There are different types and levels of inquiry-based teaching and learning.  It is possible, however, to make some general statements about important differences between inquiry-based science education and traditional science education.

Inquiry-based teaching is an organized and intentional effort on behalf of the teacher to engage students in inquiry-based learning.

The goal of inquiry teaching is not to transfer scientific knowledge, facts, definitions, and concepts, but rather to enhance students’ abil­ity to reason and to become independent learners who are capable of identifying main questions and find relevant answers by a gradually acquisition and expansion of a body of scientific knowledge and abilities.

It is a student-centred approach to science learning.

In all types of inquiry activities, the sum of the levels of teacher and stu­dent participation will roughly be a constant, indicating that decreasing the teacher activity and participation will generally invite an increase in student activity. Ideally, a teacher should move his students in the course of the study from a teacher-dependent to a more teacher-free and independent role.

To cover the range of types of inquiry activities, we list them below in the order of increas­ing student participation and independence (locus of control); in reverse, this corresponds to the degree of teacher’s guidance decreases:

  1. Interactive demonstration: the teacher is in charge of conducting the demonstration and manipulating a scientific apparatus, inter­actively asking probing questions about what will happen (prediction) or how something might have happened (explanation), and helping the students to reach conclusions in a scientifi­cally correct way. The inquiry part here lies in the responses and explanations from the students.
  2. Guided discovery: same as in the above, but in this case the students carry out the experiment introduced to them by the teacher. It is the traditional student laboratory work, mostly in the form of cookbook labs or work driven by step-by-step instructions. Usually, this concerns a group activity simultaneously carried out by the whole class with a strong focus on verifying information previously communicated in class.
  3. Guided inquiry: in this case, students work in teams on their own experiment. The teacher has identified the problem and has given a clear-cut objective: “Find..” “Deter­mine…”.  There is no predetermined answer and conclusions are solely based on stu­dent work. Students are given directions or extensive (pre-lab) instructions, and they are guided by multiple teacher-identified questions.
  4. Bounded inquiry: same as in the above, but in this case students are expected to design and conduct the experiment themselves with little or no guidance of the teacher and only partial pre-lab orientation. Example: “Try to recognize your own peanut from your predetermined physical characteristics”. The research problem to be solved is given to them by the teacher, but they have the responsibility for designing and con­ducting an experiment. Bounded inquiry activities require a definite level of experience from the students, otherwise they could get lost.
  5. Open inquiry: within a given context, students are expected to propose and pur­sue their own research question(s) and experimental design. This will usually be a semi-final assignment of senior students.  Example: “Setting up an experiment for speech analysis or recognition”. Students can either compare high or low tones, male or female, produced by musical instrument or vocally, loud or soft, etc.

Further information can be found in the "Guide for developing ESTABLISH teaching and learning units" of by browsing the short programme available.