Fostering cognitive presence in online courses #EDUC90970

We all want our students to be cognitively engaged in our courses. We want them to think critically, have a deep understanding of the topic and reflect about their own learning. But, how can we achieve this?

Previous research has found that successful online courses create a community of learners with a safe space for discourse so they can achieve common purposes and inquiry (Garrison, 2007). In such environments, students feel comfortable and stimulated to be intellectually involved.

In the literature, this has been referred to as a community of inquiry. The video below presents a brief overview of this topic and of the community of inquiry framework for online learning, which is also presented in a figure below.

What is a community of inquiry? How does it apply to online learning?
Community of Inquiry Framework (based on Garrison, 2011)

In the community of inquiry framework, cognitive presence intersects with both social and teaching presence. From my brief readings on this topic so far, here is what I gathered we can do to foster cognitive presence in these two overlaps, and that I hope to focus on when developing the online subject as part of my “Facilitating online learning” assignment:

Supporting discourse

Apparently, open communication does not naturally progress to an academic relationship, in which students begin to collaborate and solve problems together. This needs to be fostered through collaborative activities that promote a sense of purpose. Basically, having a discussion board open and expect students to magically start collaborating does not happen. Frequent, purposeful and quality interactions should be part of the learning design of a subject.

Regulating learning

Another false expectation is that students will regulate their own learning. By this I mean that they will plan, monitor, adapt and reflect about their own learning experience. We may expect to see such skills on graduate students, but not so much in first year undergraduate ones. The approach to this issue is two-fold: the teacher can help the student to regulate their learning (co-regulation), while explicitly modelling the process to assist in the students’ development of their own set of regulated learning skills (self-regulation). Examples of support of regulated learning include clarifying task details, being more directive during assignments, proposing the use of learning strategies and assisting with movement through tasks.

(P.S. Self-regulated learning is one of the main topics of my research, so I’m really looking forward to putting my knowledge into practice.)

(P.P.S. I noticed that early versions of the framework had this intersection named “Selecting content”. I’m curious to know more about this change!)


Garrison, D R. (2007). Online community of inquiry review: Social, cognitive, and teaching presence issues. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(1), 61-72.

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

10 thoughts on “Fostering cognitive presence in online courses #EDUC90970

  1. Nice overview of COI concepts @paula_barba Personally I think the COI model is a little too Teacher-centric – I prefer a more self-determined pedagogy such as Heutagogy (Blaschke & Hase, 2019) that focuses upon building student capabilities and the capacity to navigate the unknown. The Community Of Practice model has similar concepts but leans more towards building a peer-based community and aligns with Vygotsky’s (1978) Zone Of Peripheral Development (ZPD) through ‘legitimate peripheral participation’ (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Head & Dakers, 2005).

    Blaschke, Lisa Marie, & Hase, Stewart. (2019). Heutagogy and digital media networks: Setting students on the path to lifelong learning. Pacific Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning, 1(1), 1-14. doi:
    Head, George, & Dakers, John. (2005). Verillon’s trio and wenger’s community: Learning in technology education. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 15, 33-46. doi:
    Lave, Jean, & Wenger, Etienne. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


    1. Thanks for the references, Thom. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Heutagogy and students who are not that experienced with autonomous learning. For example, first year undergraduate students. Would this apply to them too?


