Inquiry-based learning is purposeful and authentic.

It is more than just the acquisition of knowledge and skills. Building, constructing, creating and developing are all words associated with this philosophy of learning. It emphasises finding answers through discovery, rather than memorisation and repetition. It is a process of construction and building on prior knowledge that is student-centred, with the teacher as a facilitator of learning. Learning experiences may include questioning, experimenting, collecting data, solving problems or defending a position. Inquiries can range from very structured and teacher-guided to more open inquiries, depending on the learning objective and planned learning experiences. This allows student passions and interests to be nurtured and developed, as student’s voice, choice and ownership are encouraged and supported. Research shows that when students are interested, they are more engaged, more motivated and develop a deeper understanding of the concepts. Inquiry-based learning is a positive and active way to learn, which encourages students to think critically, to ask questions, to experiment, to reflect and to act.

What does inquiry learning look like? The table below highlights what inquiry-based learning is moving towards in relation to time, facilitation, and collaboration in the classroom.

Move from

Move towards


A timetabled methodology for specific lessons/activities at specific times

A rigorous process of continuous learning through inquiry

Fixed time frames and prescribed inquiry stages

Open-ended time frames and flexible processes for inquiry


Adherence to one style of inquiry as a recipe for learning

Conscious decisions regarding guided and open student-initiated inquiry as it fits the purpose of learning

Linear process of inquiry, reflection then action

Inquiry as an ongoing, iterative process of asking, thinking and doing

Skills taught in isolation of the programme of inquiry

Development of skills are considered in authentic contexts within the units of inquiry

Teaching as moving students through lists of activities with pre-determined timelines and learning goals

Inquiry as multi-layered process of investigation and research balancing planned learning experiences with emergent avenues for exploration

Use of concepts and questions to find predetermined answers

Use of concepts and questions as a means to construct new understandings

Assessment as a final phase of learning

Assessment as an ongoing, varied and integral process to inform teaching and next steps in the inquiry

Student action planned by the teachers at the start of an inquiry

Responsible student-initiated action, emerging throughout inquiry


An individualised, isolated learning experience

A collaborative, co-constructed experience

Students as recipients of teaching

Students as active partners in constructing meaning

Fixed ability groups for subjects and programme of inquiry

Planning for grouping and regrouping throughout learning experiences

Teachers work individually to support the unit of inquiry

Teachers continuously collaborate to support the unit of inquiry

Courtesy of: Primary Years Programme, Learning and Teaching, Inquiry in the PYP, p. 41-42 (October 2018)
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