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Increasing the Impact of Cognitive Presence in the Online Classroom

Courtney Moke (Deltak, USA)
Lauren Wright (Deltak, USA)
Session Information
November 22, 2013 - 10:50am
Faculty and Professional Development & Support
Areas of Special Interest: 
Online Learning andCommunity Colleges
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Asia 1
Session Duration: 
35 Minutes
Information Session 12
Virtual Session

Increase the impact of your online course design and delivery!

Extended Abstract

As the popularity of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework continues to grow in online learning, instructional designers and faculty trainers must adapt their strategies to educate faculty on the best ways to implement the social, teaching, and cognitive presences into the online classroom. While the social and teaching presences are relatively easy to explain to faculty and subject matterExperts (SME's) in order to include in course design and instructor training, the cognitive presence is often overlooked and referred to simply as "the content of the course." This tactic ignores a very important aspect of the framework and weakens the impact of the online learning experience.
Upon examination and research of the cognitive aspect of the CoI framework, we have developed several strategies that incorporate the four stages of cognitive presence into both the instructional design and the faculty facilitation of an online course. It is through the triggering point, exploration, integration, and resolution stages of the cognitive presence that students have the full opportunity to absorb the course content and benefit from the entirety of the CoI framework.

An example of one of our strategies applies to course projects during the instructional design process of an online course. Instead of the entirety of a project being assigned at the beginning of the course and collected at the end for final grading, segments of the project are assigned periodically and reviewed by the instructor in a way that prompts the students to proceed through the different stages of cognitive presence. Designing a course in this manner also lends itself well to building complexity into the learning objectives, as students progress from comprehension to application to evaluation of the course material.

An instructional design example can be as follows:

  • The Triggering Event: A problem/situation/case study is presented early in the course. A few prompts for additional student inquiry are provided, but no further work is assigned.
  • Exploration: In the next module, students explore possibilities for potential solutions for the problem. This portion of the assignment may be submitted for grading so the instructor can guide students.
  • Integration: After receiving feedback on their exploration, students are prompted to create solutions that directly relate to their problem.
  • Resolution: By the end of the course, students select and apply the solution that best solves the problem presented. This work is submitted for grading and feedback from the instructor.

This same concept can be taught to those teaching a course. The instructor must be trained on how to keep the four stages of cognitive presence in mind when facilitating the course and recognize how the stages are loosely tied to the timing of the course. Students should evolve from exploring content in the early period of the course to applying it by the end and instructor interactions with the material should correspond accordingly.

An example of one of our strategies is the facilitation of a discussion forum. Typically, instructors directly communicate to the discussion or they take a passive approach by simply agree with the sentiments of the students. A more efficient use of faculty time and energy is to pair their discussion interaction with the four stages of cognitive presence and make an even greater impact on the educational experience in the forum.

  • The revelation of the discussion question for the week serves as the triggering event.
  • In the early stages of the discussion, instructors can prompt students to explore the question further.
  • The instructor can make a much more powerful impact in the middle-to-end of the discussion by using the integration and resolution stages of cognitive presence to model their contributions.
    • Students, particularly adult students, want solutions and application-based knowledge from the classroom.
  • Instructors can take a more active role in prompting the students to make conclusions on the situation and create ways to implement and apply.

Instructors can also incorporate their social and cognitive presences into a single effort. As instructors add social presence to the course in the form of videos, podcasts, and weekly summaries, the information being delivered can directly relate to the stage of the content presented in the course. Instead of posting a fast video that only summarizes the weekly content; the video can also prompt students to start to think about the next phase of how the content will apply to creating solutions. Podcasts and written announcements can also follow the same pattern. Instructors can break up the material and inspire students to think about it in stages, instead of taking the myopic position of teaching the material as a whole.


  • Evaluate the importance for emphasizing the inclusion of cognitive presence in the design of an online classroom.
  • Explain different processes instructional designers and faculty members can follow for including the four stages of cognitive presence in the design and delivery of an online course.
  • Investigate methodologies that instructors can use to increase cognitive presence in the live online classroom.


  • Arbaugh, J. B. (2013). Does academic discipline moderate CoI-course outcomes relationships in online MBA courses?. Internet & Higher Education, 1716-28.
  • Arbaugh, J. B., Bangert, A., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2010). Subject matter effects and the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework: An exploratory study. Internet & Higher Education, 13(1/2), 37-44.
  • Garrison, D., & Arbaugh, J. B. (2007). Researching the community of inquiry framework: Review, issues, and future directions. Internet & Higher Education, 10(3), 157-172.
  • Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. Internet & Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.
  • Shea, P., Sau Li, C., & Pickett, A. (2006). A study of teaching presence and student sense of learning community in fully online and web-enhanced college courses. Internet & Higher Education, 9(3), 175-190.
Lead Presenter

Courtney Moke is currently a Program Development Manager with Deltak Innovation in Oak Brook, Illinois. Her main responsibility is working with Benedictine and Purdue Universities to transition their programs to the online environment. This is a multi-faceted position that involves course development, faculty training, and working on new ideas that bring students together. During her time at Deltak, Courtney also worked for The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and the Rasmussen College Curriculum Development team.

Courtney has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration concentrating in Computer Information Systems from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. She also has a Master of Science in Education concentrating in Instructional Systems Technology from Indiana University and a Master of Business Administration from Benedictine University. In addition to her time at Deltak, Courtney has also served as the Technology Coordinator of a K-8 school district and as a Business Process Analyst for Indiana University.

Courtney's current teaching responsibilities include Speech, Introduction to Computers, and Computer Information Systems. She has also taught Project Management, Ethics and Leadership in a Global Environment as well as Organizational Behavior at the graduate level.

Courtney presented a Best in Track presentation at the 5th Annual Sloan-C International Symposium on Emerging Technologies for Online learning and is a frequent presenter at the Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning in Madison, WI. Courtney was also a presenter at the Distance Education Virtual Conference for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and served as a panelist at the Indiana University Instructional Systems Technology Conference.