A Comparison of Cognitive and Social Presence in Online Graduate Courses: Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Modalities





online instruction, synchronous vs. asynchronous format, cognitive presence


Over the last decade, online courses have continued to expand, and students in higher education are being offered increased access to technology and communication tools in online learning programs. This action research study analyzed the impact of two distinct types of online course instruction (100% asynchronous and weekly online synchronous meetings) on learning outcomes, including cognitive and social presence, knowledge gained, and student perceptions. Study participants consisted of graduate students enrolled in online sections of a course on program evaluation. Four sections of the course were available: two included a synchronous meeting using web-conferencing, and two used an asynchronous format. A quasi-experimental design was used and included a pre-post test knowledge assessment, a modified version of the Community of Inquiry questionnaire (CoI), and end-of-course student evaluations. The mean ratings of the CoI in this study ranged from 3.75–4.60 out of 5. There was a significant difference in the cognitive presence scores for synchronous (M=4.26, SD=.529 asynchronous (M=4.47, SD=.454) conditions; t(97)=-2.07, p =.041. Our results suggest when students learn in an asynchronous format, they have a higher cognitive presence. The average scores on the knowledge pre-test were the same for both sections but post-test scores were slightly higher in the asynchronous section. Instructor ratings were high for all courses. These findings may offer valuable implications to higher education programs that have recently transitioned to online teaching modalities. 

Author Biographies

Regina G. Presley, University of Louisville

Senior Lecturer

University of Louisville

College of Education and Human Development

Denise M. Cumberland, University of Louisville

Associate Professor

University of Louisville

College of Education and Human Development

Kevin Rose, Indiana University

Assistant Professor

Indiana University

Department of Technology Leadership and Communication


Akyol, Z., & Garrison, D. R. (2011). Assessing metacognition in an online community of inquiry. The Internet and Higher Education, 14(3), 183-190.

Álvarez, I., Guasch, T., & Espasa, A. (2009). University teacher roles and competencies in

online learning environments: a theoretical analysis of teaching and learning

practices. European Journal of Teacher Education, 32(3), 321-336.

Anderson, T. (2001). The hidden curriculum in distance education: An updated view. Change,

(6), 28- 35.

Arbaugh & Benbunan-Fich, 2006

Arbaugh, J. B., Cleveland-Innes, M., Diaz, S. R., Garrison, D. R., Ice, P., Richardson, J. C., & Swan, K. P. (2008). Developing a community of inquiry instrument: Testing a measure of the community of inquiry framework using a multi-institutional sample. The Internet and Higher Education, 11(3-4), 133-136.

Atapattu, T., Thilakaratne, M., Vivian, R., & Falkner, K. (2019). Detecting cognitive

engagement using word embeddings within an online teacher professional development community. Computers & Education, 140, (103), 594.

Brown A., Green T. (2019) Issues and Trends in Instructional Technology: Access to Mobile

Technologies, Digital Content, and Online Learning Opportunities Continues as Spending on IT Remains Steady. In: Branch R., Lee H., Tseng S. (eds) Educational Media and Technology Yearbook. Educational Media and Technology Yearbook, vol 42. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-27986-8_1

Chen, N. S. (2006). Synchronous methods and applications in e-Learning. Campus-Wide

Information Systems.

Chen, J. C., & Dobinson, T., & Kent, S. (2019). Lecturers’ Perceptions And Experiences Of

Blackboard Collaborate As A Distance Learning And Teaching Tool Via Open Universities Australia (OUA). Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning. Advanced. Online publication.

Choe, R. C., Scuric, Z., Eshkol, E., Cruser, S., Arndt, A., Cox, R., ... & Crosbie, R. H. (2019).

Student satisfaction and learning outcomes in asynchronous online lecture videos. CBE—

Life Sciences Education, 18(4), 55.

Chou, C. C. (2002, January). A comparative content analysis of student interaction in

synchronous and asynchronous learning networks. In Proceedings of the 35th Annual

Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (pp. 1795-1803). IEEE.

Cole, A. W., Lennon, L., & Weber, N. L. (2021). Student perceptions of online active learning

practices and online learning climate predict online course engagement. Interactive

Learning Environments, 29(5), 866-880.

Ebner, C., & Gegenfurtner, A. (2019). Learning and satisfaction in webinar, online, and face-to-

face instruction: A meta-analysis. Frontiers in Education, 4, 1-11.

