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learning is


of inquiry-based

instruction and



a constructivist based approach to education. It is supported by the work of learning theorists and
psychologists Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, and Seymour Papert. Although this form of instruction
has great popularity, there is some debate in the literature concerning its efficacy (Mayer, 2004).
Jerome Bruner is often credited with originating discovery learning in the 1960s, but his ideas are
very similar to those of earlier writers (e.g. John Dewey). Bruner argues that "Practice in discovering
for oneself teaches one to acquire information in a way that makes that information more readily
viable in problem solving" (Bruner, 1961, p. 26). This philosophy later became the discovery learning
movement of the 1960s. The mantra of this philosophical movement suggests that we should 'learn
by doing'. In 1991, The Grauer School, a private secondary school in Encinitas, California, was
founded with the motto, "Learn by Discovery", and integrated a series of world-wide expeditions into
their program for high school graduation. (See Expeditionary Learning.)
The label of discovery learning can cover a variety of instructional techniques. According to a metaanalytic review conducted by Alfieri, Brooks, Aldrich, and Tenenbaum (2011), a discovery learning
task can range from implicit pattern detection, to the elicitation of explanations and working through
manuals to conducting simulations. Discovery learning can occur whenever the student is not
provided with an exact answer but rather the materials in order to find the answer themselves.
Discovery learning takes place in problem solving situations where the learner draws on his own
experience and prior knowledge and is a method of instruction through which students interact with
their environment by exploring and manipulating objects, wrestling with questions and controversies,
or performing experiments.

Advantages and
The Discovery Learning method has obviously had some type of impact on
the educational system to have sustained itself over decades. Many
educators still find the Discovery Learning technique important for student
development and retention of knowledge. This section consists of the
advantages and disadvantages that have been associated with this method in
the past and in the present. This list has been complied from several different
sources and does not include all of the advantages/disadvantages to the
discovery learning method or the arguments of refutation for some of these
opinions listed.

Discovery learning supports an active engagement of the learner in the learning
process, while you are participating, you are paying more attention
Discovery learning fosters
Discovery learning enables the development of life long learning
Discovery learning personalizes the learning
Discovery learning is highly motivational as it allows individuals the opportunity to
experiment and discover something for themselves
Discovery learning builds on learner's prior knowledge and
Discovery learning uses activities that focus your attention on the key ideas or
techniques that are being examined
Discovery learning creates active involvement that forces you to construct a
response and this results in processing of information deeper than mere
Discovery learning provides the student with an opportunity to get early feedback on
their understanding
Discovery learning results in "episodic memory," a deeper type of memory that
allows you to connect information to events which creates stimuli for remembering
the information
Discovery learning can be motivating, it incorporates the individuals pleasure of
successfully solving problems and recalling information

Discovery learning has the potential to confuse learner's if no initial framework is
Discovery learning has limitations in practice when schools try to make it the main
way students learn academic lessons
Discovery learning is inefficient, it is too time consuming for all academic activities
(for example mathematical operations), there are not enough hours in a school year
for students to 'unearth' everything on their own
Discovery learning requires that the teacher be prepared for too many corrections, a
lot of things one discovers for themselves turn out to be wrong (process of trial and
Discovery learning can become a vehicle to reject the idea that there are important
skills and information that all children should learn
If discovery learning is taken as an overriding education theory it is apt to produce
an inadequate education

Steps for Using Discovery Learning to Differentiate

1. Begin discovery learning by presenting students with a scenario that has a
problem that they can solve. This scenario should be read aloud. You can place a
copy of this on the overhead to allow all students to read it at the same time or
make copies of it and distribute to students.
2. Depending on the class, you might have students work individually or with
3. Next, distribute copies of the task to students. Read the task aloud and discuss
any questions students might have.
4. Address the necessary vocabulary by using graphic organizers. Have students fill
in the graphic organizers using dictionaries and other reference materials. Tell them
that they can consult someone nearby if they have a question about the vocabulary.
If there is other information that students need to know, present it at this time.
5. Distribute materials and provide students time to work on the solutions to the
6. For the final activity, have students present their final projects to the class. If
applicable, have students enter a competition showcasing their solutions.


Cognitive tools refer to learning with technology (as opposed to learning through technology).
Jonassen (1994) argues that technologies, from the ecological perspective of Gibson (1979), afford the
most meaningful thinking when used as tools.