Inquiry-based learning

Several outstanding definitions exist that encompass the main ideas addressed in inquiry-based learning. Here are some examples we have selected that provide a solid basis to form your own working definition.

Effective inquiry is more than just asking questions. A complex process is involved when individuals attempt to convert information and data into useful knowledge. Useful application of inquiry learning involves several factors: a context for questions, a framework for questions, a focus for questions, and different levels of questions. Well-designed inquiry learning produces knowledge formation that can be widely applied. (see Thirteen Ed Online, Educational Broadcasting Corporation)

In inquiry-based learning environments, students are engaged in activities that help them actively pose questions, investigate, solve problems, and draw conclusions about the world around them. As independent thinkers, children become researchers, writers, videographers, and activists rather than passive receivers of a textbook's content. They do meaningful work that addresses essential questions and important standards. It's critical that learners take ownership of the inquiry process. Questioning is at the core of information inquiry and drives the teaching and learning process. In an era of "one answer" standardized tests, this idea of opening a student's mind to questioning and exploring many answers is essential. 

All learning begins with the learner. What children know and what they want to learn are not just constraints on what can be taught; they are the very foundation for learning. Dewey's description of the four primary interests of the child are still appropriate starting points: 1. the child's instinctive desire to find things out 2. in conversation, the propensity children have to communicate 3. in construction, their delight in making things 4. in their gifts of artistic expression. We may say that these are the natural resources, the uninvested capital, "upon the exercise of which depends the active growth of the child." But, as Dewey recognized, schooling is not just about the individual. It is the coming together of the child's interests with those of the society. The disciplines we study in school represent centuries of collective thought as well as the interests of the larger community in maintaining itself by communicating its knowledge and values to the next generation. (see Inquiry Page, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

Inquiry-Based Teaching is the art of creating situations in which students take the role of scientists. In these situations, students take the initiative to observe and question phenomena; pose explanations of what they see; devise and conduct tests to support or contradict their theories; analyze data; draw conclusions from experimental data; design and build models; or any combination of these. These learning situations are open-ended in that they do not aim to achieve a single "right" answer. Nevertheless, students work under clear standards. They learn to observe keenly and thoroughly and to pose questions that are answerable, in part or in whole, through some meaningful test or exploration. They engage in trial and error, and they learn to analyze and reason carefully. (see Duke University's Center for Inquiry-Based Learning)

Inquiry is in part a state of mind -- that of inquisitiveness. Most young children are naturally curious. They care enough to ask "why" and "how" questions. But if adults dismiss their incessant questions as silly and uninteresting, students can lose this gift of curiosity. Visit any second-grade classroom and you will generally find a class bursting with energy and excitement, where children are eager to make new observations and try to figure things out. What a contrast with many eighth-grade classes, where the students so often seem bored and disengaged from learning and from school!

The National Science Education Standards released by the National Research Council in 1995 provide valuable insights into the ways that teachers might sustain the curiosity of students and help them develop the sets of abilities associated with scientific inquiry. The Standards emphasize that science education needs to give students three kinds of scientific skills and understandings. Students need to learn the principles and concepts of science, acquire the reasoning and procedural skills of scientists, and understand the nature of science as a particular form of human endeavor. Students therefore need to be able to devise and carry out investigations that test their ideas, and they need to understand why such investigations are uniquely powerful. Studies show that students are much more likely to understand and retain the concepts that they have learned this way. (see Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning, by the National Research Council)