From Distance Education to Communities of Inquiry: A Review of Historical Developments

From Distance Education to Communities of Inquiry: A Review of Historical Developments

Aylin Tekiner Tolu (Bahçesehir University, Turkey) and Linda Shuford Evans (Kennesaw State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2110-7.ch004
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The purpose of this chapter is to explain the role and place of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework within the history of distance education. The review of the history reveals two important factors for changes in distance education: the effect of leading learning theories of each era and technological advancements. Distance education has moved from a behavioristic, teacher–centered, correspondence study concept, first to an independent learning model, and then to the current student-centered, socio-constructivist and community-based online learning. In this latest era, the post-modernist age, the CoI framework provides online instructors with a functional framework for designing and teaching their courses more effectively. A review of literature as shared in this chapter has also shown CoI to be a robust framework for research.
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Online distance education has become an important strategy for higher education institutions. In 2000, Washington State's Higher Education Coordinating board asked the Legislature to provide more funds for online education (Camevale, 2000). Enormous growth in distance education and blended learning is forecasted (Kim & Bonk, 2006). Recently, the 2011 Sloan Survey of Online Learning (Allen & Seaman, 2011) revealed that 6.1 million students were taking at least one online course in the fall 2010 semester. Almost one-third of all students in higher education are enrolled in at least one online course.

Distance learning has been shaped by technological developments especially, Internet and computer mediated communication (CMC) systems and by the shift from instructor-centered to learner-centered approaches (Benjamin, 2003; Palloff & Pratt, 1999). Several researchers have asserted that distance education is entering into a new era that might be termed post-industrial. At the core of this era is collaborative learning and frequent two-way communication (Garrison, 1997, 2000; Peters, 1993). CMC technologies, which can be either synchronous or asynchronous, have a profound impact on the quality of distance learning (Palloff & Pratt, 1999; Wang, 2008). Synchronous communication provides real-time interaction and immediate feedback while asynchronous communication features delayed and generally text-based communication.

A challenge facing distance learners is feeling a sense of isolation and disengagement. Compared to their face-to-face section counterparts, online learners indicated a lower level of sense of community (Rovai & Lucking, 2003). Research also showed that online learners who do not feel a sense of belonging to a class or a connection with class members and the course instructor tend to drop the course or have a low level of satisfaction and learning success (Galusha, 1997; Kubala, 1998; Patton, 2008; Palloff & Pratt, 1999; Rovai & Ponton, 2005). Therefore, creating a community of learners, or in other words, a sense of togetherness in online courses is crucial for students to feel a connection with other learners and instructors for student satisfaction and knowledge acquisition (Dickey, 2004; Ellis, 2001; Ni & Aust, 2008; Palloff & Pratt, 1999; Powers & Mitchell, 1997; Stodel, Thompson, & MacDonald, 2006).

Based on a collaborative and socio-constructivist approach to online education, the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework not only serves as a framework to study online education, but it can also be used as a guideline to create an effective learning environment where students feel a connection with other learners and the instructor and engage in well-designed collaborative learning activities.

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