D. Randy Garrison
January 2, 2018

In this first post of the New Year I will focus on creating an effective community of inquiry. This is the teaching presence responsibility to design a purposeful, collaborative and trusting community of learners. When we turn to the practical aspects of a CoI (community of inquiry), much attention has been directed to issues of facilitation. This should not be surprising as the CoI framework is a dynamic process model of thinking and learning collaboratively - not a static structural design template. Perhaps for this reason much less research has been directed to the crucial aspect of design. Design maps most of what can and will occur in an educational experience. For this reason I want to turn my attention to designing courses and programs that are shaped by the CoI framework.

Empirical evidence shows that design influences engagement (Manwaring et al., 2017; Robinson, Kilgore & Warren, 2017); however, it is important to appreciate that instructional design is best approached through the lens of a coherent theoretical framework. In my mind there is little doubt that educational theory improves design and the probability of achieving intended learning processes and outcomes. Design helps the educator identify appropriate activities for implementation that meets the collaborative constructivist learning principles of a community of inquiry. The basis for this is that not only can it help in deciding what the possibilities are but to also assess the progress of the learning experience. To do this without a framework is to start a journey without a map.

Many design methodologies focus on structural issues without sufficient attention to the learning transaction. Design associated with the CoI framework is a dynamic process and not a typology of inert categories. That is activities are developmental that address social and cognitive presence goals. The essences of these presences are also dynamic and developmental. The inherent complexity of a community of inquiry argues for a theoretical framework that can provide a metacognitive understanding of the dynamics of collaborative inquiry. Furthermore, any initial plan is preliminary as it will inevitably change as unanticipated issues arise. This also points to the importance of participants having a metacognitive awareness of the inquiry process. Design before and during the learning experience must focus on the process of inquiry and the progression of the learning transaction. That is, a design for a CoI is ongoing throughout the learning experience (participants are designers) and carries through to inevitable redesign activities.

One of the early projects that used the CoI framework as a course design guide was led by Norm Vaughan (Vaughan & Garrison, 2006a; 2006b). At that time we pioneered the use of the CoI framework to provide an understanding of the principles of a community of inquiry and guidelines for redesigning a wide range of courses. The CoI framework provided a dynamic model for an institutional approach to move away from a passive lecture that fundamentally reshaped the educational experience based on thinking and learning collaboratively.

After these early design experiences described in our book on blended learning (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008), I further developed these design principles (Garrison, 2011). These principles were of course explicitly derived from the CoI framework and were expanded into sets of specific guidelines and suggestions with the explicit goal to support collaborative inquiry.  Subsequently these principles were explored further in an open source book by Norm Vaughan, Marti Cleveland-Innes and myself (2013). I should also note that the CoI framework has also been used to assess course implementation (Swan et al., 2014). This I suspect has a direct impact on redesign practices essential to continued improvement and understanding of the creation of collaborative learning environments.

Finally, I know there are a number of projects currently using the CoI framework to design or redesign courses and programs. In this regard I look forward to other contributions to describe work associated with the design of communities of inquiry and the use of the CoI framework to guide the (re)design of courses and programs. Hopefully this will evolve into a discussion and sharing of practices associated with the facilitation of collaborative inquiry.


Garrison, D.R. (2011). E-Learning in the 21stcentury: A framework for research and practice (2nd ed.). London: Routledge/Taylor and Francis.

Garrison, D.R., & Vaughan, N. (2008). Blended learning in higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Manwaring, K.C., Larsen, R., Graham, C. R., & Henrie, C. R. (2017). Investigating student engagement in blended learning settings using experience sampling and structural equation modeling. Internet and Higher Education, 35, 21-33.

Robinson, H.A., Kilgore, W. & Warren, S. J. (2017). Care, communication, learner support: Designing meaningful online collaborative learning. Online Learning Journal, 21(4), 29-51.

Swan, K., Day,S. L., Bogle, L. R., & Matthews, D. B. (2014). A collaborative, design-based approach to improving an online program. Internet and Higher Education, 21, 74-81.

Vaughan, N., & Garrison, D. R. (2006a). How blended learning can support a faculty development community of inquiry. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 10(4), 139-152.

Vaughan, N., & Garrison, D. R. (2006b). A blended faculty community of inquiry: Linking leadership, course redesign and evaluation. Canadian Journal of University Continuing Education, 32(2), 67-92.

Vaughan, N.D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry. Athabasca, Athabasca University Press.



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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D. Randy Garrison
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In this first post of the New Year I will focus on creating an effective community of inquiry. This is the teaching presence responsibility to design a purposeful, collaborative and trusting community of learners. When we turn to the

The Impact of Teaching Presence
D. Randy Garrison
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I have described teaching presence as the essential element of a community of inquiry that sustains a purposeful collaborative inquiry learning experience. Moreover, research has supported the theoretical claims of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) ...

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D. Randy Garrison
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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. ...

Social Presence and Interdependence
D. Randy Garrison
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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 ...

Cognitive Presence and Critical Thinking
D. Randy Garrison
September 5, 2017
I would like to continue my consideration of cognition in a community of inquiry with an examination of the foundational literature associated with critical thinking. A recent examination of the Cognitive Presence construct by Jens Breivik (2016) ...
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.