Inquiry-Driven Learning (In A Nutshell)

Writing these “one-pagers” is proving a valuable process for me. I’ve got my dissertation well outlined at his point. Unfortunately, the smallest units of the outline are meant to be about 2 pages long, but will probably wind up about 5 pages long – because I have about 20 pages of notes for each section. So each “essay” within the lit review is still a bit overwhelming. It’s difficult to narrow down which citations I’ll actually use and what I’ll actually say.

So, I’m skimming all of the notes and quotes I’ve collected for each section (in this case about 17 pages worth), and jotting down (in my outliner) the main themes or points I can take away from it all (in this case about a dozen points). Then, I am composing the “one-pager” that simply expresses each of these points in a logical manner as concisely as I can – and without citations of any kind. Then (and I’ve only done this in once case so far), I’m going back and selecting only the citations or quotes I need to support what I’ve said in the one pager. In the one case I’ve completed this last step, the resulting section was six pages long.

In any case, I’m finding the writing of the one-pagers motivating, so here is another one… this time on Inquiry-Driven Learning. Again, each paragraph will be supported with references to seminal constructivist theorists, educational technologists, and video game scholars.

Another fundamental property of constructivist learning environments is that they facilitate inquiry-driven learning.

According to constructivist pedagogy, meaning is made, knowledge is created, and learning happens when the learner is an active and critical participant in the process. Ideally, students are empowered to some degree to determine the direction of their own learning.

The heart of inquiry-driven learning is the opportunity for students to ask questions and seek answers (in an authentic or real-world context). This is sometimes called or associated with discovery learning because as students explore the learning context for an answer to their questions, they experience moments of discovery, which can be a powerful motivating factor for students. This process of posing questions and seeking answers naturally encourages students to make new connections in their mind, the essence of building schema in the constructivist philosophy. It also involves a good deal of sophisticated problem solving on the part of the student.

While educators can encourage inquiry and support student discovery, constructivists hope that students come to learn the importance of self-regulation (or discipline and diligence) in pursuit of their goals.

Because different individual students will ask unique questions, inquiry-driven learning is necessarily individualized. The learning environment (and the educators) need to be adaptive, allowing for differentiated experiences for each learner.

Similarly, constructivists encourage diversity in both the delivery of the curriculum and in the curriculum itself. In terms of delivery, the learning environment should take advantage of multiple learning modalities and the students’ multiple intelligences (by building on their strengths and addressing their weaknesses). Also, while student interests serve as gateways to new learning, students will develop islands of expertise that may be unique. Though many constructivists advocate helping students develop certain commonly important concepts, they tend to resist a hegemony of the curriculum.

Ultimately, allowing student inquiry to drive student learning, constructivists build in a measure of relevance into the learning experience. Ideally, the experience can also tap into student interests, desires, and cares. If important information is embedded into the learning environment such that it is available on-demand and just-in-time to support student inquiry, then this information too will have greater relevance to the students.

Open ended video games, such as massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs), have the potential to offer simulated environments in which students can be empowered to ask questions, explore the world, experience moments of discovery, develop self-discipline, and undergo an individually differentiated learning experience that they care about.