Tag Archives: web 2.0

Communities of inquiry in education and the workplace

Lipman (1991) is credited with the articulating the idea of a “community of inquiry” (COI).  In a COI, “students listen to one another with respect, build on one another’s ideas, challenge one another to supply reasons for otherwise unsupported opinions, assist each other in drawing inferences from what has been said, and seek to identify one another’s assumptions” (Garrison & Anderson, 2003, p.27, citing Lipman, 1991, p. 15). The idea of combining learning and community is firmly rooted in constructivist and social learning principles.

What makes for a successful COI?

According to Garrison, Anderson, & Archer (2000), three intersecting presences combine in a successful COI:

Cognitive presence: Learners construct meaning through critical discourse and metacognitve approaches (Anderson, 2007).  It requires students to:

  • Recognize a problem (a triggering event)
  • Explore possible solutions (through brainstorming, communication, divergent thinking)
  • Integrate findings (convergent thinking)
  • Resolve the problem (by applying, testing, and defending possible solutions)

Social presence: “The ability of participants in the [COI] to project their personal characteristics into the community, thereby presenting themselves to the other participants as ‘real people’” through the means of communication utilized” (Garrison et al., 2000, p.4).

Social presence:

  • Requires “social-emotional literacy” (Anderson 2007, citing Fisher, 2004)
  • Is impacted by culture
  • Is reflected in online interactions and affective behaviors (sharing personal information, expressing emotions)

Teaching presence:  Teachers and students  act to design and facilitate cognitive and social experiences to enhance learning outcomes  (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001).  Teachers and/or students:

  • Develop learning activities/experiences
  • Facilitate discussions
  • Act as subject matter experts

An important aspect of the COI model is a recognition that:

  • Both problems and their solutions can be complex and ambiguous
  • Problem-solving requires interdisciplinary approaches and learning is less about information gathering and more about recognizing relationships
  • Teachers can be fallible

(Anderson, 2007).

 Impact of technology

Web 2.0 tools can have important impacts on the effectiveness of COI-mediated learning (Anderson, 2007).

  • Cognitive presence
    • A large variety of triggering events exist given the explosion of content sources
    • Exploration can be distributed across multiple domains using Web 2.0 tools
    • Integration can be facilitated through use of technology (concept mapping, digital storytelling tools)
    • Solutions can be achieved any time, any place (e.g., through use of mobile technology).
  • Social presence
    • Multimedia transforms our ability to reveal ourselves online
    • Social interactions can occur in real-time or asynchronously
  • Teaching presence
    • Multimedia transforms the ability of teachers (who can also be students) to connect
    • Versatile tools exist for creating learning experiences and for facilitating communications (which must be used thoughtfully)
    • Learning analytics can be used to assess learning

Downes has suggested replacing the term “presence” with “network”  to reflect the interconnected web of learning mediators facilitated by Web 2.0 tools (Anderson 2007, citing Downes 2006).

COI in the workplace

The COI model has great potential as a model for workplace learning. It can encourage participants to apply a critical thinking approach to workplace challenges and is grounded in the pragmatic recognition that most problems are ambiguous and will not have perfect solutions. The COI’s task is to identify the best solution at the time (Shields, 2003).

In the workplace, cognitive presence or networks would involve:

  • Triggering events that represent priority workplace challenges as well as opportunities
  • Reflective practices that lead to continuous process improvement
  • Exploration, supported through opportunities for divergent and convergent thinking
  • Exploration supported through distributed personal learning networks that can include networks outside the organization (e.g., social media platforms)
  • Resolutions that are data-driven

Social presence is a challenging aspect of COI in a globally distributed workplace. COI practices can create a culture of “participatory democracy”  (Shields, 2003) that needs to be nurtured by management and may conflict with command and control styles. However, enterprise 2.0 systems can support social presence as well as external social networks. Human intervention (aka learning and development departments) can help foster social presence in the workplace, which leads to….

“Teaching presence” in the workplace
In the workplace, “teachers” can be learning development specialists, business leaders, and every individual in the organization. However, the learning development team can have an important role in:

  • Helping participants identify/focus problem or opportunity statements
  • Modeling and developing listening behaviors
  • Mediating and facilitating cooperation and collaboration
  • Helping support a data-driven work culture (e.g., showing how data collection can be used to improve processes and develop better workplace solutions)
  • Showing that the voices of those in the COI are an integral part of learning experiences that are created (and indeed that COI members can create their own learning solutions)

An important aspect of the COI model that’s critical to workplace success is the interdisciplinary approaches it fosters. It can encourage individuals to cross the boundaries of their traditional communities of practice to focus on the challenges as well as the opportunities that can unify them.


Anderson, T. Rourke, L., Garrison, D.  R., & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks5(2), 1-17.  Retrieved September 6, 2011 from  http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

Anderson, T. (2007).  Social and cognitive presence in virtual learning environments. [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved September 6, 2011 from http://www.slideshare.net/terrya/social-and-cognitive-presence-in-virtual-learning-environments

Garrison, D. R., T. Anderson, & 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., & Anderson, T. (2003). E-learning in the 21st century: A framework for research and practice. London: Routledge/Falmer.

Lipman, M. (1991). Thinking in education.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

Shields, P. (2003). The community of inquiry: Classical pragmatism and public administration. Faculty Publications-Political Science. Paper 8.  Retrieved September 5, 2011 from http://ecommons.txstate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=polsfacp

For more resources on COI, check out the Community of Inquiry website.