. In the CoI theoretical framework there are no independent teacher and learner presences; all participants assume teaching and learning roles and responsibilities to varying degrees. (Akyol & Garrison, 2011, pp. 188-189)

Furthermore, collaborative-constructivism reflects Dewey’s unity principle that “speaks to the inseparability of private and public worlds … [and that] teaching and learning can only be separated artificially – in reality they are one” (Garrison, 2017, p. 158). This goes to the essence of the CoI framework in that all participants assume teaching and learning roles and responsibilities. In the context of the CoI framework, “teaching and learning responsibilities shift among the participants as learning progresses [and] … the mistake of focusing on individuals and discrete roles is to risk crystalizing these responsibilities as embodied in the teacher or learner” (Garrison, 2017, pp. 158-159). Therefore, the “creation of a learning presence construct would implicitly assign teaching presence to only that of the teacher” (Akyol/Garrison, 2011, 189). The essence of the teaching presence element is that these responsibilities are inseparable and embodied in the idea of regulation.

It is important to note that the Shea and Bidjerano (2011) article was crucial in precipitating our work to address the issue related to self-regulated learning. As a result of this contribution, we developed the shared metacognition construct (Akyol & Garrison, 2011; Garrison & Akyol, 2015) to address not only self but shared regulatory behaviors consistent with a collaborative learning community. We were careful to ensure that shared metacognition was consistent with the collaborative-constructive nature of the CoI framework as well as being theoretically connected to and consistent with each of the presences. However, the current article by Shea et al. (2022) expands on the regulation construct to again argue for inclusion of the idea of “learning presence” in the CoI framework. Unfortunately, our concerns regarding the incongruence of learning presence within the parameters of the CoI framework have not changed nor have they been addressed.

To the best of my knowledge there has been no recognition and rebuttal of the concerns we raised associated with integrating a “learning presence” element in the CoI framework. I see this as essentially proposing a radical solution before considering a less extreme approach by way of enhancing and refining the existing construct (namely shared metacognition). It would seem to me preferable to explore pathways that preserve the essence and integrity of what has been shown to be a credible and useful framework.

Shared Metacognition and Regulation

I begin this section by noting my agreement with Shea et al. (2022) that an enhanced representation of regulation would benefit the explanatory power of the CoI framework and further research opportunities theoretically and pragmatically. However, as I have argued, where we disagree is that this is best accomplished through the addition of a fourth presence (learning presence). I must admit I have trouble appreciating the argument that a more comprehensive conceptualization of regulation of collaborative learning be reconceptualized as “learning presence.” More precisely, I fail to appreciate where enhanced regulation could not be accommodated within the shared metacognition construct (see Garrison, 2022; Editorial 24). My position is simple; where clarification and enhancements are warranted, refinements should be first attempted within the existing framework to avoid conceptual conflict and unnecessary complexity. This was the approach when we began our work on shared metacognition (Garrison & Akyol, 2015).

Notwithstanding my concerns with adding a fourth presence, let me focus my attention on understanding the arguments related to regulation and apparent deficiencies of the CoI’s regulatory processes. The position of Shea et al. (2022) is that “the CoI model incorporates but is incomplete in its description of learners’ regulatory processes, and because the framework considers the presences as distributed among actors in the online environment, instructor and learner roles are not well articulated” (Learning Presence section). Again, this suggests creating distinct teacher and learner roles which is the essence of our disagreement. The goal in a community of inquiry is that teaching and learning be embodied in each participant to varying degrees. However, the constructive point is the contention that regulation is “incomplete” in the CoI framework, although there was no critical examination of the shared metacognition construct that encompasses shared and co-regulation. I do not believe the argument is made that a new construct is necessary.

The theoretical foundation of the shared metacognition construct is grounded in the literature on metacognition but extended to issues of regulation. The shared metacognition construct consists of self and co-regulation, each of which have monitoring and management functions (Garrison & Akyol, 2015). Shea et al. (2022) argue that there is confusion with regard to co-regulation that could be resolved by adopting three regulatory processes – self, shared and co-regulation (see Hadwin et al., 2017). Unfortunately, this argument is not well explained nor is it clear exactly how this would form the core of the learning presence construct and provide “a more solid foundation from which to move forward” (Shea et al., 2022, Learning presence: Reconceptualizing …). For this reason, I will briefly digress as I believe it will be constructive to explore Hadwin et al. (2017) and “how these three modes of regulation (self, co, and shared) contribute together to successful collaborative learning” (p. 98).

