What exactly does inquiry-based learning mean?

Author: PRIMAS-team

Inquiry-based learning aims to develop and foster inquiring minds and attitudes that are vital for pupils being able to face and manage uncertain futures. Fundamentally, learning is based on pupils adopting an active, questioning approach.

Pupils inquire and pose questions, explore and evaluate. The problems they address seem real to them. Learning is driven by open questions and multiple-solution strategies. Teachers are proactive: they support and encourage pupils who are struggling and extend those that are succeeding through the use of carefully chosen strategic questions. They value pupil contributions - including mistakes, and scaffold learning using pupils' reasoning and experience. In the classroom there is a shared sense of purpose and ownership. The following figure shows the different perspectives of a classroom culture in which inquiry-based learning takes place. However, not everything needs to be or can be changed towards IBL. IBL is an essential ingredient of good education.

A common misunderstanding is to confuse IBL with doing experiments or practical work in the classroom. If the knowledge needed to conduct the experiment is provided by the teacher or by the task as a kind of cookbook recipe, the experiment cannot be called inquiry-based. The degree of inquiry depends on the openness of the situation as well as on the distribution of responsibilities between the teacher and the pupils. In the PRIMAS guide for professional development providers we elaborated the characterization of IBL into a cloud of five perspectives from which IBL can be viewed.

The primary focus of Primas is to enrich the repertoire of the teacher for IBL: creating awareness of and practicing with teaching techniques for fostering pupils' reasoning, supporting and scaffolding their thinking and connecting learning to their experiences. The professional development modules also encompass topics related to the learning environment and the creation of a classroom culture for IBL. PD-modules 1-3 address aspects of the learning environment like 'how to unstructure tasks' and 'activities for inquiring definitions and represenations'. PD-modules 4-7 focus on teaching techniques that also encompass the creation of a questioning and collaborative classroom culture for IBL like 'what questions trigger all students', 'supporting collaborative work' and 'peer feedback on process-skills'.

Last change: 19 december 2013
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