John Sweller demolishes inquiry learning

Why learning through problem-solving is not as effective as many people think


A new report has just been published about inquiry learning by the Centre for Independent Studies. It is written by Professor John Sweller* who is famous, although perhaps not as famous as he should be, for the development of Cognitive Load Theory.

Sweller makes the point that there are many names for approaches similar to inquiry learning - constructivist teaching, problem-based learning, discovery learning and so on - but that they all represent the same basic idea, with ‘inquiry learning’ simply being the most popular name at present.

Sweller, clearly and precisely outlines why inquiry learning is so intuitively appealing and the perceived justifications for inquiry learning. Sweller explains that whether proposed on the basis that it is a superior method of learning content or on the basis that it develops supposed generic skills, our current understanding of human cognitive architecture and the results of a large number of experiments demonstrate that these propositions are flawed.

Although the language is a little technical in places, the report is still accessible and I recommend passing it on to friends and colleagues. Maybe pass it around quietly if your school leadership are true believers.


*Sweller is one of my PhD supervisors