Inquiry-based learning is a student-centered teaching method that encourages students to ask questions and investigate real-world problems. It often enables students to connect what they are learning in school to the real world. The heart of inquiry-based learning is that students identify a question, problem, or topic that is rooted in the real world; they investigate the issue by using their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills; and they generate possible solutions or answers to questions and problems.
One way to define inquiry-based learning is to look at four types of inquiry:
- Confirmation Inquiry. A confirmation-inquiry approach starts with the answer to a question. Then, students work backwards to see if the answer is logical and acceptable.
- Guided Inquiry. In a guided-inquiry approach, instructors lead students through the inquiry process, help them to ask useful questions, and aid them in finding solutions to problems. This is often used in elementary and middle school classes as students are learning the basics of problem solving and critical thinking.
- Open Inquiry. This free-form approach is often seen in the humanities to explore a concept in-depth or to engage in a debate. It involves students exploring their interests and asking questions about a topic they are studying. Open inquiry is therefore largely student driven. A parent or Learning Coach may guide students to a topic, but the students themselves ask the questions.
- Structured Inquiry. A structured inquiry is when a student is given a problem and the student investigates the problem by using a structure or format. This is frequently seen when students use a scientific process to investigate an issue. Structured inquiry often lends itself to the sciences and to problems that require a type of sequential process.
A curriculum can focus on one of the types of inquiry, or it can use a mixture of types.