Fostering Presence in an Online Learning Community

An online learning community or community of inquiry (COI) is any group of people who seek to collaborate on a topic of interest for the purpose of learning. When people collaborate on learning activities it leads to the shared goal of knowledge construction and meaning making.

Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000) identified three elements for an effective online learning community:

  • social presence,
  • teaching presence, and
  • cognitive presence.

These three elements are interdependent. They characterize the deep and meaningful process of transformative learning experiences. They are essential in the online learning environment.

Social Presence

Social presence relates to the learner’s ability to identify with the community through participation. Actively participating in ongoing dialog and activities in a course develops interpersonal relationships. Note that dialog seeks to achieve a deeper shared level of meaning whereas discussion seeks only a consensus. Social presence involves active learner–learner, instructor–learner, and learner–instructor interaction.

Teaching Presence

Teaching presence includes both the instructional design and facilitation of the course. The course design should include active learning techniques that promote the processes of cognitive and social elements. By modeling the expected behavior, the instructor will empower learners and begin the process of building and developing the community.

Cognitive Presence

Cognitive presence is the ability of the learners to construct knowledge and meaning through continuous reflection and communication with others. It’s through this process that learners make meaning of a topic and construct knowledge from it.

Engaging in meaningful dialog is essential to an online course to build and sustain an effective learning community. Doing so will promote the learner’s ability for meaning making and knowledge construction that leads to transformative learning.

An effective online learning community will measure learned skills and depth of knowledge by examining the completed activities and dialog for critical reflective thinking, self-direction, and transformation. Taken together, social presence, teaching presence, and cognitive presence will empower learners.

What are your thoughts on fostering presence in the online course room? Add your comments below.
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.

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