D. Randy Garrison
May 25, 2020

The focus of this contribution is to highlight a range of research focused directly on or guided by the Community of Inquiry (CoI) theoretical framework. The CoI framework reflects learning as a process of collaborative inquiry facilitated by shared teaching and social presence. The components of Teaching Presence and Social Presence are manifestations of Cognitive Presence (collaborative inquiry). Social presence establishes the climate for collaboration but Teaching Presence is the glue that maintains a purposeful community of inquiry. The numerous citations of this work suggest that the CoI framework has had a broad influence on online and blended learning.

For background I would like to begin with a brief overview of the value of theoretical frameworks to guide research as well as the design and delivery of an educational experience. To this point, Borup et al. (2020) emphasizes that frameworks are valuable in developing knowledge through the identification of research questions and the interpretation of data. Moreover, they state that “frameworks are indicators of the maturity and strength of a field of inquiry” (p. 820). Similarly, Zongozzi (2020) draws attention to the importance of theory in conducting research and that the CoI framework meets all the requirements of a theoretical framework. While this is reassuring, I have made a similar argument and provided evidence in support of the importance of theory in both research and practice as well as the validity of the CoI as a theoretical framework (Garrison, 2017).

Before looking at recent studies I want to emphasize that the theoretical foundation of the CoI framework. It is grounded in a collaborative-constructivist approach to learning that fuses shared discourse and personal reflection in an iterative process of inquiry. With that in mind I would like to highlight several recent studies that have focused on the collaborative and interactive core of the CoI theoretical framework.The first study provides insight into a collaborative and discourse-based learning experience by utilizing the CoI framework to explore online collaborative and dialogue-based reflective practice (Suppiah et al., 2020). The authors conclude that for “critical reflection to take place, it is imperative to establish ‘trust’ amongst the community of inquiry so that genuine and constructive comments can take place” (Suppiah et al., 2020,p. 117). To the point here regarding the importance of theoretical frameworks theyadd that “facilitating critical reflection communally in online spaces would require a more systematic and structured approach” (p. 136). A study to goes to the core of the CoI framework examined student engagement in higher education utilizing inquiry-based learning (Archer-Kuhn et al., 2020). They found that engagement contributed to an increase in “reflective and integrative learning,and an increase in higher-order learning” (p. 187). The findings were reinforced qualitatively and noted that students appeared to embrace inquiry-based learning. A third study that focused on a blended learning experience, “demonstrated that the CoI framework can assist in the development of an effective blended learning process” (Zhang, 2020, p. 48). From a collaborative learning approach the study concluded that qualitative and quantitative analyses confirmed the importance of social presence in establishing the connectedness of a community of inquiry. Parenthetically, it was noted that “the CoI framework helps in the course design process and in implementing activities and tasks” (p. 42). The value of the CoI framework inthe design of collaborative approaches to learning is also addressed in the next study that recognizes the CoI’s twentieth anniversary.

                Shifting gears somewhat I want to recognize that it has been twenty years since the seminal publication of the CoI theoretical framework (Garrison, Anderson &Archer, 2000). I have to say that I am personally pleased to see an article that draws attention to the fact that we have approached the second decade of this work. In recognition of this twenty-year milestone Castellanos-Reyes (2020)provides an overview of the establishment of the CoI framework during the first decade along with a brief discussion of its use and criticism. It concludes with the statement that the “CoI framework is one of the most extensively used frameworks in online teaching and learning” (The Now and Future). In terms of the future, the article concludes with the statement that it “is time for us to move from making sense of what an efficient online experience is to designing such experience” (Castellanos-Reyes, 2020, The Now and Future). Similarly, a study exploring trends in e-learning found the CoI to be the most used and relevant theoretical framework (Valverde-Berrocoso et al., 2020). This suggests an acceptance of the CoI theoretical framework. Perhaps not surprisingly I agree with this suggestion and have a post addressing this very point (Garrison, 2020). The only thing I would add is that there remain numerous theoretical questions and conceptual developments that have the potential to refine if not expand its validity and influence. One example would be to explore the Shared Metacognitive construct (Garrison,2019). Before leaving this topic I should note that a ten year retrospective of the CoI framework has been published (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2010).