At the outset it is crucial to appreciate that the three modes of regulation overlap, which adds to operational confusion. For example, Hadwin et al. (2017) state that “regulatory expertise is distributed and shared across individuals … [which] sometimes makes co-regulation difficult to distinguish from shared regulation (Hadwin et al., p. 87). As a result, I have to say that I have a problem understanding the rationale to clearly distinguish between co-regulation (between & among individuals) and shared regulation (group; task specific). In support of the lack of clarity, Hadwin et al. (2017, p. 93) note that “the term co-regulation has been used to refer broadly to every mode of regulation during collaborative learning” (Hadwin et al., 2017, p. 93). They also outline the confusion among these terms and particularly between co-regulation and shared regulation. Therefore, adopting this classification per se has the potential to create additional challenges.

Considering the above, my position is that this tri-partite classification of regulation is not incongruent with self and co-regulation. We used co-regulation as an overarching term that would include shared regulation as described by Hadwin et al. (2017). My understanding of shared regulation is that it describes specific joint activities where a group is working cooperatively on a task and regulation is focused on consensus. In this situation, the expectation or requirement is to come together in terms of collaborative agreement (as a group) on a particular outcome or solution. This is made possible through co-regulation facilitated through discourse between and among individuals. Monitoring and managing this discourse from a group perspective could be labeled as shared regulation and encompassed by the overarching co-regulation term. The bottom line for me is that three regulation definitions seem to create excessive overlap that add complexity and potential confusion. Without further evidence and argument, my preference from the perspective of refining existing constructs and parsimony, is to account for shared regulation as a sub-category of co-regulation (remain within the same construct). This is only a suggestion that will require further study.

To be clear, I am not arguing that the shared metacognition construct and its description of regulation would not benefit from further development and refinement. My concern is adding unnecessary complexity and adding a construct that in my mind violates the basic premise of the CoI framework. I am in full agreement that future research needs to explore and articulate the “strategic nature of regulation.” Emotional and motivational gaps also need to be addressed as we have previously recognized (Garrison, 2017). In this task, I also support the design principles of Järvelä et al. (2021) to enhance the representation of regulation. However, the downside of the Shea et al. (2022) proposal is at best to add unnecessary complexity and at worst to critically undermine the premise of the CoI framework.

In summary, it does not seem reasonable to simply add elements without consideration of the theoretical assumptions of the framework. Secondly, it would seem to me that any critique should begin by demonstrating the limitations of the shared metacognition construct and why it could not be refined to accommodate the perceived deficiency associated with a full description of regulation. In the name of scientific rigor, I believe critiques should begin with inconsistencies in the current theoretical representations or where a construct does not fit or add to the overall framework. Therefore, it is my position that “learning presence” is not required to develop the regulatory processes of the CoI framework. There is every reasonable expectation that regulation could parsimoniously be refined within the shared metacognition construct to clarify another category of regulation (shared regulation) that would enhance the existing validated CoI framework.


To be clear, I consider the Shea et al. (2022) article and my critique to be the legitimate process of science. Therefore, I am indebted to the opportunity this contribution provides to address potential deficiencies in the CoI framework and offer suggestions to improve the theoretical and functional credibility of the framework. It is only through thoughtful discourse that will precipitate theoretical improvements and improve the usefulness of the CoI framework. As a theoretician I remain committed to such discourse and dedication to the basic principles and logical coherence of the CoI framework.


Akyol, Z., & Garrison, D. R. (2011). Assessing metacognition in an online community of inquiry. Internet & Higher Education, 14(3), 183-190.

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

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. (2022). Shared Metacognition in a Community of Inquiry. Online Learning Journal, 26(1).

Hadwin, A. F., Järvelä, S., & Miller, M. (2017). Self-regulation, co-regulation and shared regulation in collaborative learning environments. In D. Schunk, & J. Greene, (Eds.). Handbook of Self-Regulation of Learning and Performance (2nd Ed.) (pp. 83-106). New York, NY: Routledge.

Shea, P., & Bidjerano, T. (2010). Learning presence: Towards a theory of self-efficacy, self-regulation, and the development of a communities of inquiry in online and blended learning environments. Computers & Education, 55(4), 1721−1731.

Shea, P., Richardson, J., & Swan, K. (2022). Building bridges to advance the Community of Inquiry framework for online learning. Educational Psychologist, 57(3), 148–161.



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.