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D. Randy Garrison
January 2, 2018

In this first post of the New Year I will focus on creating an effective community of inquiry. This is the teaching presence responsibility to design a purposeful, collaborative and trusting community of learners. When we turn to the practical aspects of a CoI (community of inquiry), much attention has been directed to issues of facilitation. This should not be surprising as the CoI framework is a dynamic process model of thinking and learning collaboratively - not a static structural design template. Perhaps for this reason much less research has been directed to the crucial aspect of design. Design maps most of what can and will occur in an educational experience. For this reason I want to turn my attention to designing courses and programs that are shaped by the CoI framework.

Empirical evidence shows that design influences engagement (Manwaring et al., 2017; Robinson, Kilgore & Warren, 2017); however, it is important to appreciate that instructional design is best approached through the lens of a coherent theoretical framework. In my mind there is little doubt that educational theory improves design and the probability of achieving intended learning processes and outcomes. Design helps the educator identify appropriate activities for implementation that meets the collaborative constructivist learning principles of a community of inquiry. The basis for this is that not only can it help in deciding what the possibilities are but to also assess the progress of the learning experience. To do this without a framework is to start a journey without a map.

Many design methodologies focus on structural issues without sufficient attention to the learning transaction. Design associated with the CoI framework is a dynamic process and not a typology of inert categories. That is activities are developmental that address social and cognitive presence goals. The essences of these presences are also dynamic and developmental. The inherent complexity of a community of inquiry argues for a theoretical framework that can provide a metacognitive understanding of the dynamics of collaborative inquiry. Furthermore, any initial plan is preliminary as it will inevitably change as unanticipated issues arise. This also points to the importance of participants having a metacognitive awareness of the inquiry process. Design before and during the learning experience must focus on the process of inquiry and the progression of the learning transaction. That is, a design for a CoI is ongoing throughout the learning experience (participants are designers) and carries through to inevitable redesign activities.

One of the early projects that used the CoI framework as a course design guide was led by Norm Vaughan (Vaughan & Garrison, 2006a; 2006b). At that time we pioneered the use of the CoI framework to provide an understanding of the principles of a community of inquiry and guidelines for redesigning a wide range of courses. The CoI framework provided a dynamic model for an institutional approach to move away from a passive lecture that fundamentally reshaped the educational experience based on thinking and learning collaboratively.

After these early design experiences described in our book on blended learning (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008), I further developed these design principles (Garrison, 2011). These principles were of course explicitly derived from the CoI framework and were expanded into sets of specific guidelines and suggestions with the explicit goal to support collaborative inquiry.  Subsequently these principles were explored further in an open source book by Norm Vaughan, Marti Cleveland-Innes and myself (2013). I should also note that the CoI framework has also been used to assess course implementation (Swan et al., 2014). This I suspect has a direct impact on redesign practices essential to continued improvement and understanding of the creation of collaborative learning environments.

Finally, I know there are a number of projects currently using the CoI framework to design or redesign courses and programs. In this regard I look forward to other contributions to describe work associated with the design of communities of inquiry and the use of the CoI framework to guide the (re)design of courses and programs. Hopefully this will evolve into a discussion and sharing of practices associated with the facilitation of collaborative inquiry.


Garrison, D.R. (2011). E-Learning in the 21stcentury: A framework for research and practice (2nd ed.). London: Routledge/Taylor and Francis.

Garrison, D.R., & Vaughan, N. (2008). Blended learning in higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Manwaring, K.C., Larsen, R., Graham, C. R., & Henrie, C. R. (2017). Investigating student engagement in blended learning settings using experience sampling and structural equation modeling. Internet and Higher Education, 35, 21-33.

Robinson, H.A., Kilgore, W. & Warren, S. J. (2017). Care, communication, learner support: Designing meaningful online collaborative learning. Online Learning Journal, 21(4), 29-51.

Swan, K., Day,S. L., Bogle, L. R., & Matthews, D. B. (2014). A collaborative, design-based approach to improving an online program. Internet and Higher Education, 21, 74-81.

Vaughan, N., & Garrison, D. R. (2006a). How blended learning can support a faculty development community of inquiry. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 10(4), 139-152.

Vaughan, N., & Garrison, D. R. (2006b). A blended faculty community of inquiry: Linking leadership, course redesign and evaluation. Canadian Journal of University Continuing Education, 32(2), 67-92.

Vaughan, N.D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry. Athabasca, Athabasca University Press.

