The Pros and Cons of Inquiry-Based Learning For College Success


Typical classroom teaching consisted of a teacher standing in front of students and presenting a lecture. Students are then required to answer questions, do homework, and complete regularly scheduled exams. But what if this traditional form of learning isn’t as effective as we think? Does inquiry-based learning make more sense? In many settings, it’s the ideal solution.

 What is Inquiry-Based Learning?

 Whether you’re a student, educator, parent, or administrator, we’re all constantly on the lookout for ways to improve engagement and knowledge retention. We spend time structuring time and creating study schedules. We optimize our physical environments, so they’re conducive to learning. We do hundreds of little things to maximize education.

Within the classroom, there are numerous strategies and techniques, but one of the trends that’s growing in popularity is inquiry-based learning.

 “Inquiry-based learning is an approach to learning that emphasizes the student’s role in the learning process,” GradePower Learning explains. “Rather than the teacher telling students what they need to know, students are encouraged to explore the material, ask questions, and share ideas.”

With inquiry-based learning, also known as problem-based learning, lectures take a backseat to small-group discussions, guided learning, projects, and hands-on exploration. It’s about giving students a chance to be proactive and learn through action and responsibility.

“In terms of student achievement, the power of their question should help drive the research, the writing, and the presentation,” Heather Wolpert-Gawron writes for Edutopia. “It should help motivate them to become experts in their self-described field. And the more often a student gets a taste of what it feels like to be an expert, in however small a concept, the more they will want that feeling later on in life.”

At the heart of inquiry-based learning is the desire to increase engagement. Whether it accomplishes this goal depends on who you ask. There are some pros and some cons – each of which must be weighed against one another.

 The Advantages of Inquiry-Based Learning

 Inquiry-based learning has been used at every level from elementary to university with varying levels of success, but it’s easy to see what the advantages are:


  • Greater Interest. Let’s begin with, perhaps, the biggest pro. When students are allowed to ask questions and guide the direction of the curriculum, they’re going to express more significant interest in the subject matter. This gets them more excited about being there and makes it more likely they’ll pay attention (and do so for longer periods of time).


  • Teaches problem-solving. At the heart of inquiry-based learning is an inquisition. And not only are students encouraged to ask questions, but they’re told to find the answers. Considering that problem-solving skills are valuable in every industry and specialty, this style of learning prepares students for the real world like few others.


  • Enhances teamwork skills. With this teaching style, students are taught to engage with one another, work in groups, and tackle problems together. This leads to greater teamwork skills – something that proves useful in most areas of life.


  • Long-term knowledge retention. Research shows that elaboration at the time of learning – such as fact sharing and conversations – enhance the retrieval of information at a later date. This indicates that inquiry-based learning leads to greater long-term knowledge retention.

 In certain classrooms, inquiry-based learning works exceptionally well. These tend to be classrooms where students have reached a certain level of maturity and have the ability to work both independently and jointly (often without instructor intervention).

 The Disadvantages of Inquiry-Based Learning

 In theory, inquiry-based learning is a perfect system that maximizes engagement and gives students a chance to extract meaning and purpose from their education. However, the problem with theoretical learning strategies is they don’t always stand the test of real-world application.

Here are some of the disadvantages associated with this learning style.


  • Poorer standardized testing performance. When too much time is dedicated to student inquiries, there’s always the risk that important “core” topics could be left out. Naturally, this hurts standardized testing performance. And in a world where standardized exams play a key role in school accreditation and funding, this can become a real problem.


  • Student embarrassment. In inquiry-based learning, students are required to speak up and participate. For the most part, this is a good thing. However, there’s also the risk of embarrassing students who may not be quick thinkers (or who suffer from learning disabilities and processing issues).


  • Teacher unpreparedness. For certain teachers, inquiry-based learning is too haphazard. It prevents them from being able to prepare properly, which hurts their ability to engage students on a meaningful level. And any time a teacher is unprepared, the classroom suffers as a result.

 Clearly, inquiry-based learning isn’t a perfect solution. As is the case with any teaching/learning style, there are challenges that must be worked through.

The question is, do the pros outweigh the cons?

 The Pursuit of Greater Engagement

 Greater engagement should always be the goal in the classroom. Some students are naturally smarter than others. Some students will perform better on exams than others. Lumping everyone into one category is impossible. Engagement, however, supersedes all of these facts and is something that we should seek to capitalize on in each individual case.

Though there is no perfect solution, inquiry-based learning does seem to maximize engagement in ways that traditional styles of learning do not. This makes it worthy of consideration in classrooms at all levels of the education system.

David Gutierrez has worked in the field of web design since 2005. Right now he started learning Java in order to get second occupation. His professional interests defined major topics of his articles. David writes about new web design software, recently discovered professional tricks and also monitors the latest updates of the web development.


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