IT Teaching Resources

Facilitating cognitive presence in online learning

A study on interaction in online learning and new technologies to support sustained educational communication

Article Research Promising practices

Title: Facilitating Cognitive Presence in Online Learning: Interaction is Not Enough
Authors: Randy Garrison and Martha Cleveland-Innes

Key points

  • The reflective and collaborative properties of asynchronous, text-based online learning are well adapted to deep approaches to learning (i.e., cognitive presence)
  • The authors suggest that simple interaction, without structure or leadership, is not enough for deep learning to take place


This study assessed the depth of online learning, with a focus on the nature of online interaction in four distance education course designs. The Study Process Questionnaire was used to measure the shift in students’ approach to learning from the beginning to the end of the courses. Design had a significant impact on the nature of the interaction and whether students approached learning in a deep and meaningful manner. Structure and leadership were found to be crucial for online learners to take a deep and meaningful approach to learning.

What would this look like in a course?
  • Be intentional about breakout group configuration, and consider if randomized breakout groups are the best strategy given the objectives of the discussion.
  • Provide clear guidance around discourse length and how students are expected to engage in the discussion.
  • Use engaging discussion questions and prompts, and encourage students to challenge their peers’ viewpoints.

Garrison, D. R., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating cognitive presence in online learning: Interaction is not enough. The American journal of distance education19(3), 133-148.