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Engagement in the classroom plays a significant role in student learning. The challenge is finding a method of cultivating skills that also keeps students interested in the material. Inquiry-based learning fits the bill like nothing else.
Using inquiry-based learning to accomplish both engagement and skill-building is a popular strategy. It actively involves students in problem-solving, collaboration, and the development of skills that ready them for college and career.
Inquiry-based learning lets students really explore the material, which keeps them engaged in asking questions and discussing ideas with their classmates and teacher. Students' questions create a deep level of engagement.
It is a teaching strategy of experiential learning and is the foundation of more recent problem-based learning, project-based learning and STEM learning and is the fundamental process of education research itself.
Inquiry learning differs greatly from direct instruction as it involves the learner and allows them to work through problems in ways that challenge and inspire them. The goal of the learning process is engaging student curiosity about a subject and cultivating capacity for deep thinking.
It seeks to trigger interest in a subject and get students actively pursuing information. By focusing on questions that encourage students to seek out solutions, teachers provide college and career-ready skills from an early age. They prepare students to focus on resolving problems rather than looking to others for the answer.
How Inquiry-Based Learning Helps Students in the Classroom
Whether you are evaluating STEM learning or topics related to social & emotional learning, inquiry-based learning is a useful strategy to keep students engaged in the classroom.
Of the many benefits of inquiry-based learning, one of the primary ways it helps students is through self-directed study. It encourages students to take an active role in the learning process by getting them curious about a topic and encouraging them to discuss it with their peers.
We generally retain 75% of what we do as opposed to only 5% of what we hear and 10% of what we read.
It differs from other approaches to learning in that it focuses on a theme or a topic rather than a single problem. While it has similarities to other forms of teaching, the goal of inquiry-based learning is getting the students to take agency over their own education. It encourages them to research a topic, discuss the topic, and even ask questions to look for deeper knowledge of the subject.
Experiential learning helps students stay engaged and interested in their studies. It allows them to explore a theme without looking for the easiest answer. By focusing on self-directed learning and problem-solving, students are developing the skills they need to handle challenges at the college level and when they move into a career.
Advantages of the Inquiry Process
The advantages of this approach to learning relate directly to the act of engaging students in the material. Students retain more information when they are actively doing something to learn the topic.
The Grade Power article "What is Inquiry-Based Learning (and How is it Effective?)" reminds us we generally retain 75% of what we do as opposed to only 5% of what we hear and 10% of what we read. Thus it is the immersive hands-on nature of inquiry-based learning that makes it so effective.
Learning actively differs significantly from retention rates when reading or hearing the material. Since students are focused on researching and investigating to get more details about the theme or topic, they remember more information by the end of the discussion.
However, while retention rates are a key advantage of this pedagogy, it is actually the student engagement that sets it apart.
The primary way inquiry-based learning helps students is through self-directed study.
Inquiry-based learning allows students to take an active role in their studies at a high level and teaches useful skills for their long-term goals. Further, it shifts the focus from the teacher's words and lectures into a strategy that triggers student curiosity, and this is crucial to the goal of meaningful learning.
According to the Harvard Business Review article "Curiosity Is As Important As Intelligence", fostering student curiosity builds their capacity for flexible thinking and the ability to handle complex problems.
Here's the Verdict
Ultimately, inquiry-based learning is a highly effective method of teaching. It works at every level of education by encouraging curiosity and self-directed exploration of a subject. Since it focuses on engaging students in the material and shifting the process of learning to the student, it helps students retain more information.
The average student will remember more information when they are actively pursuing the details, researching the information, or investigating a theme, and this is what inquiry-based learning is designed to do. It also activates a student's natural curiosity about a subject, which allows the student to continue focusing on their studies.
In general, this pedagogy's efficacy stems from the fact that it encourages learners to explore, investigate, and research to resolve problems, and develop solid critical thinking skills in the process. Moreover, they discover the value of sharing ideas and discussion as part of the learning process.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Apr 23, 2019, updated Nov 3, 2021