Weekly Digest #65: The Case Against Inquiry-Based Learning

Weekly Digest #65: The Case Against Inquiry-Based Learning

In a March blog post, Megan walked through the evidence against pure discovery learning, noting that direct instruction is needed for novices in particular and that, once a baseline of knowledge is established, inquiry-based approaches can be more fruitful. We also talked about active learning in a digest, which is on the continuum of inquiry-learning, but perhaps not as extreme as pure discovery. Today’s digest revisits the idea of inquiry methods. Why? Because a quick Google search resulted in the very clear impression that many instructors still believe (or at least blog about) the idea that students learn more when they discover new knowledge on their own, without being explicitly taught. Given this apparent pervasive belief, we share here a list of resources, each providing a unique explanation or evidence against pure discovery, inquiry, or problem-based learning.

 

1) The Cold Leftovers of Inquiry-Based Learning by Paul Kirschner, @P_A_Kirschner, & Mirjam Neelan, @MirjamN on 3-Star Learning Experiences

Paul Kirschner has arguably championed the fight against inquiry-based learning for quite some time. In this piece, he and colleague Mirjam Neelan describe the current research on the topic, which essentially shows that inquiry-based learning is superior only to teaching that involves no interaction with students, but that any quality interaction trumps pure inquiry learning. In their words, duh.

Image from linked source

Image from linked source

 

2) If Constructivist Teaching is the Aspirin then What Exactly is the Headache by Greg Ashman, @greg_ashman

In this insightful post, Greg Ashman talks about why constructivist teaching methods are so popular. His perhaps sad conclusion? “I think that lots of people just like the idea of it.” See this blog post for an explanation as to why we should not always trust our intuition.

 

3) The Case Against Inquiry-Based Learning by Michael Seery, @seerymk, of the University of Edinburgh

Here Michael Seery again talks a bit about why instructors (and administrators) like inquiry-based methods. One thing he notes is that inquiry-learning produces what some refer to as “flow” which feels good and sounds good, but doesn’t necessarily result in learning.

Image from Pixabay.com

Image from Pixabay.com

 

4) Beyond Constructivism versus Direct Instruction by Alex Quigley of The Confident Teacher, @HuntingEnglish

In this research-based post, Alex Quigley makes the very good point that the most appropriate teaching method very often depends on the context, so pitting two methods against each other should be done with caution. One of the factors that determines the appropriate teaching method is, of course, prior knowledge in this case.

 

5) The Challenges and Realities of Inquiry-Based Learning by Thom Markham, @thommarkham

The final piece for today’s digest is not “against” inquiry-based learning, but rather lays out several of the possible benefits to using inquiry-based learning, while noting that these are difficult to assess. In essence, today’s society assesses knowledge acquisition and retention and indeed we promote learning strategies that aid in that process. However, Thom Markham is arguing that there are key skills that are developed through inquiry learning. We offer this here as a thought-provoking positive spin on inquiry-based learning, with the understanding that it is not contradictory in that all of the above posts and our own descriptions revolve around learning knowledge.

Bottom Line

If your learning outcomes involve the retention of information, you should not use pure discovery learning. If you are working with novices, you should use some form of instruction (but please do interact with your class) and if you are working with individuals who have some prior knowledge, try having them extend that knowledge through creative projects. And do your own research before trusting the “hot new trend” for your classroom.

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