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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 is, however, that the CoI framework is grounded in the higher education literature and was justified as being consistent with a traditional higher education experience. In the seminal article that introduced the CoI framework (Garrison, Anderson and Archer, 2000) we noted the generic nature of the framework; notwithstanding we were using it to guide us in designing collaborative and constructivist online learning experiences. The latent nature of this important characteristic in our publications has largely limited the generalization and adoption of the CoI framework to broader constructivist educational contexts. As the CoI framework became more prominent in designing and studying online learning, I did make modest efforts to emphasize that based on its theoretical foundation, it is a generic framework. Regardless, the reality is that the CoI framework has been shown to provide order and insight into the essence of deep and meaningful constructivist educational experiences across contexts and modes of communication.

The generalization of the CoI framework beyond online learning contexts was reinforced recently by an article that validated the CoI survey questionnaire for face-to-face collaborative learning environments (Ariati, Pham & Vogler, 2023).Recognizing the CoI framework and survey questionnaire had not been “broadly and systematically” applied to face-to-face learning environments, the authors of this study argued that a tool that reflected qualities of “constructivist learning contexts could provide researchers with a more robust way to study its relationship to various outcomes or compare such outcomes in face-to-face and online contexts” (Ariati, Pham & Vogler, 2023, introduction). This research validated the CoI three-factor solution and concluded that it provided consistent measures for teaching, cognitive and social presence in face-to-face classes reflecting a constructivist approach. I would also argue that validating the CoI survey questionnaire also by extension adds confirmation to the applicability of the CoI theoretical framework in face-to-face environments.

In summary it is my hope and expectation that this study will mark an inflexion point regarding adopting the CoI theoretical framework to design and study educational learning environments across the spectrum, regardless of exogenous factors such as distance and mode of communication. Much work has been done in this transition with the extensive research in the area of blended learning. I believe now is the time to bring greater attention to the relevance and applicability of the CoI framework for constructivist face-to-face learning environments. Recognition of the generic nature of the CoI framework significantly expands the potential application of the framework. The validity of the CoI survey in face-to-face contexts also adds credibility for the use of the Shared Metacognition questionnaire in similar contexts ( these instruments offer methodological advantages in studying face-to-face learning environments. Moreover, they open the door to a wide range of research opportunities not only validating the CoI framework and survey questionnaire in face-to-face environments, but also exploring a range of important questions regarding monitoring and managing constructivist and collaborative inquiry learning environments. I have outlined some of the relevant constructivist and collaborative learning research questions in a recent blog that may be of interest for follow-up (

Answering these research questions is essential to understanding the practical implications and designing worthwhile and successful constructivist learning experiences in both online and face-to-face environments. For background and practical application of the CoI framework in online and/or face-to-face constructivist and collaborative learning environments I would refer the reader to: Community of Inquiry: Seven principles of blended learning (Vaughan, Dell, Cleveland-Innes, &Garrison, 2023); and The Design of Digital Learning Environments: Online and Blended Applications of the Community of Inquiry (Cleveland-Innes, Stenbom &Garrison) (Eds.), (in press).


Ariati, J., Pham, T., & Vogler, J. S.(2023). Constructivist learning environments: Validating the community of inquiry survey for face-to-face contexts. Active Learning in Higher Education, 0(0).

Cleveland-Innes, M., Stenbom, S., & Garrison, D. R. (Eds.)(2023). The Design of Digital Learning Environments: Online and Blended Applications of the Community of Inquiry. London: Routledge/Taylor and Francis.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (1999). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

Vaughan, N. D., Dell, D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2023). Community of Inquiry: Seven principles of blended learning. Athabasca, Athabasca University Press.



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.