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What is Inquiry Guided Learning?

Inquiry-guided learning (IGL) refers to an array of classroom practices that promotes student learning through guided and, increasingly, independent investigation of questions and problems for which there is no single answer. Rather than teaching the results of others’ investigations, which students learn passively, instructors assist students in mastering and learning through the process of active investigation itself.

This process involves the ability to formulate good questions, identify and collect appropriate evidence, present results systematically, analyze and interpret results, formulate conclusions, and evaluate the worth and importance of those conclusions. It may also involve the ability to identify problems, examine problems, generate possible solutions, and select the best solution with appropriate justification. This process will differ somewhat among different academic disciplines.

Learning in this way promotes other important outcomes as well. It nurtures curiosity, initiative, and risk-taking. It promotes critical thinking. It develops students’ responsibility for their own learning and habits of life-long learning. And it fosters intellectual development and maturity: the recognition that ambiguity and uncertainty are inevitable, and in response, we must learn to make reasoned judgments and act in ways consistent with these judgments.

A variety of teaching strategies used singly, or more often in combination with one another, is consistent with Inquiry-guided learning: interactive lecture, discussion, group work, case studies, problem-based learning, service learning, simulations, fieldwork, and labs as well as many others.

In fact, the only method that is not consistent with IGL is the exclusive use of straight lecturing and the posing of questions for which there is only one correct answer.

In addition, because of the nature of the outcomes it promotes and the necessity for active engagement, Inquiry-guided learning must also involve writing and speaking both in classroom instruction and in the methods used to evaluate students. While Inquiry-guided learning is appropriate in all classes, it is most effective in small classes (i.e., approximately 20 students). It is particularly appropriate for first-year students who are forming habits of learning that they will exercise throughout their undergraduate years and beyond. Finally, the rest of the undergraduate curriculum should reinforce these early learning experiences.

Originated by The Hewlett Steering Committee, September 2000, last updated May 29, 2014