D. Randy Garrison
July 31, 2017

The focus of the Community of Inquiry framework is thinking and learning collaboratively. At the heart of this shared learning experience is the cognitive presence construct which incorporates the personal and shared dynamics of reflection and discourse. The cognitive presence construct is operationalized by the Practical Inquiry model that reflects four phases of cognitive development (Triggering Event, Exploration, Integration, Resolution). However, in the first studies of cognitive presence the validity of the construct was questioned when little evidence was found that participants were reaching the resolution phase. It is to this point that I want to highlight two recent publications.

The core of the first article by Sadafa and Olesova (2017) was to study general discussion questions compared to questions within a case study that were specifically designed from the perspective of the Practical Inquiry model. The study “provided evidence that cognitive presence does nothappen automatically; rather, instructors need to pay close attention to designing discussions to contribute to higher-level learning” (Sadafa & Olesova, 2017, p. 9). When questions were designed to have students move beyond initial understanding and provide a rationale they were more likely to move the discourse to resolution. The critical point is that the Practical Inquiry (PI) model “not only provides a useful means for understanding cognitive presence in online discussions but also can serve as a guiding framework to design questions” (p.10).

This is of particular interest to me as this focuses on the critical issue directed to the cognitive presence construct from its inception; that is, moving students through to resolution. Seminal studies showed few postings associated with resolution. However, it was suggested early on that progressing to the resolution phase is demanding and requires appropriate teaching presence in terms of design and facilitation. Moreover, when “questions specifically asked students to engage in practical applications, discussions did progress to the synthesis and resolution phase” (Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007, p.162). The issue was one of teaching presence and not the validity of the PI model.

This is also supported by another recent study by Olesova, Slavin, and Lim (2016). First, they found “that the types of questions asked related to the level of cognitive presence, i.e., higher level questions can lead to higher level of cognitive presence and vice versa” (p. 34). Secondly, they concluded that scripted roles can be an effective strategy to improve cognitive presence which speaks to issues of teaching presence (specifically facilitation); which brings me to the larger point that fully understanding any one the presences requires the consideration of the other two. This is clearly illustrated with cognitive presence in that design and facilitation play crucial roles in reaching intended learning outcomes.

For those interested in the theoretical foundation of the CoI framework, in the next editorial post I will comment on the conceptual basis of the cognitive presence construct.


Garrison, D.R., & Arbaugh, J. B. (2007). Researching the community of inquiry framework: Review, issues, and future directions. Internet and Higher Education, 10(3), 157-172.

Olesova, L., Slavin, M., & Lim, J. (2016). Exploring the effect of scripted roles on cognitive presence in asynchronous online discussions. Online Learning, 20(4), 34-54.

Sadafa, A. & Olesova, L. (2017). Enhancing cognitive presence in online case discussions with questions based on the Practical Inquiry model. American Journal of Distance Education, Published online: 31 Jan 2017.



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).



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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.