What is Inquiry-based Learning?

Inquiry-based learning is a teaching approach that places the learner at the center of the educational process, encouraging active engagement, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

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Children are naturally curious beings, driven by an innate desire to understand the world around them. From a very young age, they explore their environment through inquiry, asking questions, making observations, and seeking answers. This curiosity forms the foundation of their learning journey, and educators can harness this natural impulse through inquiry-based learning to create holistic learning experiences for their students.

Inquiry-based learning is a teaching approach that places the learner at the center of the educational process, encouraging active engagement, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. It involves posing questions, investigating phenomena, and making connections between ideas, thereby creating a deeper understanding of concepts. Inquiry-based learning methodologies are consistent with constructivist learning theory, which emphasizes the importance of active engagement in the learning process and the construction of knowledge through interactions with the environment. This approach is based on the idea that students learn better when they are active participants in the learning process and are given the opportunity to explore their own interests and ideas making observations, and conducting investigations to find answers and solutions to problems.

💡 Lessons learnt: The best education is not given to students; it is drawn out of them.

Inquiry-based learning methodologies involve a process that typically includes:

  1. Asking questions: Students are encouraged to ask questions about a topic or problem that they are interested in or curious about.
  2. Conducting investigations: Students conduct research and investigations to find answers to their questions.
  3. Analyzing data: Students analyze the data they have collected to identify patterns and relationships.
  4. Drawing conclusions: Students draw conclusions based on their analysis of information.
  5. Communicating findings: Students communicate their findings through written or oral presentations.

Inquiry-based learning methodologies can be applied in various subject areas, including science, mathematics, social studies, and language arts. This approach to teaching requires a shift in the teacher's role, from being a dispenser of information to being a facilitator and guide. Over the years, research has shown that inquiry-based learning has a positive impact on students' learning outcomes.

According to studies, inquiry-based learning has been found to improve student engagement, motivation, and learning outcomes. For instance, a study by Abdi (2014) found that students who were instructed through inquiry-based learning in a science course achieved a higher score than those instructed through the traditional method. Students are encouraged to use a variety of resources, including books, articles, websites, and interviews to gather and analyze information.

Similarly, a study by Furtak, Seidel, Iverson, and Briggs (2012) found that inquiry-based learning improved students' critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and content knowledge retention with an overall mean effect size of 0.5. They also found studies involving teacher-led activities had mean effect sizes about .40 larger than those with student-led conditions. In simple terms, when teachers led the activities, students tended to learn more compared to when students led them.

💡 Note: When we talk about effect size, we're looking at the practical significance of the difference. It helps researchers understand if something is really making a big impact or if it's just a small change that might not matter much in the grand scheme of things.

We can all attest to the fact that applying what we learn in class through this approach can help students have a better appreciation for the subject. Even as a former student, you may have had a math teacher leave you wondering after a trigonometry class how all the sine, cosine, and tangents are beneficial to you. Inquiry-based learning can also help students apply what they learn in class to the real world and make the lessons more meaningful to them through:

  1. Relevance: Students encouraged to ask questions and investigate topics that interest them are more likely to see the relevance of what they are learning to their own lives. This can help them make connections between classroom learning and real-life situations.
  2. Problem-solving: Inquiry-based learning emphasizes problem-solving skills, which are essential in the real world. By learning how to ask questions, investigate, and draw conclusions based on their findings, students develop the skills they need to solve real-world problems.
  3. Authentic learning experiences: Inquiry-based learning provides students with authentic learning experiences that mimic real-world situations. For example, students can conduct research or investigations that are similar to what professionals in a particular field might do. This can help students better understand how what they are learning applies to the real world.
  4. Reflection: Inquiry-based learning often involves reflection, where students think about what they have learned and how it applies to the real world. This can help students develop a deeper understanding of the connections between classroom learning and real-life situations

Factors Contributing to the Effectiveness of Inquiry-Based Learning

  1. The Teacher: One of the most important factors is the role of the teacher. In inquiry-based learning, the teacher acts as a facilitator and guide, rather than a dispenser of information. The teacher encourages students to ask questions, gather information, and make connections. The teacher also provides feedback and support to help students develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  2. Design of the learning environment: The learning environment should be designed to support inquiry-based learning. This includes providing access to resources, such as books, articles, and websites, that students can easily use to gather information. It also includes providing opportunities for collaboration, such as group work study areas.
  3. Assessment: Assessment should be designed to support inquiry-based learning. This includes providing opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills through a variety of assessment methods, such as oral presentations, written reports, and projects. Assessment should also provide feedback to help students improve their learning and develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  4. Training: Provide students with the necessary skills and knowledge to engage in inquiry-based learning properly. This includes teaching students how to ask questions, gather information, and analyze data. It also includes teaching students how to work collaboratively and how to communicate their findings effectively.


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Friesen S., Scott D. (2013). Inquiry-Based Learning: A Review of the Research Literature.

Wang F., Kinzie M.B, McGuire P., Pan E. (2010). Applying Technology to Inquiry-Based Learning in Early Childhood Education

Zeki B., Özge Ö. O., Emine E., Sinem D.Ö., Şenol Ş (2013). Effect of Inquiry based Learning Method on Students’ Motivation.

Abdi, A. (2014). The Effect of Inquiry-Based Learning Method on Students' Academic Achievement in Science Course

Furtak, E. M., Seidel, T., Iverson, H., & Briggs, D. C. (2012). Experimental and quasi-experimental studies of inquiry-based science teaching: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 82(3), 300-329.

Lin, H., Hung, J., & Tsai, C. (2018). The effects of inquiry-based learning on high school students’ science achievement: A meta-analysis. Research in Science & Technological Education, 36(4), 371-386.