D. Randy Garrison
October 2, 2017

In this post I wish to draw your attention to the violation of one of the basic assumptions of the Community of Inquiry framework. It is my view that some studies do not fully appreciate the theoretical implications of the framework with regard to the interdependence of the presences. That is, the presences do not operate in isolation. One presence cannot be considered absent of the influence of the others. A recent example is a study by Armellini and De Stefani (2016) that does not appear to recognize the interdependence of social and teaching presence. The authors appear to make this error when they say “Contributions of a purely social nature are not accounted for within the teaching presence dimension. Teaching presence discourse would be more effectively described if there were an explicit social dimension within the construct” (p. 8).

More specifically here, teaching presence in a community of inquiry does not exist in a vacuum. In this instance teaching presence is reciprocally influenced by social and cognitive presence elements. The fact is that there is an explicit social and cognitive presence within teaching presence in a community of inquiry. As is visible in the CoI figure (see, a deep and meaningful educational experience occurs at the intersection of all three presences. Research into anyone of the presences must concurrently consider the influence of the others.

This is reinforced in another recent publication that emphasizes the “co-occurrence” of the presences with regard to “communicative richness” and group cohesion (Guitierrez-Santiuste & Gallego-Arrufat, 2017). What is relevant to this discussion is that communication and coherence issues are very much associated with social presence. In an educational community of inquiry teaching and cognitive dynamics are inherently social. While we generally view the direction of the relationships in terms of social presence influencing teaching and cognitive presence, it is important to appreciate that these influences are reciprocal; they move in both directions; that is, teaching presence or cognitive presence will also influence social presence.

These reciprocal relationships raise areas for further research. One area raised recently is to explore “the relationship between social presence and perceived learning... moderated by the course length, discipline area, and target audience of the course” (Richardson, Maeda, Lv & Caskurlu, 2017, 402). Social presence also appears to be influenced by context and communication medium in that face-to-face meetings may have “more potential for social presence” (Turula, 2017). Moreover, refining and possibly expanding the dimensions of social presence (Kim, Song & Luo, 2016) remain a core area of research that can enhance our understanding of the structure and influence of social presence. Some time ago I attempted to do this by refining the description of social presence from the perspective of academic identity and purpose (Garrison, 2009; Garrison, 2017, pp. 41-42).

Social presence has attracted much attention with regards to thinking and learning collaboratively. While many questions remain this construct is embedded in a community of inquiry where deep and meaningful learning is a complex dynamic concurrently influenced at its core by varying degrees of all three presences.


Armellini, A., & De Stefani, M. (2016). Social presence in the 21st century: An adjustment to the Community of Inquiry framework. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(6), 1202-1216.

Garrison, D. R. (2009b). Communities of inquiry in online learning. In P. L. Rogers, G. Berg, J. Boettcher, C. Howard, L. Justice & K. Schenk et al. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of distance learning (2nd ed.) (pp. 352-355). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

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

Guitierrez-Santiuste, E., & Gallego-Arrufat, M-J. (2017). Type and degree of co-occurrence of the educational communication in a community of inquiry. Interactive Learning Environments, 25(1), 62-71.

Kim, J., Song, H., & Luo, W. (2016). Broadening the understanding of social presence: Implications and contributions to the mediated communication and online education. Computers in Human Behavior, 65, 672-679.

Richardson, J.C.,  Maeda, Y., Lv, J., & Caskurlu, S. (2017). Social presence in relation to students' satisfaction and learning in the online environment: A meta-analysis. Computers in Human Behavior, 71, 402-417.

Turula, A. (2017). The shallows and the depths. Cognitive and social presence in blended tutoring. Technology, Pedagogy and Education. Retrieved September 20, 2017 from:



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), and he recently won the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Division of Distance Learning Book Award (2nd place), 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.