Educational Design and Technology

Inquiry Learning

Two students in the library with laptops

Independent learners ask questions, evaluate information to improve understanding, and develop social responsibility and strategies for self assessment


Inquiry is an approach to learning whereby students find and use a variety of sources of information and ideas to increase their understanding of a problem, topic, or issue.  It requires more of them than simply answering questions or getting a right answer.  It espouses investigation, exploration, search, quest, research, pursuit, and study‚Ķwithout some guidance, it can be daunting‚Ķ [it] includes five kinds of learning: curriculum content, information literacy, learning how to learn, literacy competence, social skills.

[Kuhlthau, C. C., Maniotes, L. K., & Caspari, A. K., 2007. Guided inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century]

Inquiry requires that we dig beneath the surface to explore a topic, dwell in it, wonder about it, and find out information. This deeper understanding is forged with long-term memory." [Harvey, Stephanie, 1998]

Inquiry is the process of formulating questions, organizing ideas, exploring and evaluating information, analyzing and synthesizing data, and communicating findings and conclusions. It's the type of activity that children and adults are asked to do every day. Unfortunately, not everyone is well-prepared to deal with the demands of a fast-paced, technology-rich world containing endless opportunities, choices, perspectives, and conflicts.

Student information scientists of all ages can participate in inquiry-based experiences.

[Based on materials from Key Words, Concepts and Methods for Information Age Instruction: A Guide to Teaching Information Inquiry, Callison, Daniel (2003) and The Blue Book on Information Age Inquiry, Instruction, and Literacy, Callison, Daniel and Preddy, Leslie (2006).]

Additional Reading

Carol Collier, Kuhlthau, Leslie K. Maniotes, Ann K. Caspari. Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century. Libraries Unlimited , Westport, CT, 2007.

Keeling, M. (2009) A District’s Journey to Inquiry. Knowledge quest 38:2, Nov-Dec, 32-37.

Stripling, B.  Inquiry. Inquiring Minds Want to Know. School Library Media Activities Monthly 25(1), 50-52, September, 2008.

Experience and research tell us that students engaged in inquiry are more motivated to pursue learning on their own than students who are fed  pre-organized information that they are expected to remember.

Web Resources

New York City School Library System

Information Fluency Continuum
Standard 1: Using Inquiry to Build Understandingexternal link PDF file icon (531 KB)

Stripling, Barbara, K.
Stripling Model of Inquiry external link PDF file icon (247 KB)

Kuhlthau, Carol Collier.
Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century
external link PDF file icon (754 KB)

[Photo credit: Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES School Library System]

Last Updated: January 27, 2015