Fadde, P. J., & Vu, P. (2014). Blended online learning: Benefits, challenges, and

misconceptions. Online Learning: Common Misconceptions, Benefits and

Challenges, Hauppauge, NY : Nova Publishers.

Finelli, C. J., Nguyen, K., Demonbrun, M., Borrego, M., Prince, M., Husman, J., Henderson, C.,

Shekhar, P., & Waters, C. K. (2018). Reducing Student Resistance to Active Learning: Strategies for Instructors. Journal of College Science Teaching, 47(5), 80–91.

Fox, C., Levitin, A., & Redman, T. (1994). The notion of data and its quality

dimensions. Information Processing & Management, 30(1), 9-19.

Garrison, R. (2009). Implications of online and blended learning for the conceptual development

and practice of distance education. International Journal of E-Learning & Distance

Education/Revue internationale du e-learning et la formation à distance, 23(2), 93-104.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T. & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based

environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher

Education 2(2–3):87–105.

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.

Garrison, D. R., & Arbaugh, J. B. (2007). Researching the community of inquiry framework:

Review, issues, and future directions. The Internet and Higher Education, 10(3), 157-172.

Garrison, D. R., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating cognitive presence in online

learning: Interaction is not enough. The American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3), 133-148.

Garrison, D. R., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Fung, T. S. (2010). Exploring causal relationships

among teaching, cognitive and social presence: Student perceptions of the community of inquiry framework. The Internet and Higher Education, 13(1-2), 31-36.

Garrison, D. R., & Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential

in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 7(2), 95-105.

Gómez-Rey, P., Fernández-Navarro, F., Barbera, E., & Carbonero-Ruz, M. (2018).

Understanding student evaluations of teaching in online learning. Assessment &

Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(8), 1272-1285.

Graham, C. R. (2006). Blended learning systems: Definition, current trends, and future

directions. In C. J. Bonk & C. R. Graham (Eds.), The

Handbook of Blended Learning:

Global Perspectives, Local Designs (pp. 3–21). San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Hilliard, L. P., & Stewart, M. K. (2019). Time well spent: Creating a community of inquiry in

blended first-year writing courses. The Internet and Higher Education, 41, 11-24.

Hixon, E., Barczyk, C., Ralston-Berg, P., & Buckenmeyer, J. (2016). The Impact of Previous

Online Course Experience RN Students' Perceptions of Quality. Online Learning, 20(1), 25-40.

Holmes, C. M., & Reid, C. (2017). A comparison study of on-campus and online learning

outcomes for a research methods course. The Journal of Counselor Preparation and

Supervision, 9(2), 15.

Hrastinski, S. (2008). Asynchronous and synchronous e-learning. Educause Quarterly, 31(4), 51-

Joosten, T., & Cusatis, R. (2020). Online earning readiness. American Journal of Distance

Education, 34(3), 180-193.

Lease, A. J., & Brown, T. A. (2009). Distance learning past, present and future. International

Journal of Instructional Media, 36(4), 415-427.

Liu, Z., Liu, S., Zhang, C., Su, Z., Hu, T., & Liu, S. (2020). Investigating the Relationship

between Learners' Cognitive Participation and Learning Outcome in Asynchronous Online Discussion Forums. In CSEDU (2), 26-33.

Lowenthal, P., Bauer, C., & Chen, K. Z. (2015). Student perceptions of online learning: An

analysis of online course evaluations. American Journal of Distance Education, 29(2),


Martin, F., Budhrani, K., Kumar, S., & Ritzhaupt, A. (2019). Award-winning faculty online

teaching practices: Roles and competencies. Online Learning, 23(1), 184-205.

Martin, F., Wang, C., & Sadaf, A. (2020). Facilitation Matters: Instructor Perception of

Helpfulness of Facilitation Strategies in Online Courses. Online Learning, 24(1), 28-49.

Mason, R. (2018). Effective facilitation of online learning: the Open University experience.

In Teaching & learning online (pp. 67-75). Routledge.

Martin, F. & Bolliger, D.U. (2018). Engagement Matters: Student Perceptions on the

Importance of Engagement Strategies in the Online Learning Environment, Online Learning 22(1), 205-222.

