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Inquiry-based Learning

This article looks at what's involved in IBL.
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Inquiry-based Learning (IBL) is a teaching method that engages students in a knowledge-building process through the generation of open-ended, answerable questions, ideas, and analyses.  This approach is related to problem-based and project-based learning which also allows students to use an investigative approach and develop problem-solving strategies.  

IBL starts with a question, problem, or scenario, rather than the teacher presenting established facts and/or content to be learned. Within the IBL approach, the teacher is more of a facilitator supporting learners to research and locate information and solutions.

Inquiry-based learning can occur within a single session, or as a longer-term assignment (e.g. over a semester). It also is applied at any level, and within any teaching environment. 

IBL involves:​ 

  • The learners control their learning 
  • Active learning 
  • Targeted, relevant questioning 
  • Learner research and problem-solving 
  • Ongoing dialogue between teachers and learners  
  • Creative and critical thinking 
  • Reflecting and evaluating  

5 E’s of IBL

The 5 E’s enquiry-Based model is based on constructivist theory and a “best practice” approach in the science classroom. 


This involves assessing learners’ prior knowledge (or lack of). To encourage participation and engagement, it is best undertaken using a student-centred approach such as targeted questioning, brainstorming, and discussion.


This stage represents the body of the inquiry process when learners are involved in hands-on activities that build on their prior knowledge to generate new understandings.


This stage can be more teacher-centred as it involves unpacking the learning, however, it can still be guided by the learners. Also, at this point, learners should be able to talk about their learnings.


Students are encouraged to apply their new knowledge. According to Duran and Duran (2004), “Students may conduct additional investigations, develop products, share information and ideas, or apply their knowledge and skills to other disciplines” (p. 53). 


Finally, learners reflect on their new knowledge and the learning process.  At this stage, there may be some assessment, although not necessarily a traditional assessment.

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Adult Education Essentials: Student-Centred Course Design

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