Principles of facilitation

Levels of teaching

Being passionate about your chosen discipline does not automatically make you an effective teacher. When the expectations of teachers differ from the expectations of students, the teaching experience and the learning process are compromised.  It is important for teachers to understand their own thoughts about teaching, and understand that student expectations of the course may differ from theirs. Therefore to achieve the intended outcomes of each party, activities must be aligned to engage and inspire active learning.

Biggs & Tang (2011) explore three levels of what teachers think about teaching, depending upon what is seen as the main determinant of learning. These include:

  • Level 1: What students are – Where the teacher’s role is to display   information and the students absorb it. If the students do not have the   ability or motivation to do that, then the issue is theirs. This is commonly   seen as the ‘blame the student, not the teacher’ if there is a lack of   student success in learning.
  • Level 2: What teachers do – Where the focus is on the skills, techniques or competencies of the teacher and what they do and how they   demonstrate their knowledge. This is commonly seen as ‘teacher-focussed’   where the intention is all about the great job of the teacher, but are the students learning?
  • Level 3: What students do – Where the focus is on the students and how they are engaging with the learning activities and achieving of intended outcomes. This is the most effective level, where the focus of teaching is to facilitate successful learning.

Community of Inquiry framework

The Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework is a conceptual model for the processes that supports learning in an online or blended environment (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). CoI is a widely accepted theoretical model of online learning, and provides a useful framework for thinking about the elements that need to be considered when designing and teaching courses with online components. The CoI framework views meaningful online learning as occurring at the intersection of three supporting presences:

  • Social presence is the degree to which participants in online environments feel affectively connected to one another. Social presence is manifested through affective, cohesive, and interactive behaviours, and is an important factor in student satisfaction and retention in online courses.
  • Teaching presence consists of course design and organisation, the facilitation of learning, and direction and leadership. This is the factor from which the other presences develop; that is, social presence and cognitive presence develop (or do not develop) from teaching presence.

Cognitive presence is the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning in online learning. Cognitive presence consists of a triggering eventexploration (of ideas), integration (synthesis), and resolution.

All three presences need to be cultivated in online and blended courses for communities of inquiry to develop and for higher-order thinking to take place.

More information on the Community of Inquiry framework

Resources, strategies or assistance


  • Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University, 4th ed., Maidenhead, UK: Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press
  • CoI (2013) CoI Model [online]. Available at
  • Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T, & Archer, W. (2000) 'Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education', in The Internet and Higher Education 11(2): pp.87–105.