Emotions in education, is that really suitable? Well, it depends on what you mean with emotions. In daily life we might think of emotions as being happy, sad, in love or angry. That is, connected to a specific (strong) mood we are in. So how is this relevant in a learning context? To be able to answer my question, I need to go back to when we were introduced to topic 4 on ONL201. 

Photo: Josefin Jarl

During topic 4 – Design for online and blended learning – we got introduced to Community of Inquiry, which describes elements of an educational experience (Garrison et al., 2000). The though here is that an educational experience is delivered when different elements are aligned. The first element of interest is Social Presence which is described by Garrison et al. (2000, p.89) as “The ability of participants in the Community of Inquiry to project their personal characteristics into the community, thereby presenting themselves to the other participants as “real people.” The next one is Cognitive Presence that is defined by Garrison et al. (2000, p 89) as “The extent to which the participants in any particular configuration of Community of Inquiry are able to construct meaning through sustained communication.” Finally, there is the Teaching Presence which is the importance of clarifying the intended educational outcomes from the course (Garrison et al., 2000). 

Figure 1. Elements of an Educational Experience (, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

The different elements of Community of Inquiry have later been discussed and developed by researcher, and scientist like Marti Cleveland-Innes and Dan Wilton, which have suggested that there might be a forth element that helps nurturing learning – the Emotional Presence – which is described as ”the outward expression of emotion, affect and feeling, by individuals and among individuals in a community of inquiry, as they relate to and interact with the learning technology, course content, students and instructor”. (Cleveland-Innes & Wilton, 2018, p. 14). In the original model of Community of Inquiry, emotions are an important part of Social Presence, but Cleveland-Innes & Wilton argue for that emotions comes into play in all these three presences and that there might be a point of adding it as the fourth presences, which helps to aligned the rest into an (total?) educational experience. To me, this makes sense. 

Figure 2. My own interpretation of the Emotional Presence in the context of Community of Inquiry, base don the source for figure 1.

Emotions is and has always been a big part om my teaching style and my way of learning things. This goes back to me being a students and experience different teachers and “judging” how good they are. It clearly struck me then that the teachers that was engaged and showed feelings of having fun and joy during the lecture, where also the once that tend to get their message through to me. This is something I’ve taken with me into my own teaching style and it’s also something I often hear from my students, that they appreciate my enthusiasm and my sense of that I do care about them and their performance. That is, emotions in the Teaching Presence is important for my own view of an educational experience. 

As a student, I also experienced the importance of being in the “right” mood myself when studying and taking a course. Courses that was interesting and therefore, arousing, also tended to be courses I did well on. Sometime an engaged teacher helped me, sometimes not. I also have the experience of a course in accounting – which absolutely is not my cup of tea – where an engaged and caring teacher actually made it fun and useful. Even if I don’t actively work with accounting today, I still remember the difference between debit and credit (19 years later…). For me, this is a good example of the roll emotions play in the Cognitive Presence.

Finally, as Garrison et al. (2000) state in their original model, emotions are an important part of a Social Presence which I also can see when looking back at my own situation as a student. Having class mates around me which were motivated and engaged, definitely help me in my own learning situation by increasing the social presence on the program I studied. 

To support Cleveland-Innes & Wilton idea, we can also turn to psychology where researchers like Russel and Pratt (1980) stress the importance of having a person in the right mood to be able to act. According to them there are two dimensions that determine a person’s reaction towards an environment: pleasure and arousal. The opposites are unpleasant and sleepy. Depending on your aim, the person will end up on either side of this scale, or in between. In a learning situation you definitely want to have the students experience pleasure and or arousal, thus creating an exciting environment where learning can occur. This speaks for emotions being important in all the presences in the Community of Inquiry.

So yes, emotions is and will always be important in a learning context if we are to achieve a Total Educational Experience. 


Cleveland-Innes, M. & Wilton, D. (2018). “Guide to Blended Learning”. Burnaby: Commonwealth of Learning.

Garrison et al. (2000). “Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education. The Internet and Higher Education, no 2(2-3), p. 87-115.

Russell, J. & Pratt, G., (1980). “A description of the affective quality attributed to environments,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, no. 38:2, p. 311-322.

Getting all emotional…