Inquiry-based Learning: Explanation (2023)

Inquiry-based Learning: Explanation (1)What is inquiry-based learning?
How does it differ from the traditional approach?
What does it have to do with my classroom?
What are the benefits of inquiry-based learning?
How has inquiry-based learning developed since it first became popular?
Another perspective
What are some critical perspectives?
How can I use inquiry-based learning in conjunction with other educational techniques?

Inquiry-based Learning: Explanation (9)

What is inquiry-basedlearning?

An old adage states: "Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve meand I understand." The last part of this statement is the essence ofinquiry-based learning, says our workshop author Joe Exline1. Inquiry implies involvement that leads to understanding.Furthermore, involvement in learning implies possessing skills and attitudes thatpermit you to seek resolutions to questions and issues while you construct newknowledge.


Part 1 of 2Part 2 of 2
Tim O'Keefe, a teacher at the Center for Inquiry elementary school inColumbia, South Carolina, explains why he thinks inquiry is a much more effectiveteaching strategy than traditional chalk-and-talk.
"Inquiry" is defined as "a seeking for truth, information, or knowledge --seeking information by questioning." Individuals carry on the process of inquiryfrom the time they are born until they die. This is true even though they mightnot reflect upon the process. Infants begin to make sense of theworld by inquiring. From birth, babies observe faces that come near, they graspobjects, they put things in their mouths, and they turn toward voices. Theprocess of inquiring begins with gathering information and data through applyingthe human senses -- seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling.

A Context for Inquiry

(Video) What is Inquiry-Based Learning?

Unfortunately, our traditional educational system has worked in a way thatdiscourages the natural process of inquiry. Students become less prone to ask questions as they move through the grade levels. In traditional schools,students learn not to ask too many questions, instead to listen and repeat theexpected answers.

Some of the discouragement of our natural inquiry process may come from alack of understanding about the deeper nature of inquiry-based learning. There is even atendency to view it as "fluff" learning. Effective inquiry is more than justasking questions. A complex process is involved when individuals attemptto convert information and data into useful knowledge. Useful application ofinquiry learning involves several factors: a context for questions, a framework for questions, afocus for questions, and different levels of questions. Well-designed inquirylearning produces knowledge formation that can be widely applied.

Importance of Inquiry

(Video) What is Inquiry-Based Learning?

Memorizing facts and information is not the most important skill in today'sworld. Facts change, and information is readily available -- what's needed is anunderstanding of how to get and make sense of the mass of data.

Educators must understand that schools need to go beyond data and informationaccumulation and move toward the generation of useful and applicable knowledge .. . a process supported by inquiry learning. In the past, our country's successdepended on our supply of natural resources. Today, it depends upon a workforce that"works smarter."

Through the process of inquiry, individuals construct much of their understandingof the natural and human-designed worlds. Inquiry implies a "need or want toknow" premise. Inquiry is not so much seeking the right answer -- because oftenthere is none -- but rather seeking appropriate resolutions to questions andissues. For educators, inquiry implies emphasis on the development of inquiryskills and the nurturing of inquiring attitudes or habits of mind that willenable individuals to continue the quest for knowledge throughout life.

Content of disciplines is very important, but as a means to an end, not as an endin itself. The knowledge base for disciplines is constantly expanding andchanging. No one can ever learn everything, but everyone canbetter develop their skills and nurture the inquiring attitudes necessary to continuethe generation and examination of knowledge throughout their lives. For moderneducation, the skills and the ability to continue learning should be the mostimportant outcomes. The rationale for why this is necessary is explained in thefollowing diagrams.

Inquiry-based Learning: Explanation (10)
Illustration developed by Joe Exline
This figure illustrates how human society and individuals within society constantly generate and transmit the fund of knowledge2.


Human society and individuals withinsociety constantly generate and transmit this fund of knowledge. Experts, working at the boundary between the known and the unknown, constantly add to the fund of knowledge.

(Video) Inquiry-Based Learning: Developing Student-Driven Questions

It is very important that knowledge be transmitted to all themembers of society. This transmission takes place through structures likeschools, families, and training courses.

Certain attributes are necessary for both generating and effectively transmittingthe fund of knowledge. The attributes that experts use to generate new knowledgeare very similar to the qualities essential for the effectivetransmission of knowledge within the learners' environment. These are theessential elements of effective inquiry learning:

Inquiry-based Learning: Explanation (11). Experts see patterns and meanings not apparent to novices.
Inquiry-based Learning: Explanation (12). Experts have in-depth knowledge of their fields, structured so that it is most useful.
Inquiry-based Learning: Explanation (13). Experts' knowledge is not just a set of facts -- it is structured to beaccessible, transferable, and applicable to a variety of situations.
Inquiry-based Learning: Explanation (14). Experts can easily retrieve their knowledge and learn new information in theirfields with little effort.