Meyer, K. A. (2003). Face-to-face versus threaded discussions: The role of time and higher-order

thinking. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(3), 55-65.

Midkiff, S. F., & DaSilva, L. A. (2000, August). Leveraging the web for synchronous versus

asynchronous distance learning. In International Conference on Engineering

Education (Vol. 2000, pp. 14-18).

Moskal, P., Thompson, K., & Futch, L. (2015). Enrollment, engagement, and satisfaction in the

BlendKit faculty development open, online course. Online Learning, 19(4), 4.

Offir, B., Lev, Y., & Bezalel, R. (2008). Surface and deep learning processes in distance

education: Synchronous versus asynchronous systems. Computers & Education, 51(3),


Ozdamli, F., & Asiksoy, G. (2016). Flipped classroom approach. World Journal on Educational

Technology:Current Issues, 8(2), 98-105.

Papp, R. (2000). Critical success factors for distance learning. AMCIS 2000 Proceedings, 104.

Peacock, S., & Cowan, J. (2019). Promoting Sense of Belonging in Online Learning

Communities of Inquiry in Accredited Courses. Online Learning, 23(2), 67-81.

Power, M. (2008). The emergence of a blended online learning environment. MERLOT Journal

of Online Learning and Teaching, 4(4), 503-514.

Rockinson-Szapkiw, A. J., Wendt, J., Whighting, M., & Nisbet, D. (2016). The predictive

relationship among the community of inquiry framework, perceived learning and online,

and graduate students’ course grades in online synchronous and asynchronous

courses. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 17(3), 18-

Roulston, K., Pope, E., Paulus, T., & deMarrais, K. (2018). Students’ perceptions of learning

about qualitative inquiry in online contexts. American Journal of Distance Education, 32(3), 190-201.

Sadaf, A., Kim, S. Y., & Wang, Y. (2021). A Comparison of Cognitive Presence, Learning,

Satisfaction, and Academic Performance in Case-Based and Non-Case-Based Online

Discussions. American Journal of Distance Education, 35(3), 214-227.

Sadaf, A., & Olesova, L. (2017). Enhancing cognitive presence in online case discussions with

questions based on the practical inquiry model. American Journal of Distance

Education, 31(1), 56-69.

Shea, P., & Bidjerano, T. (2009). Community of inquiry as a theoretical framework to foster

“epistemic engagement” and “cognitive presence” in online education. Computers & Education, 52(3), 543-553.

Shea, P., Li, C. S., & Pickett, A. (2006). A study of teaching presence and student sense of

learning community in fully online and web-enhanced college courses. The Internet and

Higher Education, 9(3), 175-190.

Shea, P., Li, C. S., Swan, K., & Pickett, A. (2005). Developing learning community in online

asynchronous college courses: The role of teaching presence. Journal of Asynchronous

Learning Networks, 9(4), 59-82.

Slater, D. R., & Davies, R. (2020). Student Preferences for Learning Resources on a Land-Based

Postgraduate Online Degree Program. Online Learning, 24(1), 140-161.

Stenbom, S. (2018). A systematic review of the Community of Inquiry survey. The Internet and

Higher Education, 39, 22-32.

Swan, K., & Shih, L. F. (2005). On the nature and development of social presence in online

course discussions. Journal of Asynchronous learning networks, 9(3), 115-136.

Varvel, V. E. (2007). Master online teacher competencies. Online journal of distance learning

administration, 10(1).

Vaughan, N., & Garrison, D. R. (2005). Creating cognitive presence in a blended faculty development community. The Internet and higher education, 8(1), 1-12.

Watts, L. (2016). Synchronous and asynchronous communication in distance learning: A review

of the literature. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 17(1), 23.

Yamagata-Lynch, L. C. (2014). Blending online asynchronous and synchronous

learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 15(2),


Young, T. P., Bailey, C. J., Guptill, M., Thorp, A. W., & Thomas, T. L. (2014). The flipped

classroom: a modality for mixed asynchronous and synchronous learning in a residency

program. Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, 15(7), 938

Zhu, M., Bonk, C. J., & Doo, M. Y. (2020). Self-directed learning in MOOCs: exploring the

relationships among motivation, self-monitoring, and self-management. Educational Technology Research & Development, 68(5), 2073–2093. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-020-09747-8





Section II