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Inquiry-Based Learning

Grounded in constructivism, inquiry-based learning is a broader term for hands-on, active learning that is driven by inquiry. Learners process concepts through scenarios, questions, or issues that enable them to self-direct their own learning. There are four commonly-referenced levels of inquiry used in inquiry-based education (Wikipedia, 2018):  

  1. Confirmation Inquiry – An educator provides a problem and the procedure for learners to address it, where results are already known. 
  2. Structured Inquiry – An educator provides a problem and the procedure for learners to address it, where the results are not already known. 
  3. Guided Inquiry – An educator provides a problem, allowing learners to select a procedure to address it, where the results are not already known. 
  4. Open/True Inquiry – Learners select the problem and the procedure to address it, where the results are not already known. 

Related to inquiry-based learning, there are a few techniques distinguished by specific characteristics: 

  • Case-based learning (CBL). CBL utilizes cases or scenarios common in the respective field. Learners work in groups to use and apply knowledge and solve or diagnose problems.   
  • Project-based and Problem-based learning (PBL). These two PBL models share the same acronym but differ in methodology. Although both can be used interchangeably, they are intended for very different results. In project-based learning, learners work in groups or individually on a process that results in a product, presentation, or performance (Moursand, 2006). In contrast, problem-based learning is most successful in a group or collaborative setting to solve a complex, open-ended, real-world issue or problem (David, 2014; Husain, 2011). 
  • Discovery-based learning (DBL).  DBL is a specific type of active learning strategy that allows learners to have hands-on 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-based learning is characterized by three main attributes:  
    1. Using exploration and problem-solving to create, integrate, and generalize knowledge.
    2. Using learner-driven, interest-based activities where learners determine sequence and frequency.
    3. Involving activities to encourage integration of new knowledge into learner’s existing knowledge (Bicknell-Holmes & Hoffman, 2000, as cited in Castronova, 2002, p. 3).  

Additional resources

Case-based learning 

EDUCAUSE. (2017). Interactive case scenarios: The 7Cs framework. Retrieved from

Harvard Business Publishing Education (2018). Case studies. Retrieved from  

University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. (2018). Improving use of case studies. Retrieved from 

Problem-based learning

University of Delaware. (n.d.). PBL clearinghouse. Retrieved from 

Project-based learning

Miami Dade College. (2018). Project/problem-based learning (PBL) educator’s resource: Project-based learning resources. Retrieved from

Sam Houston State University. (n.d.). Project-based learning in higher education. Retrieved from 

Discovery-based learning

The Geological Society of America. (2018). Inquiry and discovery-based projects within introductory courses. Retrieved from


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

    David, L.  (2014).Problem-based learning (PBL), in Learning Theories. Retrieved from

    Husain, A. (2011). Problem-based learning: A current model of education. Oman Med, 25(4). 295. DOI: 100.500/omj/2011.74 

    Wikipedia contributors. (2018, May 31). Inquiry-based learning. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:58, July 27, 2018, from