Inquiry-based learning a new spin on an old method. Since the time of the ancient Greeks, students and teachers have been using the process of solving specific problems and developing question-based pedagogy to produce more effective educational models. While one may argue that The Socratic Method was perhaps the first form of inquiry-based learning in the modern world, there is little doubt that humans have been instinctively using such methods since time began.


According to Dr. Kathy Kitto, Dean of the Graduate School at Western Washington University:


Inquiry-Based Learning is much more than asking questions and resisting the temptation to answer them by delivering lectures alone. Based upon our current understanding of how individuals learn, students must construct their own understanding and knowledge base by actively doing.”


In other words, inquiry-based learning emphasizes student participation over rote memorization. Furthermore, this learning method stands in stark contrast to the more traditional lecture-based courses which are common in University course catalogs around the world. Inquiry-based learning is active learning with an emphasis on critical thinking skills and logical analysis of the subject at hand. Experts in inquiry-based learning break down the method into four distinct phases:


Phase #1: The Interaction Phase


In the interaction phase of inquiry-based learning, students gain their first exposure to the subject to be learned. Similar to the inquiry-based learning method itself, the Interaction Phase contains several modes of interaction:

  • Student-Subject Interaction: This type of interaction is characterized by students reading through a textbook, doing their own primary research, or reading other second-hand sources about the material such as web pages.
  • Student-Student Interaction: Students interacting with each other to discuss the material inside or outside the classroom setting.
  • Subject Matter Expert-To-Student: Students learn firsthand from recognized leaders in their respective fields.

Phase #2: The Clarifying Phase


In this phase of the inquiry-based learning methodology, students analyze related data sets and develop the proper thinking frameworks to approach the subject at hand.


Phase #3: The Questioning Phase


During the questioning phase, students actively participate in discussion groups and critical thinking sessions on the subject to be learned. This is where students learn to spot general trends in the subject matter.


Phase #4: The Design Phase


The fourth and final phase of the inquiry-based learning model is the design phase. In this phase, students build upon the first three phases to build tailor-made solutions for real-world problems.