Inquiry-based learning (Also enquiry-based learning in British English.) describes approaches to learning that are based on the investigation of questions, scenarios or problems - often assisted by a facilitator. Inquirers will identify and research issues and questions to develop their knowledge or solutions. Inquiry-based learning includes Problem-based learning, and is generally used in small scale investigations and projects, as well as research.
Inquiry-based learning is primarily a pedagogical method, developed during the discovery learning movement of the 1960s as a response to traditional forms of instruction - where people were required to memorize information from instructional materials.
The philosophy of inquiry based learning finds its antecedents in constructivist learning theories, such as the work of Piaget, Dewey, Vygotsky, and Freire among others, and can be considered a constructivist
In the 1960s Joseph Schwab called for inquiry to be divided into four distinct levels. This was later formalized by Marshall Herron in 1971, who developed the Herron Scale to evaluate the amount of inquiry within a particular lab exercise. Since then, there have been a number of revisions proposed, but the consensus in the science education community is that there is a spectrum of inquiry-based teaching methods available.
Inquiry learning emphasizes constructivist ideas of learning, where knowledge is built from experience and process, especially socially based experience. Under this premise learning develops best in group situations. Progress and outcomes are generally assessed by how well people develop experimental and analytic skills, and often how well they work in groups.
Inquiry-based learning covers a range of approaches to learning and teaching, including:
- Case studies
- Individual and group projects
- Research projects
Specific learning processes that people engage in during inquiry-learning include:
- Creating questions of their own
- Obtaining supporting evidence to answer the question(s)
- Explaining the evidence collected
- Connecting the explanation to the knowledge obtained from the investigative process
- Creating an argument and justification for the explanation
More recently, Heather Banchi and Randy Bell (2008) suggest that there are four levels of inquiry-based learning in science education:
- confirmation inquiry,
- structured inquiry,
- guided inquiry and
- open inquiry.
In confirmation inquiry, people are provided with the question and procedure (method) where the results are known in advance, and confirmation of the results is the object of the inquiry. Confirmation inquiry is useful to reinforce a previously learned idea; to experience investigation processes; or to practice a specific inquiry skill, such as collecting and recording data.
In structured inquiry, people are provided with the question and procedure (method), however the task is to generate an explanation that is supported by the evidence collected in the procedure.
In guided inquiry, people are provided with only the research question, and the task is to design the procedure (method) and to test the question and the resulting explanations. Because this kind of inquiry is more open than a confirmation or structured inquiry, it is most successful when people have had numerous opportunities to learn and practice different ways to plan experiments and record data.
In open inquiry, people form questions, design procedures for carrying out an inquiry, and communicate their results.
Inquiry-based science 
Inquiry-based learning has been of an influence in science education, where it is known as Inquiry-based science. Inquiry is an integral feature of Science, and Inquiry-based science is featured in the U.S. National Science Educational Standards of 1996, supported by the U.S. National Research Council' second volume, 'Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards' in 2000.
Inquiry-based learning in other disciplines 
Science naturally lends itself to investigation and collection of data, but it is applicable in other subject areas where people are developing critical thinking and investigation skills. In the social sciences such as history, Robert Bain in his article in How Students Learn, describes how to "problematize" history. Bain's idea is to first organize a learning curriculum around central concepts. Next, people studying the curriculum are given a question and primary sources such as eye witness historical accounts, and the task for inquiry is to create an interpretation of history that will answer the central question. It is held that through the inquiry people will develop skills and factual knowledge that supports their answers to a question. They will form an hypothesis, collect and consider information and revisit their hypothesis as they evaluate their data.
Open learning 
An important aspect of inquiry-based learning (and science) is the use of open learning. Open learning has no prescribed target or result that people have to achieve. There is an emphasis on the individual manipulating information and creating meaning from a set of given materials or circumstances. In many conventional and structured learning environments, people are told what the outcome is expected to be, and then they are simply expected to 'confirm' or show evidence that this is the case.
Open learning has many benefits. It means students do not simply perform experiments in a routine like fashion, but actually think about the results they collect and what they mean. With traditional non-open lessons there is a tendency for students to say that the experiment 'went wrong' when they collect results contrary to what they are told to expect. In open learning there are no wrong results, and students have to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the results they collect themselves and decide their value.
Open learning has been developed by a number of science educators including the American John Dewey and the German Martin Wagenschein. Wagenschein's ideas particularly complement both open learning and inquiry-based learning in teaching work. He emphasized that students should not be taught bald facts, but should understand and explain what they are learning. His most famous example of this was when he asked physics students to tell him what the speed of a falling object was. Nearly all students would produce an equation, but no students could explain what this equation meant. Wagenschien used this example to show the importance of understanding over knowledge.
Cindy Melo-Silver reviewed a number of reports on a variety studies into problem based learning.
Edelson, Gordin and Pea describe five significant challenges to implementing inquiry-based learning and present strategies for addressing them through the design of technology and curriculum. They present a design history covering four generations of software and curriculum to show how these challenges arise in classrooms and how the design strategies respond to them. 
|“||After a half century of advocacy associated with instruction using minimal guidance, there appears no body of research supporting the technique. In so far as there is any evidence from controlled studies, it almost uniformly supports direct, strong instructional guidance rather than constructivist-based minimal guidance during the instruction of novice to intermediate learners. Even for students with considerable prior knowledge, strong guidance while learning is most often found to be equally effective as unguided approaches. Not only is unguided instruction normally less effective; there is also evidence that it may have negative results when student acquire misconceptions or incomplete or disorganized knowledge||”|
— Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching by Kirschner, Sweller, Clark 
Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) review of literature found that although constructivists often cite each other's work, empirical evidence is not often cited. Nonetheless the constructivist movement gained great momentum in the 1990s, because many educators began to write about this philosophy of learning.
Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, & Chinn cite several studies supporting the success of the constructivist problem-based and inquiry learning methods. For example, they describe a project called GenScope, an inquiry-based science software application. Students using the GenScope software showed significant gains over the control groups, with the largest gains shown in students from basic courses.
In contrast, Hmelo-Silver et al. also cite a large study by Geier on the effectiveness of inquiry-based science for middle school students, as demonstrated by their performance on high-stakes standardized tests. The improvement was 14% for the first cohort of students and 13% for the second cohort. This study also found that inquiry-based teaching methods greatly reduced the achievement gap for African-American students.
Based on their 2005 research, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute concluded that while inquiry-based learning is fine to some degree, it has been carried to excess.
Richard E. Mayer from the University of California, Santa Barbara, wrote in 2004 that there was sufﬁcient research evidence to make any reasonable person skeptical about the beneﬁts of discovery learning—practiced under the guise of cognitive constructivism or social constructivism—as a preferred instructional method. He reviewed research on discovery of problem-solving rules culminating in the 1960s, discovery of conservation strategies culminating in the 1970s, and discovery of LOGO programming strategies culminating in the 1980s. In each case, guided discovery was more effective than pure discovery in helping students learn and transfer.
It should be cautioned that inquiry-based learning takes a lot of planning before implementation. It is not something that can be put into place in the classroom quickly. Measurements must be put in place for how students knowledge and performance will be measured and how standards will be incorporated. The teacher's responsibility during inquiry exercises is to support and facilitate student learning (Bell et al., 769-770). A common mistake teachers make is lacking the vision to see where students' weaknesses lie. According to Bain, teachers cannot assume that students will hold the same assumptions and thinking processes as a professional within that discipline (p. 201).
While some see inquiry-based teaching as increasingly mainstream, it can be perceived as in conflict with Standardized testing common in Standards-based assessment systems which emphasise the measurement of student knowledge, and meeting of pre-defined criteria, for example the shift towards 'fact' in changes to the 'National Assessment of Educational Progress' as a result of the American No Child Left Behind program.
Programs such as the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program can be criticized for their claims to be an inquiry based learning program. While there are different types of inquiry (as stated above) the rigid structure of this style of inquiry based learning program almost completely rules out any real inquiry based learning in the lower grades. Each “unit of inquiry” is given to the students, structured to guide them and does not allow students choosing the path or topic of their inquiry. Each unit is carefully plan to connect with the topics the students are required to be learning in school and do not leave room for open inquiry in topics that the students pick Some may feel that until the inquiry learning process is open inquiry then it is not true inquiry based learning at all. Instead of opportunities to learn through open and student led inquiry the IB program is viewed by some to simply be an extra set of learning requirements for the students to complete.
References and further reading 
- The UK dictionaries Collins and Longman list the spelling "inquiry" first, and Oxford simply calls it another spelling, without labeling it as US English.
- What is Inquiry Based Learning (EBL)? Centre for Excellence in Enquiry-Based Learning. University of Manchester. Retrieved October 2012
- Bruner, J. S. (1961). "The act of discovery". Harvard Educational Review 31 (1): 21–32.
- Dewey, J (1997) How We Think, New York: Dover Publications.
- Freire, P. (1984) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York: Continuum Publishing Company.
- Vygotsky, L.S. (1962) Thought and Language, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- Schwab, J. (1960) Inquiry, the Science Teacher, and the Educator. The School Review © 1960 The University of Chicago Press
- Herron, M.D. (1971). The nature of scientific enquiry. The school review, 79(2), 171-212.
- Bell, T., Urhahne, D., Schanze, S., and Ploetzner, R. 2010. Collaborative inquiry learning: Models, tools, and challenges. International Journal of Science Education. 3(1), 349-377.
- Banchi, H. and Bell, R. (2008) The Many Levels of Inquiry. The Learning Centre of the NSTA. Retrieved October 2012
- Bain, R.B., Donovan, M.S. & Bransford, J.D. (Eds).(2005). "They thought the world was flat?": Applying the principles of How People Learn in teaching high school history. How Students Learn. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309074339
- Hannafin, M., Land, S., Oliver, K. (1999). Open learning environments: Foundation, methods, and models. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models. A new paradigm of instructional theory Volume II (pp. 115-140). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
- Melo-Silver, C. (2004) Problem Based Learning: What and how do students learn. Educational Psychology Review, Vol. 16, No. 3, September 2004
- Edelson, D., Gordin, D., Pea, R. (1999) Addressing the Challenges of Inquiry-Based Learning Through Technology and Curriculum Design . Edelson, Daniel, Douglas Gordin, and Roy Pea. Journal of the Learning Sciences 8.3 (1999): 391-450.
- Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., and 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
- Scaffolding and Achievement in Problem-Based and Inquiry Learning: A Response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, & Chinn. (2007). Educational Psychologist, 42(2), 99–107
- Tonsho, R. (2006) What's the Right Formula? Pressure From New Tests Leads Educators to Debate How Best to Teach Science. Wall Street Journal, 19 January 2006 (p. A09)
- Mayer, R. (2004). Should there be a three-strikes rule against pure discovery learning? The case for guided methods of instruction. American Psychologist 59 (1): 14–19.
See also 
- Action learning
- Discovery learning
- McMaster Integrated Science
- Jerome Bruner
- Jean Piaget
- Problem-based learning
- Progressive inquiry
- Science education
- Scientific literacy
- Networked learning
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