Transitioning to the Online Environment – Cognitive Presence

Cognitive presence is “the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse” (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2001). The primary focus of cognitive presence is to develop a higher-order thinking process (i.e., critical thinking or practical inquiry) that integrates existing learning with new learning through reflection, discussion, and feedback.

Tips for developing cognitive presence:

  • Set high expectations for student inquiry and expectations.
  • Ask learners to identify their learning goal(s) for the course.
  • Examine, challenge, and probe student responses, thereby encouraging the analysis of ideas.
  • Use discussion summaries to focus on core concepts and learning outcomes.
  • Develop learning activities that are relevant, challenging, collaborative, engaging, and require deep thinking.
  • Coach learners to have reflective discussions while also sharing thoughts and questions with their peers.
  • Encourage learners to make thoughtful decisions and apply what they are learning, whenever possible, to real-world situations.
  • When appropriate, utilize group and team-based learning to build collaborative knowledge and solve in-depth problems.

Cognitive presence includes activities developed and actions taken to facilitate learning and encourage learners to explore their ideas, thoughts, and beliefs thereby forming meaningful connections to the content.


Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T. & Archer, W. (2001). Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education. American Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), 7–23.