Mastering Inquiry-Based Learning Online – eLearning Industry

The Basics Of Inquiry-Based Learning

Imagine a classroom where students aren’t just sitting back and absorbing information but actively looking for answers to their own questions. That’s what inquiry-based learning is all about—a fun and interactive way of acquiring knowledge. Instead of the teacher being the only one with all the answers, students take charge of their own learning by asking questions and exploring.

So, what exactly is inquiry-based learning? It’s all about sparking curiosity and encouraging students to ask questions and find answers. When it comes to online learning, though, inquiry-based learning adds something extra. Virtual classrooms can sometimes feel a bit disconnected, but when students have the freedom to explore topics they’re interested in, the learning experience becomes more personal and meaningful. They’re not just looking at a screen; they’re actively engaged and invested in their learning journey. Let’s take a closer look at the strategies of inquiry-based learning and how you can incorporate them into your online teaching.

Adapting Inquiry-Based Learning For Online Settings

Leveraging Digital Platforms

Digital platforms can make it easier for students to do their own research. Tools and online databases make it easier for students to dive deep into their topics of interest. Specifically, they can gather data, explore various sources, and develop their questions—all within the digital ecosystem. Next, collaboration becomes much easier with features like breakout rooms and shared documents. Students can work in small groups, brainstorming and sharing insights in real time like they would in a physical classroom.

Structured Inquiry Modules

Structured inquiry modules act as guides for students, leading them on a journey of discovery. For example, in an online biology class, instead of simply teaching about animal populations, consider designing a structured inquiry module where students can explore a question such as, “How does weather impact animal populations?” By offering resources like articles or videos, students can then ask questions, do virtual experiments, and analyze results under your instructions. These modules offer a clear direction that is especially important when online learning environments become overwhelming.

Virtual Labs

Virtual labs provide students with the opportunity to experiment and explore concepts hands-on, similar to a physical lab. But virtual labs offer additional advantages, such as accessibility and safety. For example, in a virtual chemistry lab, students can mix chemicals without any concerns about safety hazards or limited materials. These labs are simulations that replicate real-life experiments, allowing students to work with different materials, observe outcomes, and draw conclusions based on their findings. Plus, virtual labs can be accessed at any time and from anywhere, making it easy for students to include these activities in their schedules.

Peer Collaboration

When students—no matter where they are—come together to explore and solve problems, magic happens. It’s easy to see this interaction in the physical classroom, but online, it requires a bit of creativity and the right tools. First off, consider using discussion boards or forums. These are great for students to ask questions, share ideas, and look into topics together. Other platforms, like Slack or Microsoft Teams, can also be ideal for real-time collaboration. They allow students to work together on projects, share resources instantly, and even break off into smaller groups for more focused discussions.

Guidance And Support

In a traditional classroom, you have the freedom to move around and address questions as they come up. However, in an online setting, it’s important to take a more structured approach. Begin by clearly outlining your expectations for inquiry-based learning and what you want from your students. Break down tasks into smaller, manageable steps and offer detailed guides. For instance, when students are working on a research project, provide step-by-step instructions that include selecting a topic, conducting research, analyzing data, and presenting findings. Additionally, schedule regular check-ins using tools like discussion boards, video calls, or emails to provide ongoing support to your students.

Challenges And How To Overcome Them

Building Interactivity

It can be challenging for students to engage and collaborate effectively without being physically present. One issue that occurs when trying to adapt inquiry-based learning online is recreating the hands-on experiences that are crucial for it. To address this, teachers can utilize digital platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Another strategy is to create assignments that promote interaction among students, such as peer reviews, group projects, and presentations.

Access To Resources

One of the major challenges in adapting inquiry-based learning online is ensuring that every student has fair access to resources. In a traditional classroom setting, you could easily access a well-equipped library. However, in an online environment, some students may have excellent internet and devices, while others may face connectivity issues or a lack of technology. To address this, begin by compiling a set of online resources that are accessible to everyone. Additionally, consider setting up a resource center within your LMS where students can conveniently locate these materials.


In physical classrooms, teachers have the advantage of being able to observe and engage with students, which makes it easy to assess their progress. In a virtual environment, this becomes more challenging. You can’t physically move around the room to check who’s keeping up. So, it can be tough to ensure that online assessments accurately reflect students’ comprehension and critical thinking skills, rather than just their ability to quickly search for answers online. To tackle this, consider incorporating open-ended questions and projects that encourage deeper analysis and reflection. Additionally, it’s crucial to provide timely and personalized feedback. Utilizing video comments and real-time chat functionality can really help you with that.

Teacher Training

Many teachers know about the usual teaching techniques, but they might struggle with incorporating inquiry-based learning into online classes. They have to learn how to use new technology first. So, schools should provide training sessions to help them become familiar with online tools and platforms quickly. At the same time, teachers have to transition to a student-centered approach, which means taking on more of a guiding role rather than just lecturing. This adjustment can be challenging. However, continuous professional development focusing on inquiry-based learning strategies can make a difference.


Inquiry-based learning brings a whole new dimension to online education. It ignites curiosity, encourages critical thinking, and ensures students are fully involved. When students dive into real-life challenges and explore different solutions, they not only develop a deeper understanding but also retain knowledge for a longer period of time. On top of that, it adds an element of fun to the learning experience.

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