Open Inquiry Based Learning: Concepts for Corporate eLearning

inquiry based learning

Concepts for Open Inquiry Based Learning In The Corporate eLearning World:

Learning often begins with inquiry. What would have happened had Newton not been curious about why apples fell down, and not up? What would have happened had Galileo not turned his telescope skyward to ponder the questions of the planets? Inquiry drives discovery, growth, evolution and knowledge. Since the 1960’s, societies have been actively implementing inquiry based learning in K-12 and college environments. However, this method is often lacking in corporate eLearning and specifically in eLearning course development.

inquiry based learning

The Current Corporate eLearning and Training Environment

Today, most corporate eLearning consists of a series of multiple choice tests combined with some text-based training material. Employees read the material, then take the test. This approach is not particularly immersive, nor enjoyable for learners. This is reflected in the way that employees generally feel about their training – many put it off until the very last minute, and some rush through in an attempt to “just get it over with”.

Obviously this not an ideal situation. Rushing through the material does nothing to ensure retention. It’s a bit akin to the way that schools today focus on creating good test takers, rather than educating. Students retain the information presented just long enough to get the right answer on the test, and then it’s gone. That does nothing to build their success in life, and the same thing applies to your employees. In fact, it could be argued that taking this approach to corporate eLearning actually results in a less-qualified workforce, and even demoralizes your employees.

Incorporating Open Inquiry Teaching Methods

So how might you go about improving upon the current situation? Try folding Open inquiry techniques in to your eLearning instructional design approach.  Open Inquiry is a set of teaching methods designed to engage learners in critical thinking.

Most eLearning produced by folks with limited instructional design education and/or experience simply delivers basic linear (click next till done) lecture-based content that simply presents facts to learners. This approach is generally supported by quizzes that at best seek to test knowledge and comprehension and at worst simply serve as a means for confirming completion (e.g. 80% score or higher means you completed the course).

If you are reading this article, you may be one of these eLearning developers who has not yet discovered the wonderful world of instructional design that goes far beyond a basic understanding of the ADDIE model. The information that follows is intended to help you broaden your knowledge and skill and upgrade the quality of the training material you produce.

Inquiry based learning is simply a set of methods or techniques you can use to increase learner engagement by posing questions, problems or scenarios that require learner engage in higher level critical thinking. For example, scenarios reinforce concepts by applying the material presented in real-world situations., while posing questions and providing guidance to learners as to how to research the answer rather than simply giving them factual information in the form of lecture content or quiz question feedback is another open inquiry technique. That’s a brief overview of just two of the four levels of OI. 

Open Inquiry Concepts to Get You Started

In the spirit of open inquiry (OI), following is a brief introduction to several OI methods, which is then followed by a guided inquiry exercise designed to help you discover more about OI rather than simply give you the answers! Those of you who complete this exercise will discover that you learned a great deal in the process and will be able to immediately begin applying these concepts to your projects.  The key point I want you to keep in mind is that you don’t have to be an OI expert to use these techniques. Additionally, your first few attempts will likely be fairly basic. That’s Okay! Any attempt you make to engage learners in a more critical and meaningful way is better than none at all. Moreover, with practice you’ll continue to discover new and more advanced ways to apply these techniques. Just take it one step at a time.

  • Guided Inquiry: Guided inquiry is designed to promote learning through student investigation. Unlike a quiz, where students are asked a question to which they should already know the answer and are asked to select an answer choice to see if they are correct, guided inquiry poses a question and provides hints, directions, or potential keyword searches as to where the student can search for the answer. Students then proceed to formulate their own answer (hypothesis), test that hypothesis, and then document their findings. 
  • Confirmation Inquiry: There are other ways that inquiry based learning can be incorporated, too. One of the simplest is through “confirmation inquiry.” In this scenario, the learner is provided with a question as well as an investigative method and the presumed answer to the question. The student’s job is to confirm (or deny) the provided answer.


Next Steps – Answer these questions

  1. Generally, instructional designers categorize Open Inquiry methods in four levels. Name those four levels.
  2. While most OI techniques have been used in classrooms for decades, this is often lacking in eLearning. Why might that be?
  3. What web articles or books do you think might help you start applying OI methods to your eLearning course designs immediately?

I’ll bet you can provide reasonably good answers to these questions in about 15 minutes or less. If you do, you’ll be well on your way to upgrading your courses and your learners will  be grateful you did! And if you do, we’d love to hear from you? Just log in using your LinkedIn ID and post your findings in the comments section below.

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