A consistent theme in my work on blended learning is shifting students from passive consumers in the classroom to active, engaged members of a learning community. The Community of Inquiry framework can help teachers blending online and offline work to cultivate a blended classroom characterized by respect, dialogue, inquiry, and exploration.

Too often classrooms are spaces where kids do not enjoy the flexibility or freedom to ask questions about topics or issues that capture their interest and pursue exploration that may extend beyond the boundaries of a particular subject area. Instead of allowing students to engage in the messy business of asking questions, seeking answers, and understanding complex problems, education focuses on presenting the answers to questions and solutions to problems for kids to absorb and retain. However, if the student has not played an active role in asking questions or investigating topics, they are unlikely to be interested in or motivated to remember the “answer.”

Cultivating a Community of Inquiry both on and offline can help students learn how to think independently, imaginatively, and resourcefully. There are three overlapping elements of the Community of Inquiry framework: social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence.

Developing a Community of Inquiry in a blended classroom can function to:

  • leverage student curiosity.
  • encourage exploration and investigation.
  • help students to appreciate the interconnectedness of the various subjects.
  • develop the ability to communicate and collaborate both on and offline.
  • give students more agency and autonomy to enhance intrinsic motivation.
  • build meaningful relationships among students.
  • drive deeper thinking about topics, issues, and problems.
  • shift students from a passive to an active role in the classroom.

Ultimately, classrooms should be spaces where students develop the skills necessary to explore and understand their world. They must practice approaching unfamiliar concepts and situations to make sense of them. Using the Community of Inquiry framework provides blended teachers with a structure they can use to design learning experiences that combine the best elements of online and offline learning and allow students to drive that learning.

21 Responses

  1. What an excellent educational model for schools to follow. Students must learn and practice how to ask questions to dive deep into their learning while building strong working relationships with their peers.

    • Exactly, Amy! In my role as a coach, I find that many teachers are hesitant to engage students in inquiry, exploration, and discussion. It’s a messy, non-linear, and often a time-consuming process, but it is incredibly valuable for them to develop these skills, engage with their peers, and drive the learning in the classroom.


      • Hi Catlin

        I fully agree with your point. However if we are teaching students who do not have the pre-requisite entry level, how do we encourage them?

        I would like to hear your views.

        Thank you.

        Pui Wan

        • Hi Pui,

          Do you mean pre-requisite skills or content knowledge? If so, that’s a big benefit of blended learning. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach and should free you to work with students who need additional support and skill-building.


          • Dear Catlin

            Thanks for the reply.

            I meant both pre-requisite skills as well as content knowledge.

            Thank for the clarification.

            Pui Wan

  2. I suggest a Social, Cognitive and Learning presence.
    When Teachers evolve to Educators then on to Leaders of Learning then Students and their yet-to-evolve Teachers learn, retain, and apply more ‘funner and faster.’

  3. I appreciate that you acknowledge that this is messy but much needed work! With access to so much information we need to be able to help learners be critical consumers! This an excellent framework for constructing an authentic educational experience.

  4. COI is a really interesting model of learning that appears to apply to all age groups. Given that students are more familiar with spoon feeding teaching practices it is essential that they gradually evolve into autonomous learners which will benefit them both in the educational as well as professional environment.

  5. COI is an excellent model for students and teachers. It emphsizes the possibilities of creativity for students. It also allows for critical thinking which is so important once entering the workforce. It also allows young adults to take charge of their own learning and builds their self esteem. Very exciting model.

  6. Harvard Graduate School of Education course on Online Teaching and Learning (happening now in October, 2021) guided me to your website. And, it was worth exploring. Your content is to-the-point and lucid. Thank you for coming up with a wonderful and neat website, and quality content for passionate teachers, who want to improve. I love to teach, and hence I love to improve myself to become a better teacher and learner.

  7. Catlin – Like Muhammad, I similarly found my way here through the Harvard course referral. I found your comment that, “Too often classrooms are spaces where kids do not enjoy the flexibility or freedom to ask questions about topics or issues that capture their interest and pursue exploration that may extend beyond the boundaries of a particular subject area.” I teach for the DoD and found similar issues with adult learners. In the past we taught material as basically, “The sage on the stage”. However, recent events, (Covid) and others, have removed us from the brick and mortar setting and brought us to on-line modes. We are also trying to implement changes to the process that move us from the ‘Sage’ teacher/student mode to that of a facilitator/learner one. I’ve found that it’s necessitated me to utilize more open office hours to handle the deeply ‘messy’ learning while being able to handle the more superficial ‘messy’ student inquiries during our dedicated in-person lessons. I look forward to developing more blended learning scenarios so that students can get a jump on the information so the can more cogently develop lines of inquiry during class periods. Comments?

    • Hi Patrick,

      Your comment about offering more office hours to address the messy work of learning made me smile. The reason I am such a big advocate for blended learning is my belief that teachers should spend less time talking at kids and more time sitting alongside them (in person or virtually online) to respond to their specific needs. Learning is messy, and learners are often in wildly different places in their learning journeys and benefit from varying levels of support. I want teachers to have more time to engage in the human side of this work, responding organically to learners’ needs and facilitating learning instead of feeling stuck at the front of the room transferring information.


      • Hi Catlin,
        you just highlighted how the learning process should not be, but unfortunately, a majority of learners and teachers experience the same cycle of boring content transfer.
        The teachers must improve their methodologies.

  8. My daily effort is to respond to my students diverse needs, I personally enjoy when I shift direct instruction to group/videos, this way I free myself to spend the intirely of class time working with the students and small groups and individually.
    When I reach the end of the unit, students are given the opportunity to reflect on their performance, where I am having dificulties to identify strengths and weakness as self-directed learners.
    Please help.

  9. Hello dear Catlin,

    Thank you for such wonderful insight in the COI.
    I come directly from Harvard Graduate School of Education program called The Online Classroom, as your content is quite resourceful and perfect to learn what we are discussing in our program.
    I will definitely check all of your resources. We appreciate your amazing website!

    Best regards

    Francisco Borja

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