Inquiry-based learning

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What is it?

Inquiry-based learning is an education approach that focuses on investigation and problem-solving. Inquiry-based learning is different from traditional approaches because it reverses the order of learning. Instead of presenting information, or ‘the answer’, up-front, teachers start with a range of scenarios, questions and problems for students to navigate.

Inquiry-based learning prioritises problems that require critical and creative thinking so students can develop their abilities to ask questions, design investigations, interpret evidence, form explanations and arguments, and communicate findings.

How does it help?

Students learn key STEM and life skills through inquiry-based learning. Inquiry-based learning also promotes:

  • Social interaction. This helps attention span and develops reasoning skills. Social interaction encourages students to generate their own ideas and critique in group discussions. It develops agency, ownership and engagement with student learning.
  • Exploration. This allows students to investigate, design, imagine and explore, therefore developing curiosity, resilience and optimism.
  • Argumentation and reasoning. This creates a safe and supportive environment for students to engage in discussion and debate. It promotes engagement in scientific discussion and improves learning of scientific concepts. It encourages students to generate questions, formulate positions and make decisions.
  • Positive attitudes to failure. The iterative and evaluative nature of many STEM problems means failure is an important part of the problem-solving process. A healthy attitude to failure encourages reflection, resilience and continual improvement.

How do you do it?

  • UNESCO recommends a four-step process:
    • set a challenge for students
    • encourage active student investigations
    • make generalisations
    • reflect
  • For more information on inquiry-based learning and examples of classroom strategies. Griffith University has prepared a useful resource.

Want to know more?

Research reports

Case study: reSolve: Mathematics by Inquiry

reSolve: Mathematics by Inquiry is a national program to help teachers adopt inquiry-based methods when teaching primary and secondary mathematics. The reSolve approach encourages students to ask questions, test ideas, seek meaning and explain reasons. reSolve provides classroom resources, professional learning modules and a protocol that underpins excellent inquiry-based teaching and learning. It also trains ‘reSolve Champions’: teachers and leaders who take the messages and resources of reSolve into the wider mathematics teaching community. Approximately 300 teachers and leaders have either completed or are undertaking a 12-month professional learning program to become reSolve Champions. The reSolve program is funded by the Australian Government Department of Education Skills and Employment.