Inquiry-based Learning

Inquiry-Based Learning In The Classroom

Inquiry-based learning is a way to encourage active participation between students and their surroundings.

What Is Inquiry-Based Learning?

Inquiry-based learning is a student-centered technique. Instead of automatically presenting students with the information they are meant to learn, the process requires students to conduct an investigation in order to reach a conclusion that is backed by data or results. It’s a methodology that focuses on developing information-processing skills. Inquiry-based learning helps students analyze information in a logical fashion, a key skill in any of the STEM fields.

Experiential learning and inquiry-based learning sound very similar, but there are a few important distinctions between them. Both are constructivist techniques based on the theory that learning occurs through the interaction of experience and ideas. Both experiential and inquiry-based strategies foster the kind of learning that allows students to make choices about which subjects and ideas matter to them. The difference is that experiential learning engages students through collective social activities, whereas inquiry-based learning leads students to a conclusion via the analysis of evidence.

What Are The Benefits?

Inquiry-based learning helps students to:
*Develop skills in problem-solving and critical thinking.
*Learn through involvement with the material, rather than by memorizing a set of facts.
*Recognize patterns and apply knowledge to a wide variety of situations instead of just how it pertains to the current lesson.
*Make independent decisions based on their knowledge of a subject.

Using Inquiry-Based Learning In The Classroom

Implementation of inquiry-based learning can vary based on the environment and the course directive. There are a number of unifying themes, however, and UNESCO defines the process as being made up of the following steps:
1. A Challenge
2. Active Student Investigations
3. Making Generalizations
4. Reflections

In order for inquiry-based learning to take place, it’s necessary that students have room for exploration. An element of the unknown can stimulate curiosity and propel them to want to understand more. Conducting experiments is one way to present the class with a challenge to be solved through tests and the collection of data. Scavenger hunts also facilitate inquiry via a trail of clues that lead to an eventual outcome.

Inquiry-based LearningClassroom Management

Managing inquiry-based learning in the classroom involves finding a balance between structure and an open lesson plan. While an investigative learning process lends itself naturally to many scientific topics, some highly structured content (such as what might appear during in a math course) can present a challenge. In instances where purely student-directed open learning isn’t feasible, a compromise can usually be found. Allowing students to explore concepts such as tessellations, transformations, and even parabolas before direct instruction begins can be a simple way to integrate inquiry-based learning in highly structured courses like math. In addition, some leverage in the direction of lectures allows the conversation to move towards topics students are most interested in.


Assessing inquiry-based learning can be somewhat difficult since it relies so heavily on the student’s own initiative. One way to gauge progress is to ask students to regularly reflect on their thoughts and interests in a daily or weekly journal. Journaling can help them to pinpoint questions and outline new ideas. Since inquiry-based learning is about engaging students through their own involvement in a subject matter, having a space to think and record observations is important. A journal also provides a way for educators to evaluate what a student has learned over time.

Journals can be helpful tools for teachers as well! Read more about journaling and becoming a reflective teacher.

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Leah Dearborn

Leah Dearborn is a freelance writer based in the Boston area. A graduate of the journalism program at University of Massachusetts–Amherst, she spends her time writing about science, history, and books.

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