Inquiry Learning

Inquiry Circuit Analogy. Image by Lotte ten Hacken, 2017. CC BY-SA 4.0

This blog is a record of an inquiry into inquiry learning. The process is recorded with reference to the Information Search Process (ISP) (Kuhlthau, 2004b).

For the purposes of this blog, Inquiry Learning refers to “a constructivist pedagogical approach where students find and use information to answer a question or solve a problem” (Lupton, 2017, p. 29).

This blog’s overarching theme of electrical circuits and light is due to my current belief (pun intended) that:

Inquiry learning creates paths or circuits to students making connections that result in ‘lightbulb moments’.

This inquiry process is recorded in this blog for assessment purposes as part of a Master of Education (Teacher-librarianship) unit (LCN616) at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia.


Kuhlthau, C. (2004b). Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services. 2nd ed. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited/Greenwood Press

Lupton, M. (2017). Inquiry Learning: A Pedagogical and Curriculum Framework for Information Literacy in D. Sales & M. Pinto (Eds.), Pathways into Information Literacy and Communities of Practice (pp. 29-51). Amsterdam: Elsevier Ltd. Retrieved from


All photos and images (including the header and background images) are created by the author, Lotte ten Hacken.

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The contents of this blog, ‘Conducting Inquiry’ is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Ideas from Dr Leslie Maniotes

In the process of developing an aspirational unit of work using an inquiry approach, I decided to reach out to Dr Leslie Maniotes on Twitter to ask for advice. Maniotes is one of the authors of Guided Inquiry – Learning in the 21st Century (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, Caspari, 2015) and has developed a very useful framework for inquiry, known as Guided Inquiry Design (GID). It is essentially a guiding framework based on the principles of constructivist learning and the Information Search Process. The framework creates a path for students (and teachers) to work their way through a research project or task.

For my Masters unit of Inquiry Learning I  was required to develop a unit of work using an inquiry learning framework, with the GID approach put forward as a useful tool. In developing my STEM integrated unit of work incorporating a Design task element, I felt that GID did not capture all it needed to. Hence why I reached out to Dr Maniotes for advice. I am pleased to say, she was more than willing to help and I will be sharing my completed unit plan (and rationale) with her on the completion of the Masters unit.

Her advice was to use GID, but to incorporate Stanford’s d_school Design Thinking framework, beginning in the GID Create phase as can be seen in our Twitter conversation! I love how Twitter makes our world so much smaller!

Peer Feedback 2

Working in a community of connected learners means we can all share with and learn from each other. The giving and receiving of feedback is characteristic of such a community. The following images are screen shots taken of the feedback I provided to others undertaking the same Master of Education Unit.

Image by author, Lotte ten Hacken, 2017.


Image by author, Lotte ten Hacken, 2017.

Inquiry Learning Unit Reflection (2)

I began the unit with quite a good understanding of what Inquiry Learning ‘looks like’ in a primary school classroom. I was comfortable with guiding students through an inquiry, using Kath Murdoch’s (2010) Phases of Inquiry. However, as I began to delve further into the scholarly research, I found it is far more complex (and more exciting!) than I had realised. I currently find myself in the midst of a continuing inquiry into the most appropriate inquiry frameworks to use in different contexts and for different learning areas.

As I began to consolidate my understandings of Guided Inquiry Design (GID) and various other inquiry frameworks, I realised that I could not (easily) find what I was looking for: an inquiry framework that incorporates integrated STEM inquiry with a design project…and so began my next personal inquiry into inquiry. I found myself  reaching out to one of the developers of GID, Dr Leslie Maniotes, for advice. I was thrilled when it started a (continuing!) Twitter conversation about how I might incorporate Design thinking into GID (a perfect example of Connected Learning!). This is perhaps indicative of the Transformative Window of Lupton and Bruce’s (2010) GeSTE Windows, where I have begun challenging the status quo and taking action. I am beginning to develop my own framework through the fusion of several relevant teaching and learning theories and frameworks (that I have become much more familiar with as a result of this unit) together. The very first draft is below (be kind!).

Image by author, Lotte ten Hacken, 2017.

I have come to the realisation, that although it IS an important tenet, Inquiry Learning is not just about allowing students to think of questions that they are interested in and helping them search for the answers. Inquiry Learning is not necessarily about what teachers guide students to learn. It is about valuing the student’s world; about supporting the Third Space and the way in which dynamic learning occurs (Kuhlthau, Maniotes and Caspari, 2015, p.25). It is not just about the content that students will learn as a result of their research, but the skills and learning attributes which they develop in order to do so. Inquiry Learning is so much more than searching for answers. It is learning about learning and about how and why it is important to do so.

Before participating in this Masters unit, my teaching practice in the area was acceptable…but I was not taking on the role of a true inquirer myself. It is only now that I make the realisation, that the choices we as educators make about the opportunities we provide to students, can make a positive impact on their experience as life-long learners. My own inquiry into the world of inquiry learning has resulted in deeper understandings of the value and importance of considering theories and concepts such as questioning frameworks, information literacy, higher-order thinking and future-focussed skills….and I am not done yet!

Perhaps most profoundly, for me, the unit has uncovered the power that Inquiry Learning can have on individuals and communities. The GeSTE Windows in particular, opened my eyes to the potential for information literacy ,within an inquiry learning context, to enrich and transform not only students, but the learning and wider communities through which our learners navigate their everyday lives (Lupton, 2010).

Peer Feedback 1

Working in a community of connected learners means we can all share with and learn from each other. The giving and receiving of feedback is characteristic of such a community. The following images are screen shots taken of the feedback I provided to others undertaking the same Master of Education Unit.

