Garrison, Anderson & Archer: CoI + Conversation

Although I’ve read quite a few articles by one or more of these three authors, and seen this particular article cited numerous times, this may be the first time I’ve read this exact article.  I looked at it primarily as an example of a theoretical framework paper, but nearing the middle, realized I must not have read the one Graham was suggesting, for this was a research paper, complete with “methodology” and “results.”  Nonetheless, I had some thoughts about how the community of inquiry framework intersects with conversation, my area of interest.

Since my interest is in conversation, it struck me that conversation impacts all three of the core elements discussed in this article.  First, I’ll start with the definition Andrew Gibbons provides for instruction: “Instruction is the intentional engagement of two or more agents capable of decision-making in purposeful conversation” (p. 6).  Then I will apply it to the three elements of CoI.

  • Social presence: Garrison et al argue that social presence is the ability of the learners to project themselves socially and emotionally, thereby representing themselves as “real” people.  Social presence is increased by “intentional engagement” of agents with each other.  To be thus engaged, they much feel themselves perceived as “real” people, and they must perceive their partner in conversation in such a way.  Instruction thus occurs between the two agents when they converse with a mutual sense of social presence.
  • Cognitive presence:  The authors define cognitive presence as “the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse in a critical community of inquiry” (2007, p. 79, italics added).  Elsewhere, Holmberg quotes Lewis as writing, “‘As we mull things over quietly and in solitude [in other words, as we reflect], we are actually holding a conversation with ourselves’ (Lewis 1975: 69)” (Holmberg, p. 48).  Thus reflection is viewed as conversation with oneself.  Additionally, Garrison et al. divide cognitive presence into a “practical inquiry” model.  The second step, termed exploration, in particular relies on conversation: “ This exploration takes place in a community of inquiry by iteratively moving between the private and shared worlds—that is, between critical reflection and discourse….  This is a divergent phase characterized by brainstorming, questioning, and exchange of information” (p. 9).  Finally, the relationship between discourse and conversation must be explored, since in many settings they are used interchangeably.   One may conclude that the construction of meaning which comprises cognitive presence happens best when agents intentionally engage in purposeful conversation.
  • Teaching presence: Part of teaching presence, according to the authors, is facilitating discourse in order to achieve personally meaningful (as well as educationally worthwhile) outcomes.  Again the word “discourse” — I need to spend more time investigating how “discourse” is used theoretically and how it differs from conversation.  Regardless, we once again see that intentional, purposeful, meaningful conversation increases learning, in this sense when it is abetted by skillful teaching presence.

When the authors explain one of the characteristics of the community of inquiry, as based on the work of Lipman (1991), we see even more clearly the relationship between conversation on the CoI theory: “members question one another, demand reasons for beliefs, and point out consequences of each others’ ideas—thus creating a self- judging community when adequate levels of social, cognitive, and teacher presence are evident” (p. 12).


Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T. and Archer, W. (2001).  Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education. American Journal of Distance Education. (15:1) pp. 7 — 23.

Garrison, D. R. and Archer, W. (2007) A Theory of Community of Inquiry. The Handbook of Distance Education.  ed. Michael Moore. ***

Gibbons, A. S. (In press). Instruction and learning, technology and design.

Holmberg, B. (1995).  Course development—fundamental considerations.  In B. Holberg, Theory and practice of distance education.  London and New York: Routledge. pp, 45-67.


One thought on “Garrison, Anderson & Archer: CoI + Conversation

  1. Very good. This is a good step towards your analysis. I wonder what you think about the argument that reflection is a conversation with oneself? Also, does that fit into Gibbon’s definition of instruction that involves two or more agents?

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