Community of Inquiry in Adult Online Learning: Collaborative-Constructivist Approaches

Community of Inquiry in Adult Online Learning: Collaborative-Constructivist Approaches

Zehra Akyol (Middle East Technical University, Turkey) and D. Randy Garrison (University of Calgary, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-828-4.ch006
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The adult education literature emphasizes community building in order to increase effectiveness and success of online teaching and learning. In this chapter the Community of Inquiry Framework that was developed by Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000) has been introduced as a promising theory for adult learning in online environments. The chapter discusses the potential of the CoI framework to create effective adult online learning communities by utilizing the research findings from an online course. Overall, the research findings showed that students had positive attitudes toward the community developed in the course and that their perception of constituting elements of the community of inquiry was significantly related to perceived learning and satisfaction.
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Merriam, Cafarella and Baumgartner (2007) classify adult learning theories into 3 groups as western theories, eastern theories, and modern approaches. They indicate that western theories are more individualistic with an emphasis on freedom and independence, whereas eastern theories are more collectivistic with an emphasis on belonging, harmony and family. For example, self-directed learning and andragogy claim that people learn on their own as they mature (Merriam, Caffarella, Baumgartner, 2007). Others have gone further in proposing that self-direction in learning is the distinguishing characteristic of adult learning (Knowles, 1973; Brookfield, 1986). On the other hand, examples of eastern theories such as the Confucian way of thinking, Hindu perspective, or Islamic perspective emphasize interdependence instead of independence.

The assumption of traditional western adult learning theories is currently being challenged by eastern and modern theories (Mackeracher, 1996). The transition from traditional western theories to modern adult learning approaches indicates the shift from seeing learning as an individual activity to a more collaborative activity. In recent years, adult educators began to emphasize constructivist approaches and community building for more effective adult learning environments. Merriam, Cafarrella and Baumgartner (2007) claim that some aspects of constructivism can be found in adult learning theories such as active inquiry or the central role of experience. Garrison and Archer (2000) also emphasize a constructivist and collaborative approach in adult and higher education. It is argued here that constructivist approaches and community are necessary to create and confirm meaning and are essential to achieve effective critical thinking and self-directed learning. Building a community to facilitate critical thinking is important because “construction of meaning may result from individual critical reflection but ideas are generated and knowledge constructed through the collaborative and confirmatory process of sustained dialogue within a critical community of learners” (Garrison & Archer, 2000, p. 91).

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