History of Inquiry-Based Learning

Inquiry-based learning is primarily a pedagogical method, developed during the discovery learning movement of the 1960s as a response to traditional forms of instruction--where people were required to memorize information from instructional materials, such as direct instruction and rote learning. The philosophy of inquiry based learning finds its antecedents in constructivist learning theories, such as the work of Piaget, Dewey, Vygotsky, and Freire among others, and can be considered a constructivist philosophy. Generating information and making meaning of it based on personal or societal experience is referred to as constructivism. Dewey's experiential learning pedagogy (that is, learning through experiences) comprises the learner actively participating in personal or authentic experiences to make meaning from it. Inquiry can be conducted through experiential learning because inquiry values the same concepts, which include engaging with the content/material in questioning, as well as investigating and collaborating to make meaning. Vygotsky approached constructivism as learning from an experience that is influenced by society and the facilitator. The meaning constructed from an experience can be concluded as an individual or within a group.

In the 1960s Joseph Schwab called for inquiry to be divided into three distinct levels. This was later formalized by Marshall Herron in 1971, who developed the Herron Scale to evaluate the amount of inquiry within a particular lab exercise. Since then, there have been a number of revisions proposed and inquiry can take various forms. There is a spectrum of inquiry-based teaching methods available.