Engagement, Opinion, Teaching

Is Inquiry-Based Learning Effective?

Is Inquiry-Based Learning Effective?

 How can a teacher ignite students’ interest in school subjects? Instead of the teacher telling students everything they need to know, inquiry-based learning asks students to construct their own knowledge through experiences and explorations. Inquiry-based learning emphasizes learning by doing and mirrors the work of scientists as they actively discover knowledge. In inquiry-based learning, students undertake some or all of the follow activities:

  • formulating a question or a set of questions;
  • designing an investigation to research the question(s);
  • identifying and collecting relevant resources;
  • developing explanations based on evidence and scientific knowledge;
  • sharing investigation procedures and findings;
  • reflecting on the learning process and outcomes.

Research has found that inquiry-based activities can boost students’ learning in a wide range of school subjects. There is evidence that inquiry-based learning can motivate students to learn and advance their problem solving and critical thinking skills. However, the effectiveness of inquiry-based learning depends on the guidance provided by teachers. Unguided or minimally-guided inquiry may not work for students who have less previous knowledge or ability in the subject area. When the demands of the learning activities exceed students’ abilities, their learning is blocked and they may develop misunderstandings about the topic.

Therefore, appropriate guidance must be incorporated into students’ inquiry learning. For example, teachers should guide students to develop a good question for investigation, monitor their inquiry process, and provide guidance when they encounter difficulties. Teachers should give students ongoing feedback and encourage them to constantly assess their own learning.

Compared with having the teacher present all of the information, research offers clear evidence that teacher-guided inquiry works in the best interests of students and their learning.


Alberta Education: Inquiry Based Learning


National Science Foundation: Thoughts, Views, and Strategies for the K-5 Classroom


YouthLearn: Intro to Inquiry Learning


Thirteen Ed Online: Inquiry-Based Learning



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Edelson, D. C., Gordin, D. N., & Pea, R. D. (1999). Addressing the challenges of inquiry-based learning through technology and curriculum design. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 8(3-4), 391-450.

Friesen, S., & Scott, D. (2013). Inquiry-based learning: A review of the research literature. Paper prepared for the Alberta Ministry of Education. Retrieved from http://galileo.org/focus-on-inquiry-lit-review.pdf

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

Harris, C. J., & Rooks, D. L. (2010). Managing inquiry-based science: Challenges in enacting complexscience instruction in elementary and middle school classrooms. Journal of Science Teacher Education21(2), 227-240.

Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not

work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational psychologist, 41(2), 75-86.

Little, S. (2010). Inquiry-based learning in the social sciences: A meta-analytical study. CILASS: Centre for Inquiry-based Learning in the Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sheffield. Retrieved from www.shef.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.122795!/file/IBL_in_SocSci-FINAL.pdf

Minner, D. D., Levy, A. J., & Century, J. (2010). Inquiry‐based science instruction — what is it and does itmatter? Results from a research synthesis years 1984 to 2002. Journal of Research in Science Teaching,

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Saunders-Stewart, K. S., Gyles, P. D. T., & Shore, B. M. (2012). Student outcomes in inquiry instruction: A literature-derived inventory. Journal of Advanced Academics, 23(1), 5-31.



Meet the Expert(s)

John Cropped

John Nesbit

John Nesbit is a professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University. He teaches and conducts research in the areas of educational psychology, self-regulated learning, and educational tec...

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Qing Liu

Liu Qing

Qing Liu is a doctoral student in Educational Technology and Learning Design at Simon Fraser University. Her research focuses on conceptual change, learning by arguing, the role of need for cogn...

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