TEL Communities

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TEL Communities
Definitions: Theoretical background relevant to technology facilitated social learning
Research evidence: Systematic literature reviews on the theme of technology facilitated social learning

Role of the teacher in a COP

Community of inquiry imageIn their model of online communities of inquiry, Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2003) suggest that online communities have three forms of presence: cognitive, social and teaching. They believe that these three forms of presence overlap to create the educational experience.  Cognitive presence is described as the element most often associated with success in education and can be defined as:
“the extent to which the participants in any particular configuration of a community of inquiry are able to construct meaning through sustained communication...[it] is a vital element in critical thinking, a process and outcome that is frequently presented as the ostensible goal of all higher education” (2003, p.4).

They noted that teaching presence is generally the role and function of the instructor, although this role may be shared among the participants. Teaching presence is further divided into two major functions—first, the selection, organization, and design of content, activities, and assessment and second, the facilitation of the course.

To develop an effective online learning community, all of these functions need to be shared with the learners; they need to be empowered to take on the responsibility for their own learning as well as that of their student colleagues. This is achieved in an online community of practice through co-construction of meaning for cognitive presence and shared roles for teaching presence. It has implications for the role of the course facilitators empowering the interactions rather than undertaking direct teaching. There are clearly roles in an online community and individuals need to act on these roles in order for it to function. Palloff and Pratt (1999, 2005, 2007) raise and discuss the concept of social presence and its importance in the development of a community. Building on the work of Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2003), they stress that there must be a sense of who everyone is as real people in order to be successful. Teaching presence is the role and function of the instructor, although this role may be shared. Palloff and Pratt suggest that all elements need to be shared with students in order to create an effective online learning community.


Garrison, D.R., Anderson, T. and Archer, W., 2003. A theory of critical inquiry in online distance education. Handbook of distance education, 1, pp.113-127.

Available at:

Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (1999). Building learning communities in cyberspace: effective strategies for the online classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Palloff, R. and Pratt, K., 2005, August. Online learning communities revisited. In 21st annual conference on Distance Teaching and Learning.

Palloff, R.M. and Pratt, K., 2007. Online learning communities in perspective. Online learning communities, pp.3-15.