                Collaborative-constructivist CoI approaches to learning are directed to critical inquiry processes and shared metacognitive learning strategies. From this perspective, Junus et al. (2020) used the CoI framework to develop a cognitive apprenticeship approach and found that the “metacognitive ability of students with the CoI training increased”(Abstract). Critically it was found that their exposure to the “learning strategies of other participants … encouraged them to change their own strategy if needed … [and] students with the CoI training gave better answers to open questions that required them to argue their answer” (Abstract). This collaborative cognitive approach speaks to the value of a shared learning experience and specifically the need to further study constructs such as shared metacognition (Garrison & Akyol, 2015a; 2015b) and its practical implications.

                My goal here has been to draw attention to an eclectic range of recent articles that focused on the theoretical framework of the CoI. To conclude let me notethat Bozkurt (2019) describes the CoI framework as the most recent pivotal contribution to distance education (and online learning). More specifically he states that the “value of the CoI lies in its potential to provide effective learning experiences in computer-based, online educational spaces” (p. 505). That said, the focus here has been on selected research that supports the theoretical coherence and practical implications of the CoI framework.


Archer-Kuhn, B., et al. (2020). Inquiry-Based learning as a facilitator to student engagement in undergraduate and graduate social work programs. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 8(1), 187-207.

Borup, J., Graham, C. R., West, R. E., Archambault, L., & Spring, K. J. (2020). Academic communities of engagement: An expansive lens for examining support structures in blended and online learning. Educational Technology Research Development, 807-832.

Bozkurt, A. (2019). Intellectual roots of distance education: a progressive knowledge domain analysis. Distance Education, 40(4),497-514.

Castellanos-Reyes, D. (2020). 20 Years of the Community of Inquiry Framework. Tech Trends, 24 March.

Garrison, D. R. (2017). E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Community of Inquiry Framework for Research and Practice (3rd edition).London: Routledge/Taylor and Francis.

Garrison, D. R. (2019). Shared metacognitive awareness.

Garrison, D. R. (2020). CoI design principles revisited.

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

Garrison, D. R., & Akyol, Z. (2015a). Toward the development of a metacognition construct for the community of inquiry framework. (Developing a shared metacognition construct and instrument: Conceptualizing and assessing metacognition in a community of inquiry) Internet and Higher Education,24, 66-71.

 Garrison, D. R., & Akyol, Z. (2015b). Corrigendum to ‘Toward the development of a metacognition construct for communities of inquiry.’ The Internet and Higher Education, 26, 56.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2010). The first decade of the community of inquiry framework: A retrospective. Internet and Higher Education, 13(1-2), 5-9.

Junus, K., Suhartanto, H., R-Suradijono, S. H., Santosa, H. B.,& Sadita, L. (2019). The Community of Inquiry model training using the cognitiveapprenticeship approach to improve students' learning strategy in the asynchronous discussion forum, Journal of Educators Online, 16(1),

Suppiah, S., Wah, L. K., Lajium, D. A., &  Swanto, S. (2020). Exploring a collaborative and dialogue-based reflective approach in an elearning environment via the Community of Inquiry (CoI) Framework. CALL-EJ, 20(3), 117-139.  

Valverde-Berrocoso, J., Garrido-Arroyo, M.,  Burgos-Videla, C., & Morales-Cevallos, M.B. (2020). Trends in educational research about e-learning: A systematic literature review (2009–2018). Sustainability, 12(12), 5153. 

Zhang, R. (2020). Exploring blended learning experiences through the community of inquiry framework. Language Learning & Technology, 24(1),38–53.

Zongozzi, J. N. (2020). A concept analysis of theory in South African Open Distance and E-Learning research. Open Learning,



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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The Community of Inquiry is a project of the Centre for Distance Education at Athabasca University, researchers of the Community of Inquiry framework, and members of the CoI community.