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Creating Communities of Inquiry in Blended Learning Environments for Higher Education

  • 3 Min Read

This past year has shown that it takes more than simply transferring face-to-face principles of teaching to an online environment. Rather, educators have had to purposefully harness opportunities for teaching and learning available through technology. Blended learning environments have been implemented to utilize online approaches and technologies to complement face-to-face instruction.

The Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework proposed by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000) helps educators and academic institutions combine online and offline work to foster constant inquiry and exploration among students. There are three core elements of this framework—social, teaching, and cognitive presence—that educators should focus on integrating.

This blog will define the central elements of the CoI framework and provide you with ways to integrate each in your blended model.

Defining the Three Elements of a Community of Inquiry (CoI) Framework

1. Social Presence

Social presence is a person’s ability to assert their beliefs, feelings, and personality and establish relationships and trust both online and offline. It’s divided into three categories:

  • Emotional Expression: Learners have the ability and confidence to express their feelings.
  • Open Communication: Learners develop aspects of mutual awareness and recognition.
  • Group Cohesion: Learners participate in activities that build and sustain a sense of group commitment.

In a blended learning model, educators can foster social presence by using technology like a learning management system (LMS) to build a community with students. Through the LMS, educators can share welcome announcements, expectations around communication, and class procedures and rules. Other features such as discussion boards can let students share ideas, knowledge, and opinions with peers and instructors, which can help build critical reflection skills.

2. Teaching Presence

The second element of the CoI framework is teaching presence, which is the ability to design, facilitate, and direct activities that achieve high-quality learning outcomes for students.

When it comes to instructional design and the organization of the course, consider ways you can:

  • Focus on making course content meaningful and engaging for students
  • Provide a clear route for students to follow

With the facilitation of the course and activities, think about how you can:

  • Provide a variety of media and activities to stimulate students and help them stay actively engaged
  • Allow all students to contribute offline and online through group work
  • Hold in-person and online office hours to give students flexibility

For direct instruction, make sure that you:

  • Clearly communicate instructions about assignments and submission processes
  • Have processes in place to resolve and answer student problems and questions
  • Provide timely feedback on assignments
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Building High-Quality Online Learning Experiences Thumbnail

Building High-Quality Online Learning Experiences

Explore how institutions are transforming online and blended education for more effective and engaging experiences

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3. Cognitive Presence

The third element, cognitive presence, is the extent to which learners can construct meaning through sustained reflection and discourse. The goal here is to build a solid foundation of social and teaching presence to stimulate cognitive presence in a course. This can be done online and offline through:

  • Encouraging reflection among learners with open-ended questions that allow different perspectives to be shared
  • Having course content readily available to students so they can learn at their own time and pace
  • Creating assignments that allow for individual and collaborative work to promote inquiry

Whether the classroom is online, offline, or a blend of both, educators should focus on creating spaces where students can engage in critical discourse and reflection. The CoI framework can help create deep, meaningful learning for all students and caters to the human, social, and cognitive needs of students to actively engage in their learning.

Building High-Quality Online Learning Experiences

This past year has shown that it is no longer enough to deliver the same content in a new medium. Academic institutions must seriously reflect on the design and delivery of learning for higher education. Blended learning can help strike a balance between online and offline, allowing institutions to prepare for an agile future.

Download our eBook to find out how institutions are transforming blended education to deliver more effective learning experiences (and how you can too).

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