The similarity of structure shared by Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) and traditional online college courses creates the opportunity to evaluate MOOC and related course offerings using a validated evaluation instrument, the Community of Inquiry (CoI) survey, to measure Teaching, Social, and Cognitive Presences (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000) in college-level online courses. In this study, the survey has been adapted to evaluate instances of student engagement in large online courses offered at low cost by a publishing firm. The courses suffer from two of the standard problems associated with MOOCs: high dropout rates and inconsistent participation among all but a small percentage of learners. In addition, the design of courses—the module structure, the assignments and activities—and the large class sizes are similar to those of MOOCs. Study participants were students of eight online courses offered consecutively by the publisher between January 2014 and May 2015. The study uses a mixed methodology based on the validated CoI survey to answer the following questions:

  • Will low engagement rates in large online courses correlate with weak social presence, teaching presence, and/or cognitive presence as measured by this Community of Inquiry instrument?
  • Can a student’s engagement or non-engagement with a large online course be measured effectively with this CoI instrument?

The data reveal that students in these publisher-offered courses have positive perceptions of Teaching and Cognitive Presence. However, they have an ambivalent to negative perception of Social Presence.


MOOCs, Community of Inquiry, CoI, engagement, disengagement, teaching presence, social presence, cognitive presence, course completion, learning community



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