Article Summary: Lazonder & Harmsen (2016) Meta-analysis of Inquiry-based Learning

Motivation: To explore the effect of different levels of guidance on the impact of inquiry-based learning.

Inquiry-based learning: Lazonder and Harmsen offer a definition of inquiry-based learning, though they stipulate that there is little consensus on what factors define it. They define it as a method “in which students conduct experiments, make observations, or collect information in order to infer the principles underlying a topic or domain” (pp. 682). They emphasize that students act as scientists to achieve these goals. The article offers a comprehensive review of the seminal and recent work done on inquiry-based learning.

Types of Guidance: The unique contribution of this meta-analysis is to explore the effect of type of guidance on the impact of inquiry-based learning. The article uses a framework from De Jong and Lazonder (2014) to define types of guidance. In order from least guided to most guided, the categories are

  • process constraints – reduce the problem solving space
  • status overviews – make progress visible
  • prompts – externally remind learners to do something
  • heuristics – general guidelines for completing an action
  • scaffolds – complete parts of the problem solving process for the learner
  • explanations – state how to solve the problem

Results: Overall, guided inquiry was better than unguided inquiry (= .66, SE = .11), which is consistent with prior meta-analyses. For metrics of performance success (rather than learning outcomes more generally defines), more specific guidance had larger effects (= .53). Comparing each type of guidance to the others, they found that (starting from least guidance to most guidance)

process constraints > status overviews < prompts < heuristics = scaffolds < explanations

This means that heuristics and scaffolds, which provide a high level of guidance but not guidance that is specific to the problem at hand, did not improve performance as much as explanations, which provided both a high level of guidance and specific guidance. It is perhaps not surprising that specific guidance would help students to complete the task better.

Why this is important: Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) argue that students can’t learn well from unguided learning activities. Though inquiry-based learning is generally considered a minimally-guided learning activity compared to direct instruction, this analysis shows that inquiry-based learning is much more effective when it has a higher level of guidance than a lower level. At the same time, inquiry-based learning allows students to be more engaged in the learning process, leading to active and constructive learning. During inquiry-based learning, students also build the skill of being a scientist – using evidence from the world to understand it better – a skill that everyone can benefit from regardless of their career path. This article summarizes the work in the area and describes how to make inquiry-based learning work for students.

Lazonder, A. W., & Harmsen, R. (2016). Meta-analysis of inquiry-based learning: Effects of guidance. Review of Educational Research, 86(3), 681-718.

Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational psychologist41(2), 75-86.

For more information about the article summary series or more article summary posts, visit the article summary series introduction.

One thought on “Article Summary: Lazonder & Harmsen (2016) Meta-analysis of Inquiry-based Learning

  1. Pingback: Article Summary: Series Introduction | Lauren Margulieux

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