Cognitive Presence

Cognitive presence describes the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through course activities, sustained reflection, and discourse (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000. In the Col framework, cognitive presence is seen as consisting of four phases of practical inquiry, adapted from Dewey (1933), which begins with a triggering event and extends through exploration and integration to culminate in resolution. Researchers have been able to find evidence of practical inquiry in online discussion, but several studies have found that online discussion rarely moves beyond the exploration phase where participants share information and brainstorm ideas (Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007; Kanuka & Anderson, 1998; Luebeck & Bice, 2005; Murphy, 2004).

While various explanations have been explored, it is most likely that much of this has to do with the nature of the assignments and instructional direction (teaching presence) provided (Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007). In studies in which students were challenged to resolve a problem and explicit facilitation and direction provided, students did progress to resolution (Akyol & Garrison, in press; Meyer, 2003; Murphy, 2004; Shea & Bidjermo, 2008; Wang & Chang, 2008). It may also be that ideas explored in online discussion are integrated and resolved through other course assignments (Archer, 2010) or that the cognitive presence construct itself doesn’t reflect the sort of critical thinking that characterizes inquiry (Breivik, 2016).

Final thoughts

In this chapter, we have seen how the confluence of emerging technologies, trends in educational theory, the historical origins of online learning, and the way constructivist approaches resonate with academic ideals led to the adoption of distinctly social constructivist pedagogies in online learning. We reviewed current best understandings concerning the design of learning activities, and accordingly looked at ways in which online environments can be designed to be learner-centered, knowledge-centered, assessment-centered, and community-centered. We also examined the Community of Inquiry (Col) model of online learning and some ideas suggested by it for collaborative constructivist approaches. You may have noticed, however, two things not discussed.

The first has to do with emerging technologies. Although I discussed how emerging technologies remove constraints on educational activity, I did not deal with their integration in the design of learning environments or Col pedagogy.To do so adequately would take an entire chapter; indeed, emerging technologies are covered in the next chapter. I would encourage you, none the less, to keep the frameworks reviewed in this chapter in mind as you read the next.

The second has to do with constraints. I discussed the affordances of emerging technologies and online learning, I didn’t talk about the constraints. These are worth considering. For example, we remarked on the difficulty of moving online discussion to integration and resolution; it would be much less difficult in a face-to-face environment. Neil Postman (1994) reminds us that it is also important to consider who benefits and who is marginalized by our embrace of new technologies. I urge you to do so.

Questions for reflection

  • 1. Pedagogical affordances of new technologies identified in the chapter include access to information, multimedia integration, social media, and learning analytics. Do you agree these have the potential to meaningfully change teaching and learning? Do you see evidence they are already doing so?
  • 2. Please discuss ways in which online learning can be made more learner-centered including the affordances and constraints of the medium itself.
  • 3. Please discuss ways in which online learning can be made more knowledge-centered including the affordances and constraints of the medium itself.
  • 4. Please discuss ways in which online learning can be made more assessment-centered including the affordances and constraints of the medium itself.
  • 5. Please discuss ways in which online learning can be made more community-centered including the affordances and constraints of the medium itself.
  • 6. How might the Community of Inquiry Framework be used to support social constructivist approaches to teaching and learning online?

Significant contributor

Dr. George Veletsianos is originally from Cyprus, but now lives in Victoria BC Canada, where he is a full Professor in the School of Education

andTechnology at Royal Roads University. He holds the Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning andTechnology and the Commonwealth of Learning Chair in Flexible Learning. Prior to his current appointment, he held faculty positions at the University of Texas at Austin (USA) and the University of Manchester (UK). Dr. Veletsianos is a former Fulbright scholar, a BCcampus Open Education and Advocacy Fellow, and an early-career fellow of the EU Network of Excellence in Technology' Enhanced Learning.

Dr. Veletsianos has been designing, developing, and evaluating digital learning environments since 2004. His research aims to understand and improve teaching, learning, and participation in digital learning environments. His interests center around learners’ and faculty experiences surrounding online learning, flexible learning, networked scholarship, open education, and emerging technopedagogical practices. While his research aims to develop practical solutions to problems facing education, his work also adopts critical perspectives aiming to examine and problematize common assumptions and oft-repeated claims about the use of technology in education. His research highlights the significant variations that exist in the ways that different groups of academics and learners participate online and has important implications for inclusion and equity in education.

Dr. Veletsianos wrote and/or edited six books, and has individually and collaboratively published more than 80 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters. His research has been funded by the Canada Research Chairs Program, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, National Science Foundation, Commonwealth of Learning, European Union, National Geographic, and Swedish Knowledge Foundation. He blogs at

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