(The list above was adapted from "HowPeople Learn," published by the National Research Council in 1999.)
Inquiry-based Learning: Explanation (15)
Illustration developed by Joe Exline
This figure illustrates the attributes necessary forboth generating and effectively transmitting the fund of knowledge.

We propose that the attributes experts use to generate new knowledge arevery similar to the attributes essential for the effective transmissionof knowledge within the learner's environment -- the essentials ofeffective inquiry learning.

Inquiry is important in thegeneration and transmission of knowledge. It is also an essential foreducation, because the fund of knowledge is constantly increasing. The figure below illustrates why trying to transmit "what we know," even if it were possible, is counterproductive in the long run. This is why schoolsmust change from a focus on "what we know" to an emphasis on "how we come toknow."

Inquiry-based Learning: Explanation (16)
Illustration developed by Joe Exline
This chart illustrates that while knowledge is constantly increasing, so is the boundary of the unknown.
An effective and well-rounded education gives individuals very different butinterrelated views of the world. All disciplines have importantrelationships that provide a natural and effective framework for the organizationof the school curriculum, as shown in the chart below. The subject matterof disciplines can be set in the larger context of a conceptualframework3. This framework is crucial for understanding change and also for the organization of the discipline and its application to the natural and human-designed worlds.


Inquiry-based Learning: Explanation (17)
Illustration developed by Joe Exline
This chart illustrates that skills for processing information are similar across all disciplines.
The habits of mind4, values, or "ground rules" of a particular discipline provide that discipline's unique perspective. The sciences, for example, demand verification of data, while the study of literature often relies on opinions and subjective interpretations as a source of information. Habits of mind vary in their rigidity across disciplines. This doesn't mean that one is right and the other is wrong, but simply that the "ground rules" are different.


(Video) John Hattie on inquiry-based learning

The Application of Inquiry

While much thought and research has been spent on the role of inquiry in science education, inquiry learning can be applied to all disciplines. Individuals need many perspectives for viewing the world. Such views couldinclude artistic, scientific, historic, economic, and other perspectives. While disciplines should interrelate, inquiry learning includes the application of certain specific "ground rules" that insure the integrity of the variousdisciplines and their world views.

Outcomes of Inquiry

An important outcome of inquiry should be useful knowledge about the natural andhuman-designed worlds. How are these worlds organized? How do theychange? How do they interrelate? And how do we communicateabout, within, and across these worlds? These broad concepts contain importantissues and questions that individuals will face throughout their lives. Also, these concepts can help organize the content of the schoolcurriculum to provide a relevant and cumulative framework for effectivelearning. An appropriate education should provide individuals with different waysof viewing the world, communicating about it, and successfully coping with thequestions and issues of daily living.

While questioning and searching for answers are extremely important parts ofinquiry, effectively generating knowledge from this questioning and searching isgreatly aided by a conceptual context for learning. Just as students should notbe focused only on content as the ultimate outcome of learning, neither shouldthey be asking questions and searching for answers about minutiae. Well-designedinquiry-learning activities and interactions should be set in a conceptualcontext so as to help students accumulate knowledge as they progress from gradeto grade. Inquiry in education should be about a greater understanding of theworld in which they live, learn, communicate, and work.

(Video) What is inquiry based learning?

There are several variations on inquiry-based learning. Among the most widelyused are the Future Problem Solving Program5 and theProblem-based Learning Approach6. See the "Resources" section for more on theseapproaches.

5. 6.


How do you explain inquiry-based learning? ›

Inquiry-based learning is a learning process that engages students by making real-world connections through exploration and high-level questioning. It is an approach to learning that encourages students to engage in problem-solving and experiential learning.

What is inquiry-based learning and why is it important? ›

Inquiry-based learning is a type of active learning that encourages students to ask questions, conduct research, and explore new ideas. This approach to learning helps students develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and research skills.

Which of the following best describes a student's learning experience with inquiry-based learning? ›

Which of the following best describes a student's learning experience with inquiry-based learning? Students learn from the teacher, who is the subject-matter expert. Students learn by constructing their own knowledge as they explore materials to answer questions.

How does inquiry-based learning would benefit you as a student? ›

An inquiry-based learning approach lets students share their own ideas and questions about a topic. This helps foster more curiosity about the material and teaches skills students can use to continue exploring topics they are interested in.

