Communities of Inquiry (Col)

The Community of Inquiry Framework was primarily focused on developing effective learning through facilitating and supporting social, cognitive, and teaching presence in an online learning environment. However, it is recognised as having real relevance when applied to an on-campus learning environment as well.  Garrison and Anderson (2003) are acknowledged as the architects of this framework although their work draws on research that predates this seminal text. 

The framework represents three critical and interdependent elements – social, cognitive, and teaching presence – which work together to create meaningful learning experiences in the online and on-campus environment. These three presences are co-dependent. Each of these elements is illustrated below.

The social presence element in the online environment is characterised by learners’ self-disclosure, expressing agreement, referring to individuals by name and/or asking questions. The level of social presence influences the amount of interactivity within a unit. Effective social presence might begin with simple introductions followed by the establishment of shared interests, but it must shift over time to focus collectively around the common goal or issue being explored.

The cognitive presence element is characterised by a cycle of practical inquiry where learners are moving from understanding and clarifying a problem or issue at hand through to exploration, integration and application to a presented task. This element is partly an outcome of social presence, but it primarily depends on the effectiveness of teaching presence. The teacher must design tasks that enable learners’ interaction to be purposeful, systematic and focused on learners moving through the important stages of problem-solving if meaningful learning and understanding are to occur.

The teaching presence element is responsible for the design and organisation of the learning environment and the facilitation of the discussion. A teacher’s direct interventions in the online environment may offer additional sources of information, diagnose misconceptions and interject as required. Teaching presence is focused on supporting effective and efficient learning experiences. It is the most critical element of the CoI framework and demands the skills of the teacher with discipline knowledge and the teacher-as-facilitator.

The table below shows examples of social, cognitive, and teaching presence in the online environment.




Social presence

  • Expression of emotions, use of humour, self-disclosure
  • Continuing a thread, asking questions, showing agreement
  • Addressing individuals by name, referring to their messages or quotes
  • 'Where I work, this is what we do …'
  • 'In your message, you talked about …'
  • 'John, what did you think …?'

Cognitive presence

  • Sense of puzzlement
  • Information exchange
  • Connecting ideas, applying new ideas
  • 'I still don’t understand how …'
  • 'I will send you an outline of what I did in my analysis of …'
  • 'It suddenly struck me that if we turned around that argument, we could …'

Teaching presence

  • Design and organisation
  • Facilitating discussion
  • Direct interventions
  • 'This week we will be discussing…'
  • 'Any thoughts on this?'
  • 'Oliver says…what do you think?'


Community of Inquiry website -


Garrison, D. R., & Anderson, T. (2003). E-learning in the 21st century. A framework for research and practice. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

(Please note - it's better to refer to the Online version rather than export, as it's always up to date)