The COI framework diagram shows how different presences can be integrated to form a deep and meaningful educational experience.

The ,Community of Inquiry (COI) is a pedagogical model that supports digital teaching and learning: online, in-person, and blended. If you are an educator in higher education, it’s quite useful for you to understand what COI is. In particular, how the COI framework can serve as a guide to help plan and implement multi-modal educational experiences for your students.

The COI framework diagram shows how different presences can be integrated to form a deep and meaningful educational experience.

What are these “presences”?

  • Social presence is the ability of learners to project their personal characteristics into the community of inquiry, thereby presenting themselves as “real people”.
  • Cognitive presence is the extent to which the participants in any particular configuration of a community of inquiry are able to construct meaning through sustained communication.
  • Teaching presence is defined as the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realising personally meaningful and educational worthwhile learning outcomes.
  • Emotional presence is a newer 4th presence that was found to exist in the social, cognitive, and teaching presence (Cleveland-Innes, Campbell, 2012). I liken it being the Infinity gauntlet that holds the other precious infinity stones together in order to harness all their respective powers. In other words, it’s the “presence” that holds the other “presences” together.
As a Marvel (& Thanos) fan, I just had to create this meme...

How I stumbled upon COI

I first learnt about COI through the “,Guide to Blended Learning”, but was fortunate enough to join the DCOI MOOC that was dedicated to exploring the COI framework as a way for establishing and sustaining online, blended, and multi-modal learning experiences.

  • ,Designing for Communities of Inquiry (DCOI) is a MOOC offered free of charge (who says the best things in life aren’t free?) by the Commonwealth of Learning in partnership with Athabasca University that explores the why and how of using the COl as the basis for developing and teaching high quality online and blended courses. Over a span of 6 weeks, I got to learn more about the principles behind COI and its practical applications to blended learning while making new friends with educators from around the world.
  • ,Dr Nathaniel Ostashewski is one of the 2 lead instructors for this course. The other is Prof Martha, whom I mentioned a few times in earlier blog posts. Together with a team of facilitators, project managers, they deliver DCOI as a facilitated MOOC. DCOI is definitely one of those MOOCs that is worth your time.

What I like about this course

Instead of summarising 6 weeks worth of teachings into a single blog post, I will instead just share what stood out for me in this MOOC:

1. Well structured

  • Clear instructions on course requirements, managing learner expectations from the start
  • Good pacing through the deliberate control in the release of topics
  • Consistent flow, i.e. every module has a few topics which follows the same structure of “watching, reading, reviewing, exploring, assessment and responding via forums”.
Consistent flow per module. Rinse & repeat.

2. Engaging

  • Multi modality; short video (lecture style) to introduce concepts, then lead us to curated readings, followed by a dedicated forum for that particular topic, and finally a quiz to wrap up each week.
  • Informal but genuine. I love how Dr Nathaniel starts off each week with an engaging video. From the first day covered in snow, to bringing us for a tour of his farm where the machines did their sorting… he demonstrated how videos (with good analogy) could be used to engage learners’ interest by tying the topics to a real world context. Kudos!

3. Plenty of Discourse

  • Dedicated forums for specific topics to keep participants focused
  • Facilitators closely monitored the forums and encouraged sharing of ideas.
  • Multiple LIVE sessions for participants to get to know course instructors

4. Thoughtful Final Assignment

  • The final assignment was designed as an opportunity for participants to synthesise and apply all their learning thus far.
  • To help participants, the instructors even added a checklist, complete with drop down menus to make it easier to apply the concepts taught.
  • Depending on your personal application, this final assignment can be as easy or challenging as you want it to be.

5. Continuity

  • Similar to ,LTLO and ,BLP, this DCOI Course is still accessible even after MOOC has officially ended. This allows participants to still refer to the course materials (multiple useful checklists & readings). As a learner, this is very impactful as it assures me that the resources are always available. A win for Open Education!
Contributed an infographic to the course!
One of my more meaningful certifications.

Final thoughts

DCOI MOOC was fortuitously timed. Towards the end of the 6 weeks, my workplace would start developing a “Blended Learning Starter toolkit” course. The DCOI teachings are highly relevant (thanks @wanyun for recommending this course!) and the final assignment was as close to a real simulation as one could hope for. The DCOI instructors and facilitators were like extra mentors guiding me on how this “Blended Learning Starter toolkit” course should be designed. I am grateful.

That said, a good learning experience does not come by chance. This DCOI MOOC was successful because of deliberate design. I look forward to applying the COI framework!

Benedict Chia

22 April 2023


  • Emotional presence, learning, and the online learning environment M. Cleveland-Innes & P. Campbell, 2012 · International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(4), 269-292.
  • Designing online learning in higher education F. Martin & D. U. Bolliger, 2022 · In the Handbook of Open, Distance and Digital Education.
  • Synchronous tools for interaction and collaboration P. R. Lowenthal, 2022 · In the Handbook of Open, Distance and Digital Education.
What is COI, and why does it matter?