Inquiry-based or teacher-led learning?

Published: October 21st, 2021

A recent paper by John Sweller calls into question a popular teaching style in Australia. A pioneer of Cognitive Load Theory (CLT), Sweller draws on the this theory to explain why Australia’s rankings have been in decline in international tests like PISA. What should we be striving for, inquiry-based or teacher-led learning?

The reality is not as black and white as some might want to put it.


Comparing the pair

Inquiry-based learning (also known as problem-based or discovery learning) is student-centred. It aims to promote independent thinking by allowing students to shape and discover learned information or themselves. This gives a more personalised learning experience.

Many emerging edtech strategies such as M-learning rely heavily on elements of discovery learning. Connecting personal devices to a main hub like an ActivPanel gives students the opportunity to decide what and when they want to learn.

Direct Instruction, on the other hand, is more traditional. Teachers have complete control over the lesson, explicitly directing and teaching the class with pre-planned, scripted material. This is arguably a more efficient way of presenting new content – a direct transfer of information from teacher to students.


The issue

The question is not so simple as “inquiry-based or teacher-led learning?”, it comes down to measurability. While it’s more straightforward to measure outcomes of explicit instruction (which tests like PISA focus on), soft skills that develop with inquiry-based learning are less tangible.

Project-based learning, for example, is one such strategy that requires students to apply acquired knowledge to practical applications. This can stimulate higher levels of creative thinking in classroom environments, fostering a deeper level of understanding than traditional teaching methods.


The solution

Like most things in life, it’s all about balance when it comes to learning. Introduce new ideas through teacher-led instruction as an effective way to ensure efficient learning. Then move onto inquiry-led methods means children can practise higher skills like problem-solving, communication and critical thinking.

Traditional edtech solutions such as Interactive Flat Panel Displays like the ActivPanel provide a gateway for these opposing strategies. The front-of-class display lets teachers lead discussions, presenting novel concepts to the class in a traditional way.

The ActivPanel can also assist in inquiry-based strategies. Its connectivity allows students to independently shape their lesson through methods like M-learning when connected to personal devices, and its interactivity means group projects and presentations are a breeze, with mirroring abilities and a multi-touch screen.


If you want to learn more about how the ActivPanel can be used to promote both inquiry-based and teacher-led learning, why not book a free, live demonstration?