The key question that we faced during this topic in the course is how to organize and nurture a process to creating a meaningful learning experience. The answer was through community of inquiry (CoI) and its three interdependent presences – social, cognitive and teaching. Figure 1 visualizes the basic idea of this concept.

Figure 1. Community of inquiry framework, Garrison et al. (2020) in Fiock (2020)

Fiock (2020) unpacks each of those presences as follows:

  1. Social presence positively affects student and instructor course satisfaction. It encompasses emotional expression, open communication and group cohesion.
  2. Cognitive presence is the ability to construct and confirm meaning through reflection.
  3. Teaching presence encompasses instructional design, facilitating discourse as well as direct instruction. It is seen as the “glue” which bilds together and enables social and cognitive presences.

The ideas of CoI resonated well with me and I found quite a few useful ideas that I could incorporate in my own teaching. Despite this there are quite a few challenges that I could sense and that were also lifted up in the existing literature. Boelens et al. (2017) summarize those in four main challenges. Namely, (1) incorporating flexibility, (2) stimulating interaction, (3) facilitating students’ learning process, and (4) fostering an affective learning climate. The questions that emerge related to the first challenge are how to incorporate flexibility, and which amount of flexibility is desirable. The questions that emerge related to the second challenge are how to create a balance between the blended learning method and the social interaction and human touch typical in the face-to-face environment, what is the right balance. The questions that emerge related to the third challenge center mainly on how to facilitate students’ learning processes in blended learning environments and what are the possible strategies that could assist us in doing this. The final, fourth challenge triggers questions on how to foster an affective learning climate in blended learning environments and what are the strategies that could help us do this. For me those generic questions brought a rather specific question:

how to motivate learners by implementing authentic learning tasks, designing instruction that caters the diverse learning needs?

In my teaching practice so far, I have realized that working on real challenge, provided by a real organization which is also actively involved in the process offers a lot of potential to nurture a CoI and meet some of it challenges. I can summarize this potential in 5 main points:

First, meaningfulness and expectations. This type of task is perceived by students as highly meaningful as they are actually work towards a real situation, faced by practitioners. This creates high motivation and ambition already from the start. Students usually devote a lot of efforts and time to the tasks at hand. Additionally, the expectations are quite high as they need to interact and work towards external to the university stakeholders. Here there are several different expectation sets – my expectations from the students as a teacher as well as the organization’s expectations towards the students as a customer. This also confronts students with the challenge how to manage the differences in the expectations from those two different sides. This is something that constantly is probing students’ knowledge and provides a rich learning experience.

Second, co-creation and different roles. Students are co-creators of the course and a good learning process. It is not only the teacher that has control but also the students themselves as well as the participating organization. In that sense they have different roles in the course – co-creators, learners, facilitators when they are responsible for activities within a multi-stakeholder workshops as well as experts when they coach other students on the company, the tools and concepts that they are not familiar with. While this creates uncertainty for the students at the beginning. In the long term in creates confidence.

Third, stronger focus on the process. While it is important what the final outcome is (i.e. a final report), how students get there is more important and needs to be actively looked into and discussed. How the team works, how they progress with the task at hand as well as how they handle conflicts. Appreciation and feedback must be shown.

Fourth, variation of learning activities to support the process. This is related to the previous point. Along with traditional lectures and group work, I run workshops with different stakeholders (other students, faculty, policy-makers, industry, NGOs), pitching events where students are exposed to different ways of learning and different situations. Altogether, they build confidence that they successfully can manage different situation which are close to reality.

Finally, different types of feedback to reinforce confidence. Related to the previous point and reinforcing confidence, I take extra care to provide different type of feedback. Feedback from me on their academic work, feedback from the organization on their idea and its feasibility, feedback from other students on their explanation on a tool or theory, feedback from external stakeholders when it comes to their ideas. This reinforces the idea that they possess a particular kind of knowledge and competences that are valuable and that they convey to others.

Linking back to Fiock (2020) and the instructional activities for CoI that are suggested, working on real challenge, provided by a real organization which is also actively involved in the process aligns well with some of the principles of good practice for the online environment. Namely, effective teaching focusing on cooperation among students; engage in meaningful learning activities; providing feedback to ensure students are on the right track; communicating high expectations will prompt students to meet those expectations as well. All this is also providing a wide variety of strategies that could meet diverse population of students. I hope you find those ideas usefu!


Boelens, R., De Wever, B., & Voet, M. (2017). Four key challenges to the design of blended learning: A systematic literature review. Educational Research Review, 22, 1-18.

Fiock, H. (2020). Designing a community of inquiry in online courses. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 21(1), 135-153.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & 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.

Challenges when designing for online and blended learning