Norm Vaughan · 6 years ago
Hi Randy,

Just to build on your editorial about designing a Community of Inquiry - here is a reference to a paper I wrote a few years ago about this topic in terms of blended and online learning environments. The key for me was a clear alignment between learning outcomes and assessment activities in the design process :)

All the best, Norm

Vaughan, N.D. (2015). Designing for an inquiry based approach to blended and online learning. Revista Eletrônica de Educação, 9(3), 30-47. Available online at:
Charan · 6 years ago
Inspired by Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework when introduced to it in September 2015, at my University, I designed a project. I am struggling better understanding the project and trying to promote if it has some merit. I would appreciate inputs from the CoI to please help me evaluating and possibly implementing this project; it examines Cognitive Presence (CP) construct. I explored CP construct by collecting data from an asynchronous conversation.

Earlier last year, at my workplace- a Canadian Post-Secondary education institution, I designed and co-created a web application called IQT for a research symposium, based on the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework (Garrison, 2000). IQT engaged participants in an asynchronous text conversation. Before submitting participants self-categorized these text messages into either an Insight, or a Question or just a Thoughts (IQT) on various presentations offered through that symposium.

IQT aimed to collect data to explore “Cognitive Presence” one of the three presences of the CoI framework that Garrison et. al (2001) have further elaborated at four levels such as Triggering event, Exploration, Integration, and Resolution. IQT design assumed that asking a question, likely triggers an interest and a conversation, with further added thoughts by collaborating participants as Exploration; that leads to emerging Insights and Resolution on analyzing and drawing conclusion; thus collaborative knowledge is constructed on a theme.

In a traditional setting, participants would have submitted paper feedback/evaluation form at the end of the symposium. IQT provided an opportunity to submit comments, reflections, start or collaborate for a conversation with other participants or presenters at the symposium; or make a suggestion, multiple times during symposium.

To encourage participants to use IQT, a dashboard displayed count of total number of messages and ranked the highest submitted comments count in descending order. As a result, IQT pilot initiative, with motivated participants produced more than two hundred short messages (similar to tweets) in two hours. Using technology asynchronously, grounded in CoI, these messages were triggered and inspired either by the participant self or by others based on their prior knowledge or learning resources available during the symposium. Compared to a one day of traditional settings of a symposium in the past, at the same college, IQT comment count was nearly ten times more.

I am a learner. The word: Inquiry has a profound meaning for me. An Inquiry means (An) Eye on (a) Cue Rai(ses) (an) Eye (on) Why [ This reads without parenthesis as phonetically close to meaning = I+n+Q+uIR+Y]. Learning about Community of Inquiry (inquiry-magnified manifolds) thus undoubtedly was a blessing.

Kindly advice, if my project has some merit to measure CP through IQT both quantitatively and qualitatively? If, yes, what strategies could be helpful to further my research or how could I pitch to the educators /administrators for taking it to next level?

Many thanks


Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and Higher Education, 2 (2-3), 87-105.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson,T. & Archer, W. (2001). Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education. The American Journal of Distance Education 15 (1), 7–23. doi:10.1080/08923640109527071
D. Randy Garrison · 6 years ago
I read your post with some interest. I was not surprised to see that the IQT comments were so high. It certainly speaks to the power of inquiry. BTW I like you phonetic interpretation of inquiry :)
I encourage you to continue to explore CP as this goes to the core of the framework. The only caveat I would offer is that studying CP in isolation is limiting. However, my primary advice is to share this on the project page with the hope you may get more input.
Thanks for the comment and best wishes.
Charanjeet · 6 years ago
Many thanks for your reply Prof. Garrison.

It is interesting that after submitting my project details for your further advice, I was surprised finding on page 112 of your book: Thinking Collaboratively, Learning in a Community of Inquiry ( 2016) your recommendations about IQT: "This could include asking questions, offering an insight, or providing strategic directions to the discourse. The relevance and timing of the contribution is of prime importance. Communities of inquiry provide the cohesion to sustain critical discourse for reframing experiences and ideas central to approaching mutual understanding."

What would you advice further to explore CP? would it be appropriate to understand that exploring CP using IQT could be a starter/ trigger to open into the core of the CoI framework.
Tracking the submitted IQT's/responses in the asynchronous conversation when analyzed into peer-peer collaborative learning , as indicators of teaching presence and social presence to start with.

I will put this link on the project page to share with the class.

Thank you so much.


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.