The internet is a place – it is embodied and material

So, it makes sense that an educational experience online is just as much about ‘presence’ as an educational experience “on-campus”. In fact, for educators, the online or digital component of a subject is also part of the campus.

When thinking about what we need to do online to create conditions  for meaningful learning, the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework can be a useful place to start. It’s not perfect, nor is it the only way to approach teaching online, but in a pinch, it will work.

This threefold model simplifies educational experience into three broad areas: Teaching Presence, Cognitive Presence and Social Presence.

These three presences form a nice Venn diagram to converge around online educational experience:

Community of Inquiry diagram: read text outline after image.
Community of Inquiry diagram

Teaching Presence

  • Setting Curriculum
  • Sharing personal meaning
  • Focussing discussion

Social Presence

  • Engagement with participants
  • Risk-free expression
  • Encouraging collaboration

Cognitive Presence

  • Exchanging information
  • Applying new ideas
  • Connecting ideas


  • Teaching Presence crosses over with Social Presence in setting the climate of the educational space.
  • Teaching also converges with Cognitive Presence by a teacher selecting content to go online.
  • Thirdly, Social Presence crosses over with Cognitive Presence in supporting discourse online.

Educational Experience

The framework involves collaborating to form understanding, reflection upon learning, and allowing for meaningful critical dialogue; this constitutes the educational experience.

Running a subject online for the first time is exciting and daunting, but also an extremely rewarding experience. Students often report higher satisfaction from fully online subjects when a meaningful community is created.

If you’re implementing CoI this session, consider using the following survey to gauge your students’ experience:

Where next?

For more about teaching online and the Community of Inquiry Framework go to creating online presence in the online teaching guide on the LX Resources site.

Finally, here’s a comprehensive list of teaching activities that support the CoI framework in Holly Fiock’s literature review:

Fiock, H. (2020). Designing a Community of Inquiry in online courses. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 21(1), 134-152.

Feature photo by Stas Knop from Pexels

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