What is the importance of inquiry in our daily life? ›

Through inquiry, students engage in research around interesting ideas and essential questions. Questioning, critical thinking, and the creative development of new knowledge through inquiry are as important (if not more so) to learning as information finding through research.

What is the goal of inquiry-based learning? ›

The overall goal of an inquiry-based approach is for students to make meaning of what they are learning about and to understand how a concept works in a real-world context. The inquiry approach is sometimes known as project-based or experiential learning.

What is the most important aspect of inquiry-based learning? ›

Inquiry-based learning provides so many benefits to students. Most importantly, it increases student engagement. When students are engaged, when they are empowered to guide their own learning, great things happen in classrooms and schools.

How can inquiry-based learning be successful? ›

  1. Start with students' questions. ...
  2. Foster curiosity in your classroom. ...
  3. Be a co-learner: let's find out together. ...
  4. Think like a scientist by exploring and discovering. ...
  5. Think like an engineer. ...
  6. Focus on skill development. ...
  7. Look for cross-curricular connections.
4 Apr 2017

How can inquiry-based learning be implemented in the classroom? ›

The 4 Steps of Inquiry-Based Learning
  1. Students develop questions that they are hungry to answer. ...
  2. Research the topic using time in class. ...
  3. Have students present what they've learned. ...
  4. Ask students to reflect on what worked about the process and what didn't.

Which of the following best defines inquiry-based learning? ›

Inquiry-based learning is a learning and teaching approach that emphasizes students' questions, ideas and observations. Instructors actively encourage students to share their thoughts and to respectfully challenge, test and redefine ideas.

How do you use inquiry-based learning to promote critical thinking? ›

By using inquiry-based learning in writing lessons, students can develop critical thinking skills, and learn how to generate and organize ideas through investigation or/and discussion to find out alternative ideas, and produce sound written papers.

Is inquiry an effective learning method why and why not? ›

Research has found that inquiry-based activities can boost students' learning in a wide range of school subjects. There is evidence that inquiry-based learning can motivate students to learn and advance their problem solving and critical thinking skills.

What are some of the benefits of inquiry-based teaching? ›

10 Benefits Of Inquiry-Based Learning
  • Inquiry-based learning can nurture student interests, passions, and talents. ...
  • It can empower student voice and honor student choice. ...
  • It can increase motivation and engagement. ...
  • It can foster curiosity and a love of learning.

Is inquiry-based learning beneficial? ›

Inquiry-based learning also effectively develops important soft skills that are key for student success in the 21st Century, such as creative problem solving, critical thinking, logical thinking, teamwork, and even written and oral communication.

Why is inquiry-based learning important what are the advantages of inquiry approach? ›

Students can improve certain transferable skills through inquiry-based learning, many of which relate to initiative and self-direction. This is evident when examining the steps of the inquiry process. Students learn how to ask questions, investigate, discuss, collaborate, cooperate and reach their own conclusions.

What is inquiry-based learning made up of? ›

There are five elements of inquiry-based learning. The five components include: Essential Questions, Student Engagement, Cooperative Interaction, Performance Evaluation, and Variety of Responses. Lessons begin with a question that sparks curiosity and a sense of wonder. Students are encouraged to ask questions.

Is inquiry-based learning a teaching strategy? ›

What Is Inquiry-Based Learning? Inquiry-based learning is an approach to learning guided by students through questions, research, and/or curiosity. An inquiry-based learning strategy is simply a way to facilitate inquiry during the learning process.

What is inquiry-based learning example? ›

For example, a math teacher might demonstrate how to solve a problem in a traditional lesson, but during an inquiry-based lesson the teacher can see how each student views a problem and the steps they take to get a solution in their own unique way.

What does inquiry-based learning look like in the classroom? ›

It begins when the teacher poses an idea or concept and then asks targeted questions. This leads to students sharing their ideas and asking additional questions. Next, the teacher responds with additional thought-provoking questions that encourage students to investigate on their own and analyze their findings.

What is inquiry-based thinking? ›

Inquiry-based learning (also spelled as enquiry-based learning in British English) is a form of active learning that starts by posing questions, problems or scenarios. It contrasts with traditional education, which generally relies on the teacher presenting facts and their own knowledge about the subject.

How do you achieve inquiry-based instruction? ›

Inquiry-based instruction is a student-centered approach where the instructor guides the students through questions posed, methods designed, and data interpreted by the students. Through inquiry, students actively discover information to support their investigations.

What is the impact of inquiry-based learning? ›

Inquiry-based learning allows students to work with peers, collaborate, and learn communication skills. These methods allow students to construct their own knowledge, which leads to better retention of science concepts and greater involvement in the learning process.


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