Inquiry-based learning is an unorthodox method of learning which incorporates active participation of students by involving them in posing questions and bringing real-life experiences to them. The basis of this method is to channelize the thought process of the students through queries and help them in “how to think” instead of “what to think”. Knowledge is readily available at few clicks, now, and memorizing facts and figures is not necessary anymore to function successfully in everyday life. In a fast-changing world, facts and information change frequently, therefore, what is most needed is to develop the skill of arriving at a fact. The inquisitive minds of the students should be channelized in such a way that problems encourage them to reach for the solution, by themselves. Unlike traditional learning where the information is simply provided to the students, inquiry-based learning nurtures the critical and analytical minds of the students.
For teachers who use eLearning software for teaching, using this method of education would be a beneficial choice. Let us learn more about Inquiry-based learning and how it may be applied in the world of online learning.
Inquiry-Based Teaching: Origins and Method
Inquiry-based teaching is founded on the proven system called ‘Moore’s deductive method’ of instruction that was pioneered by Robert L. Moore in Texas in 1911. He introduced this method while teaching advanced concepts of Mathematics where the students themselves eventually systematically arrived at related mathematical problems within the course. They presented proofs of theorems, which were presented to the students as problems, by the teacher. If students faced difficulties during the presentation of proofs then these then addressed by the fellow students, instead of the teacher.
This method keeps the students engaged, and also provides the in-depth knowledge of the topics. There are multiple ways to achieving inquiry-based learning such as
- Confirmation Inquiry: In this type, the involvement of teachers is high, and such a method helps to reinforce the knowledge that students already have.
- Structured Inquiry: The student seeks knowledge in an organized or structured format, with a medium level of involvement or guidance by the teacher.
- Guided Inquiry: Here, the teacher presents a research problem to the student, and the student investigates the same. The instructor involvement is of a medium level.
- Open/True Inquiry: In this type, the student will look up a research topic and research and investigate on his/her own, without any guidance from the instructor.
Inquiry-based learning has a variety of applications that can be used in various disciplines of education. However, two main subjects that are incomplete without the curious minds asking questions and reaching for solutions- science and math. It is always very convenient to only deliver factual information and provide answers/proofs to mathematical problems, in a class full of students; but ensuring that students learn well, is a teacher’s job. Not just math and science but also social sciences may be taught using the inquiry-based method. Teachers need to keep pushing, to make students come out of their comfort zone and explore the unexplored, know the unknown.
Lord and Orkwiszewski (2006) conducted an experiment to prove the benefits of inquiry-based learning compared to the traditional learning. The results proved that the experimental group (inquiry-based learning method used) scored and an average of 89.7% on the same assessment as given to the control group (traditional teaching method used) who scored an average of 84.4%.
Teachers using the inquiry-based method frame a question as a central part of their curriculum. The students then, discuss, collaborate, explore, experiment, discover and find the answer for themselves. For example, instead of telling the properties of acids and bases directly, show them what blue litmus and red litmus can do to acids and bases and let them discover the properties themselves. Similarly, for Math, foster their excitement by dividing them into groups and then trigger their minds to solve the area of the cube in different ways.
Benefits of Inquiry-based learning
The inquiry-based method is characterized by a student-centered learning experience, where the instructor serves as a facilitator or a coach than merely being a teacher. Moreover, this exciting method has countless benefits if used in the right way:
- Firstly, it strengthens the concepts and knowledge of the student. When the student is himself involved in the problem and is curious to solve it, it automatically increases the activity in the part of the brain that is responsible for retaining the concepts for long-term.
- Students learn to take initiatives and channelize their thinking. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the problem today is not what to think but how to think. This method nurtures the students to structure and organize the thoughts and use them effectively to solve the problems.
- It promotes the deeper understanding of the concept, formula, rules, etc. They strategically think on how one thing works, is there is any other way to solve it, how this rule can be applied to other related concepts and so on.
- It works anywhere and for all level students. Start from something that the child already knows and what he can relate to. e.g., A 2nd class student can also be taught about how clouds are formed by starting from the question “do you like rains?” and so on…
- This method allows a variety of instruction that can be offered to the students, thus breaking monotony and boredom of the classroom environment. The session can be started by showing a video or presenting few demos/experiments.
Facilitating Inquiry-based learning in Online Courses
Lately, many types of researches are done to see how blended learning builds student-teachers’ capacity to learn and teach science and math, and the results say that it is essential to exploit all the teaching and learning methods in blended learning that are beyond the conventional techniques. There are five steps to inquiry-based learning- 1) Ask 2) Investigate 3) Create 4) Discuss 5) Reflect. All these steps are achievable in online studies. The teachers may decide what would be the level of teacher involvement in learning of a concept. Such methods are exciting and engaging and promise in-depth and lifelong learning by the students. Some of the ways to facilitate inquiry-based learning in online courses are:
- Ask: The teacher presents a problem for the students to solve. They are asked to deep dive and prove the problem/theorem. To start off, the instructor can draw a graph, geometrical figure or pictures on the whiteboard and start the class by asking questions related to the image and asking students to begin seeking solutions to the problem. This step is easily replicated in the online set-up.
- Investigate: Students may be allowed to use appropriate web browsers, applications, libraries, to explore content to look for answers to their questions.
- Create: Once the students have investigated, they must create reports, answers, or apply to problems to showcase the conclusion they have arrived at. This is mostly done in front of the whole class. The instructor may schedule a live class, where students may present the proof, online.
- Discuss and Reflect: Once the presentation of proofs is over, instructors may hold a discussion meeting to have students share their reflections and learnings through the entire journey of solving the particular problem, online.
Implementing this method online may be one of the simplest- as it lets the learner take center-stage. However, the facilitator or the teacher must spend a considerable amount of time to plan and plant problems so that the students are able to increase their understanding. It is much easier to build knowledge like a ‘mind-map’ which is easy to remember and use.
Many online course providers are teaching this method to countless teachers through online courses. Some examples are of Edx and Eduspire. Another great example of students exploring content is through applications such as Kids Discover Online. This application has a knowledge base on various topics, which are interrelated. The children can explore topics, according to their interests, without losing sight of what is being taught in class. All information that comes up is personalized, according to the interest of the learner. Such applications help in promoting efficient online learning and homeschooling using the inquiry-based method.
Another way to encourage exploring the web is to encourage kids to use kid-safe browsers. Kiddle is a kids-safe browser launched by Google. Other browsers such as Kidrex, Marathon Kids Safe browser (where parents allow certain cites to be available for the child’s use) and Kidsplorer Web browser among others.
Inquiry-based learning along with Online Learning is here to stay
Summarizing, challenging the students to think, apply their fundamental knowledge from videos, previous lectures, images to an interactive problem-solution situation is what connects the students to the world and its elements. Students can do a lot more than just memorizing, performing, cramming and with the advent of digitalization, the possibilities for teaching and learning have become endless. Combining the art of facilitation with purposeful technology can completely transform the learning environment and can make the teaching-learning process more meaningful.