D. Randy Garrison
October 24, 2017

The focus of this post is an examination of two recent articles that suggest adding a fourth presence within the Community of Inquiry framework. This issue of adding a fourth presence (learner or learning presence) emerged from the work of Shea et al. (2012). Succinctly, learner presence was proposed to address the characteristics of learners and explain self-direction and motivation. The argument was that self-direction and motivation of the individual learner needs to be accounted for in the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework. Unfortunately, however, there are two problems with this. The first and most fundamental problem is that this approach is incongruent with the basic premise of a collaborative community of inquiry. The second problem is that the supposed need for learner presence has been addressed with the development of the shared metacognition construct. The first issue of incongruence has been addressed previously (Garrison, 2017) so I will focus most of my comments on how best to address the issue of self-direction.

The issue of self-direction has been resolved with the shared metacognition construct (Garrison & Akyol, 2015a, 2015b). Our work on shared metacognition rigorously addresses the issue raised by learner presence but in a way that addresses the conditions for thinking and learning collaboratively (Garrison, 2016) - not independent self-directed learning. Yes, learners must individually take responsibility and control of their thinking but we must also recognize that this invariably involves others. To operate in a collaborative learning environment it is imperative to concurrently consider both self and shared regulation of learning. For this reason I was surprised to read recently that Terry Anderson (a key contributor to the original CoI framework) stated that he supports the addition of learner presence as a fourth presence within the CoI framework (Anderson, 2017). Considering the importance and impact of this implication I felt compelled to respond.

Notwithstanding the incongruence issue, I want to also demonstrate the redundancy of "learner presence" from a slightly different perspective. I believe a recent article can help us understand the superfluous nature of the idea of adding learner presence as a fourth element. The article in question focused on “learning presence” and considered the causal relationships among the standard CoI presences and the perception of learning presence (regulation of learning) (Maet al., 2017). Not surprising from my perspective they found that the perception of learning presence was primarily associated with teaching and social presence. The intersection of these presences is precisely where one would expect the perception of learning (ie, cognitive presence) to emerge. It was also shown that learning presence had a direct effect on cognitive presence; again not surprising. So the question is why do we need to create a fourth presence? It seems to me that this research has verified that learning presence elements are already associated with the concerted effects of existing social, cognitive and teaching presence elements of the CoI framework. Consideration of the fully integrated shared metacognition construct would have accommodated the questions that precipitated this study.

It is also important to appreciate that the shared metacognition construct manifests itself primarily at the intersection of cognitive and teaching presence within an open and accepting environment (ie, social presence). This indicates that the shared metacognition construct is thoughtfully integrated into the CoI framework and goes beyond simply suggesting the simple addition of a fourth presence without consideration of how and where this construct would manifest itself in the framework? Parenthetically I should also add that the construct is accompanied by a quantitative instrument to help us further explore the theoretical and practical implications of shared metacognition (i.e., self and shared regulation) (Garrison & Akyol, 2015a, 2015b). Therefore, I would encourage those who have an interest in self-regulation and associated issues to turn their attention to the shared metacognition construct that integrates individual and group learning dynamics coherently and consistently within the CoI framework.

A final scientific observation is that adding new presences also risks increasing the complexity of the framework and violating the principle of parsimony. Related to this is a caveat not to try incorporating broader contextual variables into the core elements of the educational transaction. Important exogenous variables such as institutional context and communication modes should be studied in terms of their influence on the core presences and a collaborative transaction.


Anderson, T. (2017). How communities of inquiry drive teaching and learning in the digital age. Contact North. Retrieved October 4, 2017 from: https://teachonline.ca/sites/default/files/pdf/e-newsletters/how_communities_of_inquiry_drive_teaching_and_learning_in_the_digital.pdf

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

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., & Akyol, Z. (2015a). Toward the development of a metacognition construct for the community of inquiry framework. 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.

Ma, Z., Wang, J., Wang, Q, Kong, L., Wu, Y., & Yang, H. (2016). Verifying causal relationships among the presences of the Community of Inquiry framework in the Chinese context. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(6), 213-230.

Shea, P., Hayes, S., Smith, S. U., Vickers, J., Bidjerano, T., Picket, A., Gozza-Cohen, M., Wilde, J. & Jian, S. et al. (2012). Learning presence: Additional research on a new conceptual element within the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework. Internet and Higher Education, 15(2), 89-95.



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.