      1. Heutagogy needs to be scaffolded – similarly to social constructivism, it does not imply a lack of teacher involvement in learning – in fact the role of the teacher in DESIGNING appropriate learning experiences is heightened, but involves building in student negotiation and choice. I like the concept of the Pedagogy-Andragogy-Heutagogy Continuum (PAH continuum) to highlight that teaching strategies can move along this continuum as appropriate. That being said, Heutagogy is not just the domain of post-grad students, the compulsory education system tends to push students into a passive competency mode rather than the investigative and exploratory mode that ECE begins with – for example Reggio Emilia and Montessori approaches
        Scotland, Learning and Teaching. (2006). The reggio emilia approach to early years education Retrieved from
        Gandini, L. (1993). Fundamentals of the reggio emilia approach to early childhood education. Young Children, 49(1), 4-8.
        Montessori, Maria. (1948). The discovery of the child (2004 ed.). Delhi: Aakar Books.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Also Social Constructivism is based upon Vygotsky’s observations of how children learn naturally! We’ve then applied this to adult learning.
        Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
        Head, George, & Dakers, John. (2005). Verillon’s trio and wenger’s community: Learning in technology education. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 15, 33-46. doi:
        Brown, A, Metz, K, & Campione, J. (1996). Social interaction and individual understanding in a community of learners: The influence of piaget and vygotsky. In A. Tryphon & J. Voneche (Eds.), Piaget-vygotsky the social genesis of thought (pp. 145-155). Hove: Psychology Press.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Hi Thom, looks like I can’t reply to your reply – we ran out of replies! I’m very interested in Montessori and I’m familiar with Vygotsky from my Psychology background, but Heutagogy is something new to me. I’ll read more about it as I was wondering the other day exactly that: Why wasn’t there an approach to teaching and learning such as Montessori that would apply to adult education? So there is!


  2. Interesting reading your post on fostering cognitive presence in online courses. I like the community of inquiry framework that talks about multiple domains coming together to facilitate online learning. Do you agree with the framework in that the cognitive, social and teaching presence have equal contributions toward the educational experience? I wonder if different types of learners will require difference levels of interaction in the three domains. (Kerrie, D. A., Bremel, P., Alam, M., & Madhavan, K. (2016). Big Data Characterization of Learner Behaviour in a Highly Technical MOOC Engineering Course. Journal of Learning Analytics, 3(3), 170-192.)


    1. Thanks @paula_barba, I really enjoyed reading your post! This is all very new to me, both the research and theoretical frameworks around teaching pedagogy and also application of these in online environments. My background is very much in clinical music therapy research, so I’m finding all of these concepts novel but interesting. I particularly liked the way that you have succinctly provided an overview of some of the main concepts around building a “Community of Inquiry” as a method of engaging learners through online platforms. It all makes complete sense, but I’d never really thought about it in this way before. Nice aha moment!
      I’m interested if there was a reason that you commented only on 2 of the overlaps and not on Setting Climate (the intersection between Teaching Presence and Social Presence?

      I’m particularly interested in the idea of Social Presence as it is the most under-explored aspect of my own teaching so far. I found this video useful (particularly in the context of social distancing in current times) in thinking about how to foster Social Presence to stimulate ‘deep learning’ –

      @thomcochrane, I know you’re not a fan of Facebook, but it looks like FB has been useful in creating Social Presence according to Kazanidis et al (2018) FB users had a better social presence using the CoI model than their Moodle counterparts. Wondering if you have a preferred alternative(s) to Facebook for facilitating Social Presence in teaching and learning?

      Kazanidis, I., Pellas, N., Fotaris, P., & Tsinakos, A. (2018). Facebook and Moodle integration into instructional media design courses: A comparative analysis of students’ learning experiences using the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model. International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction, 34(10), 932-942.


      1. Hi Jeannette, yes, there was a reason I only focused on the cognitive presence and its intersections with the other dimensions. As I was re-reading my post it was actually not clear there why I did that, so here it is:

        Based on Garrison’ (2007) paper, two of the four issues in community of inquiry research and practice are related to the cognitive presence. One is in the intersection with the social presence (moving ‘social conversations’ to intellectual ones) and the other is completing the inquiry process (moving beyond exploration to integration and resolution). The latter can be dealt with through teacher support, hence the focus then on the intersection with teacher presence.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Sam, good points! I’m not sure what the literature says about the different importances of each dimension of this framework. My guess is this would vary based on the pedagogical approach and the online setting itself. As Thom mentioned in his comment above, more self-determined pedagogies would definitely put less emphasis on the teaching presence.

      About different types of learners… a few things come to my mind. The paper you mentioned focuses on behaviour in MOOCs, and there is a large variation there in their motivation in taking the course. So if a student is just going in to get some selected information and that would be enough for their goal, I think the social presence would not be as important. But if they are there for the whole course and learning experience, then it would. Another perspective would be to consider students’ different levels of self-regulated learning skills. If they are low, these students’ would require much more support from teachers. I guess it would be a similar experience with students with low prior knowledge. So much to consider here!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website at
Get started
%d bloggers like this: