The Community of Inquiry (CoI) Framework

“A class with high levels of participation becomes a powerful learning machine,” said Vicki Davis.  Learning as a community allows for communication and collaboration to be at its finest.  The Community of Inquiry (CoI) Framework is built upon the social, cognitive and teaching presence.  These conversations in the community are deep-meaningful discussions that allow for critical discourse and reflection about the given content.


The above diagram gives you an idea of how intertwined each presence is with the others. If one piece of the puzzle is missing, the diagram is incomplete. With the sustained possibilities of these collaborative thinking and learning experiences, it will likely transform teaching and learning. The need for more engaged approaches to learning is being addressed and will likely evolve into the new style of learning in the future.

How can you being practicing this new way of teaching? The CoI framework can be identified with seven principles:

Plan for the creation of open communication and trust.
At the beginning of the course, plan an introductory activity to build upon interpersonal relationships. This activity could focus on analyzing the goals and expectations of the learning experience.

Plan for critical reflection and discourse.
Clear expectations should be addressed before discourse begins with the group. In addition, when planning for discourse, only include critical and need to know/do content. The facilitator should also plan content, but then allow time for reflection and deeper discussion.

Establish community and cohesion.
The goal is NOT to make everyone feel emotionally comfortable. In order to grow and learn in the environment, learners need to feel slightly “uncomfortable” but safe enough to share opinions and thoughts freely. It is important to keep focus on the academic goals, as it is common for learners to withdraw from participating if the discussion is not engaging.

Establish inquiry dynamics.
At the start of the class, it is helpful to ask questions that cause learners to reflect, then ask them to defend their own position. It can be helpful to ask students to moderate the discussion, as it builds on their facilitation skills. At the conclusion of the conversation, it is helpful to debrief the discussion as it builds meta-cognitive awareness.

Sustain respect and responsibility.
Direct instruction is to maintain the academic climate with open communications among the group. In all class environments, both online and face-to-face, learners should be able to share ideas that can be challenged in a respectful manner. It is okay to agree to disagree.

Sustain inquiry that moves to resolution.
Achieving academic goals requires all participants to actively engage and contribute to the process, with some direct instruction, when needed. Too much facilitation limits the participation from learners.

Ensure assessment is congruent with intended processes and outcomes.
When assessing, constructive feedback is important to provide learners with ways to improve discourse, encouragement, and awareness of intended outcomes. The way in which learning is measured and rewarded will shape the approach to learning and ultimately the quality of the learning outcomes.

Overall, the responsibility of this framework rests on the instructors and learners alike.  The instructor need to set clear expectations at the beginning of the course and abide by the guidelines to ensure proper discourse among learners.  The learners are to respect their peers’ ideas and engage in purposeful reflection to construct a deeper meaning.  A community of inquiry brings a high level of understanding of course content and therefore allows learners to develop a meaningful learning experience.


Garrison, D. R. (2016). Thinking Collaboratively: Learning in a Community of Inquiry. New York, NY: Routledge.

Learning in a Community of Inquiry