ONL 191 Topic 4

The discussion these past two weeks focuses on three concepts – online learning, blended learning, and the educational Community of Inquiry, commonly abbreviated CoI. The first, online learning, is easy – it is the use of technology to provide education at a distance, in other words, students do not have to be in a classroom. One of the important characteristics of online learning is its potential to democratize the education experience. The second, blended learning, is a bit more difficult conceptually because although it uses technology and online learning, it is not the technology itself that defines blended learning, it is the activities that are purposefully designed to support the learning process. 

From Theory to Practice

In reflecting on the past two weeks and on my own field of Information Systems, I feel that there are several important areas where these concepts can be applied to enhance learning. Teaching students analysis, design, how to apply patterns, and advanced programming concepts all involve training the mind to think in new ways. One of the important challenges in software and systems engineering is that there are many ways to approach a problem, but not all approaches are effective nor are many of the available options often efficient. It is important for students to learn to think critically so they can better assess available approaches. It is important to note that, on a high level, software development is linear in nature as it proceeds through four phases starting with analyzing a problem, identifying design patterns, designing a solution, and finally coding a solution. Each phase creates deliverables that build upon one another. Getting something wrong often means going back and either laboriously making changes or throwing out previous work and starting over – most people do no like to throw things out so they spend considerable time trying to “fix” things. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the process is on the right track before advancing to the next phase of development, which involves bringing together different stakeholder perspectives, different design principles, and the characteristics of different types of technology and how these elements impact the proposed solution. This process is difficult to teach in a classroom setting alone and therefore needs to be expanded outside the classroom – a blended learning approach offers a solution.
Blended Learning

Vaughn [4] defines blended learning as “the organic integration of thoughtfully selected and complementary face-to-face and online approaches” and goes on to further qualify this definition by emphasizing “simply adding an online component does not necessarily meet the threshold of blended learning“. Blended learning promotes collaboration, critical thinking and, notably, an environment where students work together, engage in peer-to-peer teaching-learning, and engage with the learning process through purposely designed activities. To help educators develop effective blended learning courses, Cleveland-Innes propose seven principles to follow:

Cleveland-Innes Seven Principles of Blended & Online Learning [2]

  1. Design for open communication & trust
  2. Design for critical reflection & discourse
  3. Create and sustain sense of community
  4. Support purposeful inquiry
  5. Ensure students sustain collaboration
  6. Ensure that inquiry moves to resolution
  7. Ensure assessment is congruent with intended learning outcomes
Vaughn, et. al. [4] support using these principles as a “map and guide to creating and sustaining purposeful communities of inquiry” to which I will shift my discussion.
Community of Inquiry

The community of inquiry is perhaps the most promising methodology for the encouragement of that fusion of critical and creative cognitive processing known as higher-order thinking. – Lipman [5]

Defining an Educational Community of Inquiry

An educational community of inquiry is defined as “a group of individuals who collaboratively engage in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct personal meaning and confirm mutual understanding” – Garrison [6]

Participating in blended learning and communities of inquiry is evolutionary – in the beginning, students do not know their peers and need to orient themselves. As time progresses, the participants will gain confidence and will start engaging with each other more. As the engagement process evolves over time, it benefits by supporting technology. Salmon [3] proposes a five-stage model for online learning described in the diagram below:
Five-Stage Model for Online Learning [3]
Salmon’s model supports the student learning experience “through structured development process” [3] in which each stage is composed by two aspects: a technological support aspect and an online moderating aspect, summarized below:
  1. Students introduce themselves and get to know each other
  2. An environment is provided for the students to socialize and form a community
  3. Students learn through interacting and sharing with each other, learn how to coordinate their activities with each other, and learn how to manage their time
  4. Each of the participating students begins to take on more responsibility for their learning
  5. Students are comfortable engaging with others, expressing ideas, and taking charge of their learning experience

These five stages lead into important building blocks for establishing a Community of Inquiry. Vaugn, et. al. [4] propose a framework for Communities of Inquiry based around three presences: Social, Cognitive, and Teaching. A model of the framework is illustrated below:
Community of Inquiry Framework [4]

Cleveland-Innes provides a definition for each presence [2]:

  • Social Presence – The ability of participants to identify with the community (e.g., course of study), communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop inter-personal relationships by way of projecting their individual personalities
  • Cognitive Presence – The extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse in a critical community of inquiry.
  • Teaching Presence – The design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes.
The first two stages of Salmons model are important for supporting the CoI Social Presence while the later three stages are important for supporting the CoI Cognitive Presence. The second, third and fourth stages of Salmon’s model are important for the CoI Teaching Presence, where the teacher acts as a moderator in the online activities. But there is one more presence that plays an important role in learning – Emotional Presence. Two quotes from Cleveland-Innes illustrate the importance of emotion in learning:

Brain research has confirmed that emotions are linked to learning. Cleaveland-Innes [1]

Designers and educators need to create places that are not only safe to learn, but also spark some emotional interest. Cleaveland-Innes [1]

Emotional Experience is not confined to the students – it is also an important aspect of how a teacher interacts with the students. In the diagram below, Emotional Presence is important in supporting discourse and is an important part of the Teaching Presence.
Emotional Presence and the Community of Inquiry Framework – The Fourth Presence [2]
Cleveland-Innes sums up the importance of Emotional Presence in the following quotation [1]:

Emotional presence is 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 the instructor. [1]

  • Affect: influence or action in relationship to feelings and emotions.
  • Emotions: unconscious states that arise spontaneously.
  • Feelings: the conscious expression of emotion
Educational Experience is influenced by four presences: Social, Cognitive, Teaching, and Emotional – all four need to be taken into account when interacting with students.
Further Information on CoI:

The Community of Inquiry (CoI) URL:


  1. Cleveland-Innes, M. (2019). Emotion and learning –  emotional presence in the Community of Inquiry framework (CoI). URL:
  2. Cleveland-Innes, M. (2018) Community of Inquiry and Teaching Presence: Facilitation in online and blended learning. Presentation slides from ONL181 webinar. URL:
  3. Salmon, G (2013) The Five Stage Model. [Homepage]
  4. Vaughan, N. D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry. Edmonton: AU Press. Chapter 1 “The Community of Inquiry Conceptual framework”. URL:
  5. Lipman, M. (2003). Contents. In Thinking in Education (pp. V-X). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  6. Garrison, D.R., Akyol, Z. The Community of Inquiry Theoretical Framework: In the Context of Online and Blended Learning. ResearchGate. URL:

Image Credits:
T4: Reflecting on Design for Online and Blended Learning