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Learning through enquiry is a good pedagogical approach. For example, the ‘enquiry’ approach is often used to describe a philosophical approach to developing learners’ thinking, for example in schools where it is known as Philosophy for Children (1).

The Enquiry Approach

The enquiry approach is most typically advocated in science education as a way of enabling students to learn science concepts more deeply. In particular, it enables them to be able to filter their understandings through the lens of epistemology (or ‘nature of science’), which asks ‘how do we know what we know?’ and ‘why do we believe it?’ and ‘what exactly do we know?’ – essentially, questions about the relationship between theory and knowledge (2). Sandoval suggests that enquiry and epistemology are frequently decoupled and, hence, there is little proof that inquiry-based instruction leads to students leaving school with a robust understanding of the nature of science.

“Inquiry-based learning includes activities, in which students, individually or in groups, become involved in a process of inquiry and knowledge production relating to a specific problem and learn through inquiry rather than through simple transmission of knowledge from the teacher.” (3)

The Enquiry Approach Develops Reflective and Research Skills

This may mean taking part in teachers’ research projects or carrying out authentic research in the classroom (or perhaps workplace). Although written with an interest in undergraduate professional development, Silvia Gilardi and Edoardo Lozza’s research (3) explores the possibility that enquiry-based approaches may promote a professional attitude to work. They suggest that an enquiry approach that develops reflective and research skills could be ‘indispensable for becoming an effective professional able to build situated knowledge collaboratively and rigorously’.

Such a learning outcome is sure of particular interest to vocational educators. Indeed, in a comparison of enquiry based learning and problem based learning, Graeme Feletti (4) suggests that enquiry based learning ‘may be more attractive to a wider range of vocational training and professions education programmes because of its flexibility in choice of methods, less emphasis on teaching specific problem-solving paradigms, and less reliance on resource-intensive learning experiences’.

Enquiry-Based Methods

Whether teachers choose to use inquiry-based methods is more than just a simple methodological choice. For adopting such approaches brings with it an attitude to the knowledge that assumes that vocational learners are capable of undertaking an enquiry, that such enquiries are worthwhile and that students may know or discover things not necessarily known by the teacher. It assumes that learners are worthy co-creators of understanding.

Some teachers have concerns about enquiry preceding transmission or expert demonstration (‘learners may pick up bad habits’). While some of these concerns may well be justified, they do not preclude intelligent combination of methods –problem- solving preceded by expert demonstration or accompanied by real-time feedback from a coach or followed by structured reflection.


  • Haynes, J. (2008). Children as Philosophers: Learning through enquiry and dialogue in the primary classroom. Taylor & Francis e-library. Retrieved on Sep. 18, 2012, from http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=mGItdc4RczoC&dq=learning+through+enquiry&lr= &source=gbs_navlinks
  • Sandoval, W. (2005). Understanding Students’ Practical Epistemologies and Their Influence on Learning Through Inquiry. Science Education, 89(4), 634-656.
  • Gilardi, S. & Lozza, E. (2009). Inquiry-Based Learning and Undergraduates’ Professional Identity Development: Assessment of a field research-based course. Innovative Higher Education, 32, 245-256.
  • Feletti, G. (1993). Inquiry Based and Problem Based Learning: How similar are these approaches to nursing and medical education. Higher Education Research & Development, 12(2), 143-156.

Lucubrate Magazine August 2019

The article is from the report “How to teach vocational education: A theory of vocational pedagogy” by Bill Lucas, Ellen Spencer and Guy Claxton, The City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development (December 2012)

Mechanic teaching an intern the best practice. Learning on the job during practical work. The teacher asks questions.

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