D. Randy Garrison
March 13, 2018

With all the attention focused on "fake news" I began to think about how the principles and processes of the CoI framework might be relevant to this issue. The attached paper (abstract below) is an exploration of the relevance and impact such an approach might have on developing skepticism and critical thinking with regard to the problem of fake news.

If you wish to read the full paper, please click on the attached file at the bottom of this post. 

Critical Thinking and Social Media:

An Argument for Learning Communities


While information and communication technologies (ICT) transform the world of work and leisure, largely for the better, the question is whether these developments are changing how we consume information? The concern is that social media encourages ideological cocooning (living within a set of beliefs without challenge) as much as it connects us. For example, Twitter and social media inherently undermine critical discourse. This leads us to ask, does social media have a broken relationship with facts and the truth? Is social media the source of the concern with "fake news?" Are we moving from the information age to the disinformation age? If so, how do we address this in order to develop critical thinkers?

When people are selecting their own facts unchallenged, critical thinkers will be hard to find. So how do we get people to be more skeptical about what they read; to challenge assumptions and ideas? Counterintuitively, thinking is not an individual private experience. The argument here is that critical thinking is best nurtured by collaborative, transactional approaches. A core reason for learning collaboratively is that humans are inherently selective in seeing and reinforcing existing beliefs (confirmation bias). The inherent tendency or bias to reinforce what we already believe while rejecting alternative perspectives speaks to the core strength and a reason for a community of inquiry approach.

The Community of Inquiry framework is strongly embedded in the learning sciences and is a direct contribution to understanding thinking and learning in a connected knowledge society. The core dynamic of the CoI framework is grounded in Dewey’s method of practical inquiry. Practical inquiry is simply an everyday means of thinking and learning that models the scientific method. It demonstrates how thinking is distributed across groups of learners. Thinking collaboratively in a community of inquiry provides the balanced tension between individual thoughts and input from the group. Thinking collaboratively is the dialectic push and pull of the personal, interpretive realities of the individual and the empirical realities of the shared world. Communities provide the means to integrate the personal and shared worlds and cohesively engage participants in critical discourse.

Creating a successful community of inquiry is challenging. The complexity of designing and sustaining a community of inquiry that supports thinking critically demands more than recipes or a short list of best practices. This necessitates that we have the benefit of a coherent theoretical framework that provides the order and rationale to manage the complexity of personal reflection and collaborative discourse. At the core of creating and managing such a community of learners is shared leadership that can ensure constructive progression of the learning experience while adjusting to shifting interests and challenges.

Technology does not replace a purposeful and collaborative learning experience. Being able to operate a smart phone and staying connected through Twitter says little about critical thinking and knowledge construction not to mention innovative thinking. On the other hand, technology has the potential to unbundle time and space where discourse can be sustained over time. Exchanges can be read, re-read and revised based on feedback and evidence. The asynchronous nature of ICTs can provide the opportunity to reflect and engage in sustained discourse with the expectation of mitigating the insidious presence of fake news.


Allen, K. (2004). An Interview with Dr. Kathleen Allen on Leading Collaboratively. Retrieved September 29, 2014 from

Garrison, D. R. (2016). Thinking Collaboratively: Learning in a Community of Inquiry. London: Routledge/Taylor and Francis.

Kennedy, N. & D. Kennedy (2010). Between chaos and entropy:  Community of inquiry from a systems perspective. Complicity:  An International Journal of Complexity and Education, 7(2), 1-15.

Kuhn, T. S. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Martinez-Aleman, A. M. (2012). Accountability, pragmatic aims, and the American university. NY: Routledge.

Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of General Psychology, 2(2), 175-220.

Sawyer, R. K. (Ed.). (2006). The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Wilson, E. O. (2012). The Social Conquest of Earth. NY: W. W. Norton.

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Charanjeet · 2 years ago
Thanks Prof. for making a compelling arguement for an urgent need to promote CoI to address "Fake News". I am not sure, though assuming that this post was probably a response to a recent news on BBC, on hate messages sent to mayor of London(UK) using Twitter; In my view, as educators & social researchers, we are collectively challenged by the "Fake News" ; more profoundly then ever before and even to the extent, what we could ever assume; Are technologies emerging stronger educators than humans? what are we lacking in reaching out to the learners? where and how to connect and reconnect? "principles and processes of the CoI framework" is highly relevant today then ever before. Interestingly, the mayor in the speech has invited social media companies, politicians, media and people to work together probably, ignorning educators and more importantly CoI practioners who would chant "do not block the way of inquiry"( Peirce, The Collected Papers, 1.135) and who engage in "Exchanges can be read, re-read and revised based on feedback and evidence." to bring truth out of the fake.

In my view, if fake - fay ( fancy/fairy/falsehood)+aches society, proposed fee+aches the social media companies; having blocked flow of free inquiry aches the CoI practioners.
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D. Randy Garrison · 2 years ago
Thanks for your thoughtful response.
Although it certainly applies to all of us, it was precipitated by the craziness of the US political environment.
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Bernard Kimani · 2 years ago

The proliferation of fake news and the continued attempt to silence/demobilize divergent thinking is almost becoming a virus whose effects will hit the world like AIDS. Voices like these need to be raised vouching for intellectual humility that accepts the views of others first even though you do not disagree with them. Collaborative discourse can only thrive in an atmosphere of openness, accommodation and respectful engagement. Although Social media use in Kenya today is at its peak, it can be described by the contents of your paper. In our last year Election, it almost tore down the country till the government began to regulate the activity in social media platforms. CoI community need to determine how CoI could be extended beyond the confines of a classroom environment to the daily interactions in society- especially with the practical inquiry aspect.
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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 twelve books and well over 100 refereed articles/chapters.His recent books are Thinking Collaboratively: Learning in a Community of Inquiry (2016) and E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Community of Inquiry Framework for Research and Practice (3rd Edition) (2017); for which he won second place for the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Division of Distance Learning Book Award, 2017.


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