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Inquiry-Based Learning: Why Inquiry?

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.

About the Authors


Seth Taylor, MFA, has 20 years of experience in higher education as a teacher, administrator and professional development specialist. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in Rhetoric, Composition and Research Methodology San Diego State University, Colorado State University, and the University of Redlands.

Jane Cullina, MSEd, is a professional development specialist for School Library Connection. A former children's librarian and humanities teacher, Jane earned her master's degree from the Bank Street College of Education in New York City and has taught in Boston, New York, Maine, California, and South Africa.

Rebecca J. Morris, MLIS, PhD, earned her master's degree and doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh and her undergraduate degree in elementary education at Pennsylvania State University. Rebecca teaches graduate courses in school librarianship and youth library services. Rebecca has published articles in journals including School Library Research, Knowledge Quest, School Libraries Worldwide, Teacher Librarian and the Journal of Research on Young Adults in Libraries. She is the author of School Libraries and Student Learning: A Guide for School Leaders (Harvard Education Publishing Group, 2015). Rebecca is a former elementary classroom teacher and middle school librarian.


Twitter: @rebeccajm87.

Sharon Coatney is a former library media specialist from Kansas. She is a past president of the AASL and Councilor at Large of the American Library Association. She is now the Senior Acquisitions Editor for Education and School Library Products at Libraries Unlimited/Teacher Ideas Press.

Select Citation Style:
"Inquiry-Based Learning: Why Inquiry?" School Library Connection, July 2019,
"Inquiry-Based Learning: Why Inquiry?" School Library Connection, July 2019.
Inquiry-based learning: Why inquiry? School Library Connection. Retrieved from

Entry ID: 2214199

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