Inquiry-Based Learning Sets the Stage for Innovation

In the 1960’s we saw shifts from traditional forms of instruction to discovery learning and other problem-solving approaches. This shift meant less rote lecture and memorization. Joseph Schwab was considered one of the key founders of the inquiry-based learning method, which professes that individuals learn through investigation. In other words, students acquire knowledge through aggressive questioning and creative thinking.


Inquiry-Based Learning in the Classroom

Inquiry-based learning was first applied in science curriculum. This makes sense, since asking questions is a fundamental aspect of any scientific experiment (Edelson, et al, 1999). However, educators are also applying this technique in other subjects. The role of the educator in inquiry-based learning shifts from instructor to facilitator. Specifically, the instructor assists students with formulating questions and facilitates discussion around problem solving. Interestingly, educators believe this approach can work with young children equally as with adults. This notion is contradictory to traditional views on pedagogy that postulate instructor-center approaches are most effective. If educators use this learner-centric approach with elementary and secondary students, what could be the impact? Could we produce creative thinkers of the future?


Inquiry-Based Learning Sets the Stage for Innovation


Are We Born Creative?

It’s been long thought that creative thinking is associated with a certain kind of person. However, creativity expert Michael Michalko suggests that creativity is not genetically determined. In fact, he proposes creativity can be learned by the simple act of changing one’s perspective to view concepts in a different way. In other words, you expand your possibilities through questioning, and new ideas and unique insights emerge. Specifically, he says, “If you act like an idea person, you will become one” (Michalko, 2005). For example, one of his techniques is “Content Analysis”. In this exercise, he suggests looking through junk mail instead of discarding it. Following your review, ask yourself “What trends in advertising or marketing do I see?” This can lead to curiosity, prompting you to explore further.


Creativity = Innovation

Michalko proposes many techniques proven to generate innovative ideas or inventions through simple questioning and changing of one’s mindset. For example, he suggests reserving assumptions when brainstorming ideas to see what arises. Specifically, imagine that you wanted to open a restaurant. First, write down assumptions. An example would be “restaurants serve food.” Then, ask yourself “What if I reverse those assumptions?” Restaurants don’t serve food. Explore that idea further. Question what kind of service you would provide. What new ideas emerge?


Inquiry-Based Learning and Innovation

Let’s go back to the question of whether inquiry-based learning approaches could produce creative thinkers of the future. If we teach students early on to engage in questioning as a way to learn, then we develop certain “habits of mind.” Consequently, these students become lifelong learners and take ownership of their own learning. Finally, as adults, their practice of inquiry will breed creativity and could spur inventions or innovative business ideas.

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Edelson, Daniel C., Gordin, Douglas, N., Pea, Roy D. Addressing the Challenges of Inquiry-Based Learning Through Technology and Curriculum Design. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 1999, 8(3-4), pp.391-450.

Michalko, M. (2006) Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques (Paperback 2nd edition) Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA

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