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Lesson 2: Foster an inclusive and accessible learning environment

Creating a sense of community in online courses

The Community of Inquiry (CoI) model developed by Garrison & Vaughan (2008) provides a research informed framework to guide the design of an online course by considering the relationships between the instructor, students and course content. The model has three main themes:

The ability for students to connect with the online community (ie. Class), to communicate in a trusting environment, to voice their thoughts and opinions, and to develop their own identity.

The role the instructor plays in designing and facilitating the online course that fosters a meaningful learning experience, to maintain open communication with students, and to be an active member of the online community.

How students connect with the content and each other to construct knowledge, meaning, and to reflect on their own experiences and learning.

Community of Inquiry Model

Community of Inquiry Model

Developed by Garrison & Vaughan (2008)

How to create community in your online course

Create a space for introductions

Set up a space for introductions to integrate ways for students to get to know you and each other. Encourage sharing pictures and use ice breakers to set the tone. 

Design activities that promote sharing

Design activities that promote students sharing knowledge, experiences, and/or feedback with each other so that they can learn from each other and support each other’s learning. 

Create a safe space for learning

Create a safe/brave space for learning. Be clear with expectations about how to engage with each other and set ground rules.  

Be present and engaged

Be present and responsive in the discussion board and course to monitor and address issues that arise. In the discussions you don’t need to respond to all posts, but rather keep current with the conversations, direct when needed, and provide regular feedback. 

Lesson checklist

  • Conceptualize the Community of Inquiry Model 

  • Apply strategies to create an inclusive learning community 

  • Explain the basic principles of Universal Design for Learning 

  • Apply strategies to make your course more accessible


Garrison, D. R. & Vaughan, N. D. (2008). Blended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, principles and guidelines. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

More lessons

Course design

Lesson 3: Developing online course learning outcomes


Lesson 4: Designing active learning in online courses


Lesson 5: Communicating with students