Garrison & Cleveland-Innes (2005). Facilitating cognitive presence in online learning: Interaction is not enough.

Garrison, D.R. & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating cognitive presence in online learning: interaction is not enough. The American Journal of Distance Education. 19(3). 133-148.

This study assessed the depth of online learning, with a focus on the nature of online interaction in four distance education course designs.

Article provides a good background to course design, deep/surface/achievement-oriented learning. The study used a survey (Study Process Questionnaire) to compare changes in learning strategies selected by 75 students in 4 courses in different subjects and levels.

Interaction is seen as central to an educational experience and is a primary focus in the study of online learning. The focus on interaction in online learning emerges from the potential and properties of new technologies to support sustained educational communication. Communication and Internet technologies provide a high degree of communicative potential through asynchronous interaction design options (Garrison and Anderson 2003).1 From an access perspective, participants are able to maintain engagement in a community of learners when and where they choose.


The purpose of an educational experience, whether it is online, face-to-face, or a blending of both, is to structure the educational experience to achieve defined learning outcomes. In this context, interaction must be more structured and systematic. A qualitative dimension is introduced where interaction is seen as communication with the intent to influence thinking in a critical and reflective manner.


Moore (19892 , 19903 ) was one of the first to focus on interaction issues in distance education. He identified transactional distance as consisting of dialogue (i.e., interaction) and structure (i.e., design).

and on why I’ll get to delve into qualitative discourse analysis…

An interactive community of learners is generally considered the sine qua non of higher education. However, interaction is not a guarantee that students are cognitively engaged in an educationally meaningful manner. High levels of interaction may be reflective of group cohesion, but it does not directly create cognitive development or facilitate meaningful learning and understanding. Interaction directed to cognitive outcomes is characterized more by the qualitative nature of the interaction and less by quantitative measures. There must be a qualitative dimension characterized by interaction that takes the form of purposeful and systematic discourse.

on social presence and higher-order learning:

…establishing social presence was more heavily shaped through peer interaction. With regard to successful higher-order learning, … teaching presence in the form of facilitation is crucial in the success of online learning.

on facilitated discourse and success of online courses:

The design feature of successful online courses demonstrates structured discourse that facilitate clear discussion threads, avoid disjointed monologues, and move the discussion through the phases of inquiry (levels of thinking).

on deep vs. surface vs. achievement-oriented learning:

In a deep approach to learning, material is embraced and digested in the search for meaning. Surface learning employs the least amount of effort toward realizing the minimum required outcomes. Surface learners are motivated to complete the task rather than assimilate the learning. Achievement approaches to learning are reflected by an orientation to the external reward for demonstrating learning. Strategies for the achievement orientation focus on the activities that will result in the highest marks.

but there isn’t a mention of strategies/motivations for deep learning…

All students are capable of employing any of the three approaches and do so as required by the learning environment; they choose strategies deemed to be most effective based on the requirements in the environment. Students can move from one approach to another and do so in response to the climate and requirements of the course.

so, would the choice of platform do anything to the approach selected by students?


The study was conducted from January 2003 to April 2004. It administered the Study Process Questionnaire to the online course participants (seventy-five students participated) to measure changes in how graduate students choose to strategize their learning in a particular learning setting.

*DN*: wait. the entire data set was a survey sent by email to students? no analysis of the actual online learning?


High levels of learning are dependent less on the quantity of interaction than on the quality, or substance, of interaction. That is, social presence may be a necessary but insufficient precondition for creating a community of inquiry and encouraging deep approaches to learning.


Teaching presence must be available, either from the facilitator or the other students, to transition from social to cognitive presence.


It appears that teaching presence contributes to the adoption of a deep approach to learning and that interaction by itself does not promote a deep approach to learning.

on social presence:

What is critical to note here is that although education is certainly a social phenomenon, there is a much larger purpose of acquiring and extending societal knowledge. Social interaction and presence may create the condition for sharing and challenging ideas through critical discourse, but it does not directly create cognitive presence or facilitate a deep learning approach. High levels of learning are dependent less on the quality, or substance, of interaction. That is, social presence may be a necessary but insufficient precondition for creating a community of inquiry and encouraging deep approaches to learning.

on lurking (and why discourse analysis for online discussions is tricky):

Meaningful engagement does not simply correspond to sending lots of messages. It may mean that a student is engaged vicariously by following the discussion, reflecting on the discourse, and actively constructing meaning individually. Ideally, interaction would be required to confirm understanding. However, students may be cognitively present while not interacting or engaged overtly. This reveals anther challenge in understanding the qualitative nature of interaction in an online context.

on the community of inquiry model:

Quality interaction and discourse for deep and meaningful learning must consider the confluence of social, cognitive, and teaching presence – that is, interaction among ideas, students, and the teacher. Teaching presence provides the structure (design) and leadership (facilitation/direction) to establish social and cognitive presence (i.e., community of inquiry). The community of inquiry model has proven to be a useful framework to analyze and understand interaction in an online educational environment.


Understanding a complex concept such as interaction must be viewed from a comprehensive perspective. The community of inquiry framework defines the context that can support quality interaction and deep learning. A deep approach to learning must consider all three elements of the community of inquiry: social, cognitive, and teaching presence. The findings here suggest that neither social presence alone nor the surface exchange of information can create the environment and climate for deep approaches to learning and meaningful educational exchanges.

*DN*: Turns out, this paper is only tangentially related to what I’m looking for. Some very handy background, but no applicable methodology.

  1. Garrison, D. R., and T. Anderson. 2003. E-Learning in the 21st century: A framework for research and practice. London: Routledge Falmer. []
  2. Moore, M. G. 1989. Three types of interaction. The American Journal of Distance Education 3 (2): 1–6. []
  3. Moore, M.G. 1990. Recent contributions to the theory of distance education. Open Learning 5 (3): 10–15. []
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