Children are naturally curious beings with a million questions about the world around them, constantly trying to figure all the answers out there. As parents and educators, we also want to know how to foster this curiosity in them to help them make sense of the world so that one day, they may be able to play their part in the world and navigate it for themselves too. What can we do to keep that sparkling curious light of theirs in place, whilst also trying to equip them with all the tools needed to function in this world? We strongly believe the answer to this is inquiry-based learning. Let us discuss the meaning of inquiry-based learning in this post and how it is becoming increasingly important in the modern day.
Before we dive any deeper, let us first look at what an inquiry-based approach is. Inquiry-based learning is a type of learning that occurs when a child is given the opportunity to explore the world for himself/herself and are encouraged to pose questions, situations or even problems they are interested in. It directly contrasts with the traditional approach of instructional learning whereby children are told by teachers exactly what they should do and follow instructions mindlessly without having the desire to learn. Children become responsible for their own learning, shifting the teaching paradigm from ‘Children we are going to do this today’, to ‘What would YOU like to learn about today in this area and how can we help YOU to get there?’. In doing so, we as educators are able to better foster their creativity, curiosity and enthusiasm; making them lifelong learners in the long run with their own agency. Think of it as almost a detective trying to scope out the answers for a case!
So how is inquiry-based learning conducted, you may ask? Perhaps you are already familiar with experiential learning, and want to know the difference between this and experiential learning? Let us explain. Inquiry-based learning actually includes experiential learning in the sense that both experiential learning and inquiry-based learning actively engages students in the learning process. We retain just 75% of what we do compared to 5% of what we hear and 10% of what we read. This approach emphasises that students aren’t just hearing or writing what they are learning. Instead, students get the chance to explore a topic more deeply and learn from their own first-hand experiences. Whereas experiential focuses on students experiencing things themselves, inquiry pushes this a step further, giving them the chance to fully take charge in the experiential process. When children play for instance, they are using inquiry learning to first pick up an object of interest then inquire into how this object is used then tries to use it themselves (experiential) which results in learning.
To explain further, there are four main levels involved: ‘Confirmation Inquiry’, ‘Structured Inquiry’, ‘Guided Inquiry’ and ‘Open/True Inquiry’. In the first level, the subject has been taught and students are to generate questions surrounding the topic that they would like to learn more about. In the second level, students begin to research their topic of interest with the teacher there to provide any guidance required. In the third level, students present what they have researched with others using things they wish to use. In the fourth level, this is the one where students take charge the most in designing a developed procedure, findings and results. They reflect on what worked during the process and what didn’t. This stage is not about only thinking back to what happened, but about the process itself- focusing on how they have learned not only on what they have learned.
The key takeaway from this is that inquiry-based learning is driven by power of interest and curiosity. These then help to drive the process of learning through. In our modern day and age where artificial intelligence and robots are rapidly replacing human capital, it is all-the-more important for our children to be equipped in the mechanisms of learning, that is, HOW to acquire skills to learn and not only WHAT skills should be learnt. Rote learning- learning about facts we need to acquire, is simply no longer enough. In lots of rote learning and traditional learning settings, teachers tell students what to learn and focus on exams. However, nowadays, a lot of facts are available online. In the world after school, it is more important that children begin to have an understanding of what it is they should focus on and how to learn. The crucial thing is to trigger each child’s enthusiasm and creativity so that they are encouraged to do this even without the presence of an authoritative figure. And this very enthusiasm is what is fostered by inquiry-based learning.