The applicability of the Community of Inquiry framework to online/ blended nursing education in Australia

Author: Omar Smadi

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 6 Apr 2025.

Smadi, Omar, 2022 The applicability of the Community of Inquiry framework to online/ blended nursing education in Australia, Flinders University, College of Nursing and Health Sciences

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The quality of online/blended courses is centred on the content and the need for suitable pedagogical design, clear instruction, and a collaborative environment based on a valid and reliable theoretical framework. Nursing education requires a transformation of its pedagogy and learning frameworks to provide meaningful online or blended learning experiences for students. Gaining online/blended teaching skills is integral to the nurse educators' role in supporting the collaborative nature of the profession. The Community of Inquiry (Col) framework, described by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000), offers the potential for designing deep, meaningful, and interactive online education experiences in higher education. The Col framework is a social constructivist-informed framework comprising cognitive, social, and teaching presence, which may reduce the gap between pedagogy, technology, and learners' needs in nursing education. Therefore, this study investigates the applicability of the Col framework to online/blended nursing education in Australia.

Aim: This study aims to examine the applicability of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework to online/blended nursing education in Australia.


The thesis uses an explanatory sequential mixed-methods approach, incorporating the pragmatist paradigm of John Dewey. The focus of the study is nurse educators’ opinions on the applicability of the CoI framework to online/blended nursing courses, and their perceptions of their current practice in relation to the core concepts of CoI. The use of explanatory sequential mixed-methods research allowed Phase II to explain and explore in great depth the issues, barriers, and facilitators faced by the educator when designing and evaluating online/blended courses. The integration of the two phases was used to formulate meta-inferences and collective meaning that was more meaningful than if each phase had been analysed separately.


A total of 138 nursing academics and educators from several Australian universities participated in the quantitative (phase I) online national survey. In Phase II, 11 academics from three Australian universities participated in a semi-structured interview. The results were integrated using a joint display table and then meta-inferences were drawn from the sum of both phases.

Phase I findings revealed that nursing educators rated the core CoI concepts on a Likert scale as applicable to online/blended nursing education. Despite this applicability, most nursing educators revealed that they did not use an explicit theoretical framework to design or evaluate online/blended courses. Phase II results explained in-depth phase I findings while exploring the issues, challenges, and facilitating factors that affected the adoption of the CoI framework for online/blended nursing education. The thematic analysis identified that the CoI framework was implicitly embedded in the educators’ practices in course design and delivery and generated knowledge about the challenges and facilitators faced in adopting the CoI framework. The challenges included a lack of use and understanding of an educational theoretical framework, an insufficient evaluation process, feelings of isolation and low motivation, inadequate e-learning support, the large size of the student cohort, the complex learning management system, and heavy workloads. In contrast, a number of current practices facilitated the adoption of the Col framework, such as the use of case/problem-based learning and blended learning, formative assessment, group work, and content co-creation of materials. The integration of the two study phases produced metainferences of the transformative role that CoI can play in nursing education.

The study findings indicated the potential of the CoI framework to transform nursing education and generate a transitional model to help novice educators in their role while they are changing to become better online educators. The key in this transformation is the explicit use of the CoI framework in course design, delivery, and evaluation. The CoI framework can transform nursing education by providing a comprehensive framework focusing on the teaching, social, and cognitive aspects of education. For example, teaching presence can be promoted by using videocasts, podcasts, webinars, discussion forum interactions, live chat, and a range of other approaches. Social presence can be facilitated through various blended learning methods involving social media and inter-professional education. Finally, the development of cognitive presence includes constructing authentic assessment items that require critical thinking and collaborative problem-solving through simulation technology.


The CoI framework is applicable to online nursing education, but a number of barriers still need to be identified and overcome. The use of the CoI framework could conceivably transform online nursing education in Australia. Recommendations include institutional support for nursing educators' development in using a theoretical framework to design online courses, and investment by universities in the use of the CoI framework to design, deliver, evaluate, and research online courses. Given the government and university emphasis on improving nursing student satisfaction and reducing attrition, it is essential to acknowledge how CoI has contributed positively to outcomes in non-health disciplines. However, for the CoI framework to be maximised, universities should invest in staff development programs to assist staff to become competent in using the framework.

Keywords: Online Education, Nursing higher education, Community of Inquiry, Transition theory, Applicability of CoI framework

Subject: Nursing thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2022
School: College of Nursing and Health Sciences
Supervisor: Professor Diane Chamberlaine