Top 4 Inquiry Learning Trends to Watch For in 2021

It goes without saying that 2020 has certainly been a challenging year. Teachers, parents, students, and everyone in between has had to adapt to a completely new way of teaching and learning. Throughout the year we’ve had to adapt to things like online learning, Zoom calls, new learning platforms, and internet issues. While some of these changes are temporary, there are some trends that are here to stay.

A transformation of the traditional curriculum

I wrote about how inquiry learning is redefining schools in the 21st century in a recent post. I discussed the basic assumptions about the role of schooling, and how these roles have remained virtually unchanged for decades. In the majority of schools, learning is defined by the quality and quantity of work students produce. It is measured mostly by assessments, tests, and defined rubrics. 

Today’s students are innovative, collaborative, and creative. Many of them don’t pique with excitement when they see a reading list, a 5-page math test, or hear that they need to prepare a research report on a pre-selected topic chosen by their teacher. Students need a curriculum that challenges them in ways that fit their learning styles, creates meaning, and makes learning relevant to them. In addition, students crave independence and opportunities to flex their critical thinking skills. Inquiry learning provides that for students, and helps them see the value in their contributions.

Although curriculums have expanded and teaching has become more relaxed and less secular, a lot is in need of change. With a shift towards an inquiry-based learning trend, students will become better prepared for the 21st century world, and equipped with the skills to help them succeed in it.  

Dynamic assessment

Since students have spent most of 2020 out of the classroom, teachers and educators have needed to find reliable and accurate ways of assessing student learning. The heavy reliance on pen and paper tests is long gone. The importance of learning outcomes as well as the emphasis on process rather than product has begun to change how educators view traditional assessment methods. Instead, dynamic assessment (an active teaching process that assesses student’s perception, learning, thinking, and problem solving) delivers the goals of the curriculum in a more dynamic manner.

In the era of eLearning and Zoom calls, dynamic assessment is incredibly important. Not only does it provide information about a students’ current learning ability and learning processes, but it also provides information about:

  • a student’s cognitive load and problem-solving ability
  • what motivates students to learn
  • emotional and personality traits that affect their learning
  • a student’s ability to gain and use newly acquired knowledge

With COVID-19 forcing students and parents to work and learn from home, the impacts of things like stress, home life, daily activities, and schedule changes can all seriously affect the quality and quantity of learning that happens. Dynamic assessment (often used in inquiry learning) offers educators insight into other factors that may be contributing to a student’s ability to learn new concepts and make progress.


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The sudden switch to online learning has thrown another curveball in 2020. Teachers have been delivering content to students over Zoom calls and online learning platforms for months now. Parents are realizing the implications of online learning on their children and their family life in general. For many, this abrupt change has meant a huge adjustment to family life and academic expectations; for some families it was a welcome change, and a huge sigh of relief.

There are so many directions education can take, but still so many questions to address. One thing is for sure: eLearning isn’t going away anytime soon. Online learning technology is growing at a fast pace, and access to the internet (while still an issue in many places across Canada) is spreading. Students are more connected than ever, and it is crucial that the education sector recognizes this. It is becoming the most dominant means to acquire knowledge, deliver a more personalized approach to education, and foster collaboration between students.

Most students are visual learners; on the whole, they excel best when their learning incorporates visual elements like videos, tutorials, and practical demonstrations. Furthermore, the rise of gamification in eLearning cannot be understated. Students enjoy interacting with material in a game-like setting, where learning is delivered as a series of steps and challenges. It provides students with immediate gratification, simple interaction with material, and usually moves at a quicker pace than traditional learning.

Finally, mobile learning and app development are quickly catching up to eLearning; for example, phone-based language-learning apps, personalized tutoring services, and homework helper apps are on the rise. There’s no doubt that “mLearning” will continue to grow.

Here are some great eLearning resources for elementary and secondary students.

Virtual Reality Trends

Virtual reality and augmented reality are interesting and exciting trends in education. The use of VR in the classroom allows students to view a real or imaginary world, move around in it, and intermingle with things. Aside from the obvious benefit of students being able to “visit” and explore new places, the use of VR in classrooms also has the following benefits:

  • It has huge appeal to students who love following new trends
  • Requires less cognitive load to process new information
  • Learners are more engaged in their learning
  • Language no longer becomes a barrier to learning (in some instances)
  • Quality content is being produced at a rapid rate
  • Students experience sensory engagement in their learning, which helps to retain knowledge
  • More complex topics can easily be explained

In addition to these benefits, students can gain a better sense of place, participate as active and willing participants, and be inspired to discover for themselves. This goes hand-in-hand with scenario based learning, where students learn through an authentic scenario that mirrors real-life parameters. You can read all about this method of learning in our complete guide to scenario-based learning.

A huge component of inquiry learning is active engagement, and the use of VR helps to bring this component to life. We can expect to see more advancements with these trends in the coming year.

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