Discovery Learning


Discovery learning is a specific type of active learning strategy that allows for students to have hands-on learning opportunities that focus on the process of learning through inquiry and the exploration of concepts. Failure and feedback are both important and necessary for learning to occur.

Discovery learning is characterized by three main attributes:

  1. Using exploration and problem-solving to create, integrate, and generalize knowledge
  2. Using student-driven, interest-based activities where students determine the sequence and frequency
  3. Involving activities to encourage the integration of new knowledge into the learner’s existing knowledge structure (Bicknell-Holmes & Hoffman, 2000, as cited in Castronova, 2002, p. 3).

Practical Applications

Because there is a variety of pedagogies that use discovery learning as a framework or model for implementation (e.g., guided discovery, problem-based learning, simulation-based learning, case-based learning, incidental learning), specific instructions for implementing discovery learning vary.

Example Discovery Learning Methods​

Recommended Resources

  • Discovery Learning for the 21st Century: What is it and How Does it Compare to Traditional Learning in Effectiveness in the 21 st Century – Joyce A. Castronova:​tronova_litr.pdf This literature review defines discovery learning, its theoretical basis, the advantages and disadvantages of discovery learning versus traditional learning, and practical applications, including WebQuests.
  • Discovery learning – Heather Coffey, School of Education, University of North Carolina: This simple but informative website provides a nice introduction to discovery learning.


Castronova, J., (2002). Discovery learning for the 21st century: What is it and how does it compare to traditional learning in effectiveness in the 21st century? Literature Reviews, Action Research Exchange (ARE), 1(2). Retrieved from