Image by author, Lotte ten Hacken, 2017
Image by author, Lotte ten Hacken, 2017
Image by author, Lotte ten Hacken, 2017

Expert Search Reflection (1)

Carol Kuhlthau’s (2004b) model of the Information Search Process (ISP) is a useful framework for reflection. I have referred to the Information Search Process throughout my inquiry process and found the phases were generally consistent with my experience. One observation I did make, is that the process was not strictly linear, with some movement back and forth between a few of the stages. I shall share brief notes of my own experience of each phase of the process below:


  • Inquiry initiated by lecturer at beginning of semester of Masters unit
    • Requirement to work through an inquiry into inquiry learning using multiple sources
  • Feelings of uncertainty and a little overwhelmed by perceived workload
  • Kuhlthau’s (2015) criteria for topic selection helped to think realistically
    • personal interest – most influential for me
    • meets assessment requirements
    • researchable (with tools directed to use) – of high importance as expert searching large part of assessment
    • timeframe


  • Directed to choose three inquiry questions of interest
    • A little apprehensive about choosing appropriate questions
  • Feelings of uncertainty about the expectations were soon relieved by reading the very thorough Assessment Guide
  • Chose my three questions and gained feedback from peers on the Google+ community
    • Feelings of motivation and positivity about the task ahead


  • According to Kuhlthau et al. (2015), the task of this phase is to “explore information with the intent of finding a focus” (pg. 44)
    • This is this is the most difficult stage of the research process for most students (p.45)
  • Consistent with the research, I struggled to find a focus and spent considerable time searching for information on all three questions simultaneously
  • Process made more difficult by lack of prior knowledge and skill in expert searching using some of the required sources – this cognitive load reduced with direct teaching during tutorials and being provided with videos of examples
  • At times, I felt like I was floundering with no clear direction


  • Time to form a focus from the information found (Kuhlthau et al. (2015, p. 45)
  • Patterns and consistency across some topics and anomalies in others during expert searching helped to narrow the focus of some questions
  • Still felt like I was in exploration phase in relation to other questions
  • Felt my questions were fairly focussed to begin with, so it was difficult to narrow them down much more


  • Gathering information that “defines, extends and supports the focus” (Kuhlthau et al, 2005, p. 45)
    • Consistent with my experience – experienced success with collecting relevant and high-quality resources for possible inclusion in a curated collection of resources
  • Experienced increasing confidence with expert searching


  • The creation of this blog and the creation of the curated collection of resources related to my focus inquiry question is the “culmination of the inquiry process, when the learning is prepared to share with others” (Kuhlthau et al, 2015, p. 45)
  • My final “focus” which I used to gather relevant resources for:  The What, Why and How of Inquiry Learning: an inquiry into the purpose, impact and implementation of inquiry-based pedagogies in primary schools.


  • Consists of reflection and self-assessment
  • I have an increased interest and self-awareness, coupled with feelings of satisfaction, which are consistent with the ISP model.
  • Sense of accomplishment is inevitable upon submission of this blog as an assessment item for a Masters unit on Inquiry Learning.

Using the ISP to reflect on my personal inquiry, provides a solid basis from which to design future inquiry learning experiences for my students (and colleagues) and provides greater awareness and understanding of the process, which in turn empowers me to intervene and support them through the inquiry process (Kuhlthau et al., 2015, p.44).


Kuhlthau, C. (2004b). Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services. 2nd ed. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited/Greenwood Press

Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L.K. & Caspari, A.K. (2015). Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century (2nd ed.). Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited.


Initial Post – Powering up

I am a Teacher-librarian (TL) and eLearning coach in a mid-sized, State primary school in Brisbane, Australia. I am fairly new to teacher-librarianship, nearing the end of my second year in the role. As a primary school classroom teacher (for the 10 years prior to my TL job) I gained experience teaching using an inquiry approach and see great value in its implementation.

I first encountered inquiry learning when I took on a teaching role at an International school in Belgium. I was fortunate to be provided with many hours of professional development and was surrounded by excellent mentors. I later taught for several years at an Australian school using the same internationally recognised curriculum framework (IB-PYP), underpinned by inquiry learning.

I believe, like an electrical circuit lighting up a bulb, inquiry learning helps students make strong connections that result in deeper understandings, often referred to as ‘lightbulb moments’.

Although I personally believe inquiry learning is an effective approach to teaching and learning, I have heard of some negative (and neutral) findings about it. On occasion, I have had colleagues and administrative staff query my enthusiasm for the approach or refer to it as the ‘latest fad’ or ‘same stuff, different name’. Through these interactions, I have become increasingly aware of my lack of scholarly evidence for my views around inquiry learning, so have come to the conclusion that this is the perfect starting place for my own inquiry learning journey.

All inquiry must begin with questioning…this is the power source…

My first question about inquiry learning is: What evidence is there to support the effectiveness of Inquiry Learning as a pedagogical framework?

Although I have experience with Inquiry Learning as a classroom teacher, I have limited experience and knowledge about implementing an inquiry approach in a library setting. It is a professional goal to ensure that my library is not just a storage facility for resources, but an environment in which students are able to construct knowledge and develop deeper understandings. Therefore, my second question is: How can Inquiry Learning be implemented meaningfully in a library context?

As I continually develop the breadth of my current role in the school as TL and eLearning coach, it has become apparent that teachers are generally willing to commit to improving their practice, but require quality information and guidance to prevent early ‘failures’ becoming insurmountable barriers to change. A number of Learning Areas and General Capabilities in the Australian Curriculum state that students must develop inquiry skills. However, demanding that teachers use an inquiry approach without any prior experience (on the part of teachers and students) seems both unfair and unwise. This leads onto my third inquiry question: What skills are required for students to engage in learning using an Inquiry approach?

Time to get the inquiry electrons moving by Connecting the search switch.