Sorry, but I couldn’t resist spoofing, in the post title,  the unfortunate sound of the acronym for the “new” model proposed in this article. Now,  I’ve got it out of the way and can only suggest that if this “divergent fork of the Community of Inquiry model” is to survive, it needs a new English acronym.

This post is a critical review of  Democratizing digital learning: theorizing the fully online learning community model Todd J. B. Blayone, Roland van Oostveen, Wendy Barber, Maurice DiGiuseppe and Elizabeth Childs. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education 2017 14:13
DOI: 10.1186/s41239-017-0051-4

First, let me get out the good things about this article stated. I love the fact that the authors published this in a peer reviewed,  Open Access journal (thanks to Roland van Oostveen for noting an error in my original post) . Second I love articles about the now venerable Community of Inquiry model because it is flattering to see this work live on, nicely adds to our citation rating indices and  because I share with Randy Garrison and Walter Archer an ongoing interest in constructivist models for online and blended education. And finally, as always conceptual arguments and calls for research are welcomed – especially if they follow with real research results!

First in a number of concerns with the paper. The basic claim is that the Fully Online Learning Community (FOLC) is a “divergent fork of the Community of Inquiry model”.  It seems the divergent claim is made on the basis that the revision is for FULLY online courses.  In fact no divergence is needed or called for as the original COI model was always based on fully online courses – blended courses – or at last the name hadn’t been invented in the 1990’s when we developed the COI model.  The authors may argue that the divergence stems from the integration of synchronous and asynchronous discussions. The original COI model was grounded in asynchronous threaded discussion, as the Internet did not support synchronous interaction in those days. However, Randy and I had been working since 1989 on synchronous delivery models based on group teleconferencing, (see  for example Anderson, T., & Garrison, D. R. (1995). Transactional issues in distance education: The impact of design in audio teleconferencing. American Journal of Distance Education, 9(2), 27-45.). We certainly thought the constructivist underpinnings of the COI could and would support synchronous communciations as well.

Second, is the claim that FOLC “responds to the limitations of distance learning and MOOCs (e.g., student isolation, low completion rates, etc.)”  and “the needs of transformative and emancipatory learning” and “responds to requests from some international partners for new models of learning aligned with democratic and socio-economic reforms. Both Randy and I had long argued and published about the need for distance education to use technologies to get beyond distance education, as perceived as one-way content dissemination to “education at a distance” based on social construction. Thus, the ‘new’ FOLC adds nothing new to our initial claims and desire to supplant individualistic models of correspondence models of distance education.  MOOCs and especially cMOOCs are much more than mere content dissemination as decried by these authors. Finally, the COI was and is a response to the need for new models of learning and the needs for emancipatory learning.  The only claim that is true is that the COI didn’t directly respond to the need for 21st Century learning competencies -mostly because these hadn’t been invented when we developed the COI model. Moreover, these newer ideas certainly fit within the original COI and its development and support by thousands of researchers in the past two decades.

The authors present a “revised model” as below

I can’t see anything new here beyond the original three presence Venn diagram of the COI model.  Both note the collaborative learning environment, both have social and cognitive presence and teaching presence is assumed in the organization and management of the digital space as the FOLC model (like the COI) is based on formal, institutionalized education.

The paper then goes on to provide conceptual scaffolding for a number of tending educational related theories or ideas – digital space; democratized learning and collective identity and responsibility, community and authenticity.  I don’t have any problems with these conceptual arguments and they could each be used to update and strengthen the original COI model. I really don’t see anything new here except for the inclusion of references and arguments that have developed since the COI model was first introduced.

The article then goes onto to propose a research agenda which is little more than a wish list of things that could or should be researched. We criticized this type of rather adhoc model of research agenda development in our Stöter, J., Bullen, M., Zawacki-Richter, O., & von Prümmer, C. (2014).  From the back door into the mainstream: The characteristics of lifelong learners.  In O. Zawacki-Richter & T. Anderson (Eds.), Online distance education: Towards a research agenda (pp. 421-457). Athabasca: Athabasca University Press. But again, nothing wrong with this list of things to do, but nothing new either.  Finally, the authors invite others to join them in this research process – all good stuff but….

I don’t think there is enough new here to claim a “divergent fork” merely by strengthening the original argument.