What is Inquiry-Based Learning?


When we were kids, we really wanted to learn. We were curious about things around us and asked many questions. Children are relentless in getting the answers. So, why all that enthusiasm disappeared once we moved on to the classroom? Jeffrey Wilhelm, in his Engaging Readers & Writers with Inquiry (Theory and Practice), explains that teachers should build their course by creating “guiding questions” that students are actually curious about and want to answer during the course. This is the heart of the inquiry method.

on-postibLibraryAccording to E. Lee May, Salisbury State University, “Inquiry-based learning (IBL) is a method of instruction that places the student, the subject, and their interaction at the center of the learning experience. At the same time, it transforms the role of the teacher from that of dispensing knowledge to one of facilitating learning. It repositions him or her, physically, from the front and center of the classroom to someplace in the middle or back of it, as it subtly yet significantly increases his or her involvement in the thought-processes of the students” (The Academy of Inquiry Based Learning 2013).

McMaster University defines “Inquiry as a form of Self-Directed Learning and follows the four basic stages defining self-directed learning. Students take more responsibility for:

  • Determining what they need to learn
  • Identifying resources and how best to learn from them
  • Using resources and reporting their learning
  • Assessing their progress in learning”

The Cycle of Inquiry based learning, IBL steps

(McMaster University, 2007).

McMaster University, which uses the inquiry methods for the last 20 years, claims that” teaching through “inquiry” involves engaging students in the research process with instructor support and coaching at a level appropriate to their starting skills. Students learn discipline specific content but in doing so, engage and refine their inquiry skills. An inquiry course:

  • Is question driven, rather than topic or thesis driven
  • Begins with a general theme to act as a starting point or trigger for learning
  • Emphasizes asking good researchable questions on the theme, and coaches students in doing this
  • Builds library, interview, and web search skills, along with the critical thinking skills necessary for thoughtful review of the information. Coaches students on how to best report their learning in oral or written form.
  • Provides some mechanism (interviews, drafts, minutes of group meetings, bench mark activities, etc.) to help students monitor their progress within the course.
  • Draws on the expertise and knowledge of the instructor to model effective inquiry and to promote reflection.”


Why do we need inquiry-based learning?

Thiers (2001) and Polman (2000) proof that there is a great demand on more active problem-solvers in the modern economic, environmental and social realities.

Today’s job market requires professionals to collect, synthesize, and analyze more complex information; take decisions quickly and be able to work collaboratively. That is why inquiry-based learning prepares students to respond to these changing social and job market requirements. IBL requires use of technology, critical thinking and active communication. Students take part in complex and meaningful projects that prepare them to solving real-world problems.

Free Professional IBL course materials:

Mathematics IBL course materials are available at The Journal for Inquiry Based Learning in Mathematics. Official site states that “The Journal of Inquiry-Based Learning in Mathematics publishes university-level course notes that are freely downloadable, professionally refereed, and classroom-tested. These course notes are intended

  1. for instructors to use as a starting point to design a course that meets the specific needs of their own students and
  2. for students to use to study a topic independently.

Instructors are encouraged to contact authors for guidance in the use of these course notes.”

Literature, language, primary education IBL material can be found at theIBLibrary – the world’s largest online repository of authentic IB aligned and curated Ebooks and materials. Theiblibrary has over 250 ebooks and teacher’s lessons selected and then “aligned” with the IB curriculum by IB teachers.

IB teachers offer Lesson Guides for each of the book, so you will know exactly how it fits with IB and how to most effectively use it in your classroom or with your child.

Additional Resources:


Polman, J.L. (2000).Designing Project-Based Science: Connecting Learners Through Guided Inquiry

Thier, H.D. (2000). Developing Inquiry-Based Science Materials: A Guide for Educators

Jeffrey Wilhelm, Engaging Readers & Writers with Inquiry (Theory and Practice).

An Effective Implementation Of Inquiry in The English Classroom


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