Cognitive presence refers to the extent to which participants, both participants and teaching staff, are able to construct meaning through sustained communication. This kind of communication, as opposed to one-way dissemination of information, encourages critical thinking.

Cognitive presence is not a 'one off event', rather it is better seen as a series of steps.

Students are most likely to engage with these steps in the correct order if the teaching framework is designed with a logical flow:

  1. Triggering event (learners recognize there is a problem and have a sense of puzzlement)
  2. Exploration (learners use different sources and discuss with one another, or with teaching staff, to understand things better)
  3. Integration (learners reflect on information gathered, link ideas and try to come up with solutions)
  4. Resolution (learners apply knowledge they have gained to new situations; test solutions or defend them