At its heart, inquiry-based learning is exactly what it sounds like: learning based on the act of asking and exploring questions. As a learning model, inquiry can provide numerous benefits for students. Inquiry can help increase student motivation and encourage ownership of learning, create opportunities to practice collaboration, and help develop higher-order thinking skills. In other words, inquiry helps students learn how to learn. Let's look at these benefits more closely.
Motivation and ownership of learning are vital to a student's educational journey. Inquiry gives students the opportunity to make decisions about the direction of their own learning. That, in turn, increases the student's engagement and motivation. An example might be a project in which students are asked to create their own campaign to run for president. They can choose the platform issues that are important to them, imagine what their constituents' concerns might be, and conduct their own research. By making their own decisions about how to craft a winning election strategy, students can invest more fully in the project, and take pride and ownership of the final product.
The inquiry process lends itself well to collaborative and cooperative learning. In collaborative learning, students work as a team to explore a shared interest and craft questions that will guide them towards a shared goal. Perhaps a group of students is tasked with working together on that campaign to help one of them become president. With such a complex project, students can identify different objectives and create smaller teams to tackle them: one group can write policy, another can create a media plan, and another can conduct polls. This can allow students to not only learn more about disseminating complicated projects, but help them engage in teamwork, resolve conflicts, and strengthen interpersonal skills.
Finally, inquiry-based learning gives students the opportunity to use higher-order thinking skills. The act of inquiry focuses on producing knowledge through experience and exploration rather than "reproducing" existing information. This can happen when students engage in the full range of independent learning steps: questioning, hypothesizing, analyzing, problem-solving, and evaluating. For example, after creating and implementing their strategy to create a successful presidential campaign, students can reflect on their own experience and identify their own learning outcomes. What strategies did and didn't work? What were the organizational challenges when it came to coordinating teams? When students define the knowledge they acquired themselves, they can apply their knowledge to new situations more effectively later.
As the classic proverb goes, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." By engaging in inquiry-based learning, students can gain lifelong learning skills that can serve them both in and outside of school.