Sunday, 14 February 2016


Should the fourth element be called Emotional Presence, Autonomy Presence or Agency Presence? Why do I care? Worse, why do I disagree with all of them and offer Personal Presence?

Until a few months ago, frankly, I'd have looked at any discussion into Communities of Inquiry (COI) and responded with a "all very well, but some of us actually have to deliver on things instead of just writing about them." The story of how I came to find myself spending weekends and evenings studying for a Masters and reading up on ed tech research literature isn't one I understand (yet) but for any practitioner who chances on this post... do yourself a favour and consider it.

I've just handed in my second, and biggest assignment and wrote about how research can inform designing an online professional development programme. It was genuinely interesting, refreshing and made me reconsider things I'd held to be true for a long time.

Communities of Inquiry for example is something I felt familiar with. Several times in my career I've been involved in a course, and somebody well-meaning, clever and probably without too much to do by way of a day job would tell us we were joining a Community of Inquiry. We'd all nod, smile, look for what we actually needed to do to pass the course, and move on. The 'community' would struggle to get past the the fourth post. For NPQH we had to keep a 'learning diary' online using something called (hindsight: it was actually pretty good). Talking to a group of people in the community of inquiry pub someone admitted they were having to retrospectively falsify their learning diary because they were too **** busy to fill one in and frankly what was the point: "it's just a hoop they make you jump through."

So with that in mind I smiled to meet the COI diagram in reading this past month.

COI as set out by (I think) Garrison and Anderson in 2000 turned out to be a useful piece of the narrative needed for my essay. I happily read and re-said that it consists of social presence (identification with the group engaged with the course), teaching presence (where activities are designed, students directed and progress is facilitated) and cognitive presence where the learner reflects and develops through the experience). So far so good. As I got further into the essay though a few things didn't fit neatly. 

Salmon (2003) has written a really good (=useful) framework for e-moderation, that focused on how you equip people to join and become fully fledged members of the learning community. I couldn't see how that really fits into the COI model. Was it part of where teaching met social perhaps? Then I read about research by Rientes and Rivers (2014) that investigated the impact of the student's emotional state on outcomes. Is that part of the link between social and cognitive perhaps? They didn't think so putting forward the idea of a fourth, emotional 'presence' in the COI model.

It's less tidy but it does recognise the fact that the work of the teacher impacts the emotional state of the learner, which itself impacts their ability to engage with the social aspects.

Finally, my latest favourite writer, Anderson (2016) in a blog post about the subject touched on this, and also work by Lam (2015) instead saying it should be called 'Autonomy Presence' and that emotions were only part of something bigger - the learner's capacity to engage and self manage. Anderson's objections to this seem to be more about semantics than the idea, but I strongly agree with what he came up with - Agency Presence, which is what I have used in my essay.

Agency reflects all the above (in my reading, which differs a little from Anderson)

  • How your emotions impact your engagement
  • How well you can manage your own learning and interaction
  • Plus how well you can draw on experiences and ideas from outside the COI - highly relevant for anyone interested in personal learning environments and cMOOCs.
That last one is where I was always getting stuck on COI - because nobody does a course in isolation - they have and draw on many external experiences and influences, and the better they use them, the better they will do in the course.

In fact my whole journey through doing the Masters is about both exploiting my 'agency' to study and learn, and to build my agency to be more effective in my day job. I'll spare everyone my essay, or indeed the CPD strategy proposal I plan to write from it - but the notion of building that 'agency presence' in the long term, using technology, is I think a useful one and not one that I had thought of much before.

I don't like the word 'Agency' though.

In the work I did with the SSAT around personalising learning, I went on a bit of a journey from seeing personalisation as being about the provider offering a highly customised offering (through curriculum flexibility and technology) to seeing it as building the capacity of the learner to achieve personalisation for themselves. I think David Hargreaves' pamphlets remain some of the most though provoking but practical pieces of work I've ever found (and this essay helped me come across something recent he'd written - like finding an old friend on a train journey).

So I think Personal Presence is a better term. I don't think it is an aspect of social, cognitive or teaching presence, but something distinct that interacts with them. You could possibly draw it as a big dotted circle around the classic COI diagram (I'll leave that as a an exercise, frankly I've drawn enough three and four circle diagrams this week) but in an increasingly networked world where nobody belongs to a course or a school/ college/ university community entirely and has significant engagement outside it that they can draw on, personal presence, and learning to improve it, is an important concept.

Writing this blog post, when I don't need to because my tutor didn't tell me to is perhaps an example.


Anderson, T. (2016) A Fourth Presence for the Community of Inquiry Model? Virtual Canuck. Available at: (Accessed on 13th February 2016)

Garrison, D, Anderson, T, and Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105. Available at: (Accessed on 1st February 2016)

Hargreaves, D. (2012) A self-improving school system: towards maturity, National College of School Leadership Available at: (Accessed 10th February 2016)

Lam, J. (2015) Autonomy presence in the extended community of inquiry [online]. International Journal of Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning, Vol. 8, No. 1, Dec 2015: 39-61. Available at:;dn=705821081676347;res=IELHSS
(Accessed on 13th February 2016)

Rientes, B, Rivers, R. (2014) Measuring and Understanding Learner Emotions: Evidence and Prospects, Learning Analytics Review 1ISSN:2057-7494  Available at: (Accessed on 13th February 2016)

Salmon, G. (2003) E-moderating: the key to teaching and learning online. London, Kogan Press. Available at: (Accessed on 7th February 2016)

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