Discovery Learning – Definition, Benefits & Implementation

Discovery learning – or learning by exploration – is an effective teaching technique that encourages engagement and encourages students to learn new things based on their interests.

I’ve learned over the years that the importance of discovery learning is often underestimated. A lot of people see it as a temporary phase of education, but I believe it has a bright future — especially since kids can be quite creative when they’re left to their own devices.

While it might seem like a daunting task to use this strategy effectively, it’s important to know that many experts’ research and experience show that it works when well implemented.

In this article, I will walk you through all you need to know about Discovery Learning and how you can implement it in your classroom as a teacher/instructor.

What Is Discovery Learning?

To explain what discovery learning is, it helps to pinpoint its opposite: direct instruction. In direct instruction, teachers lecture students in a classroom, giving them the information they need to know about a topic.

On the other hand, Discovery learning is an approach to education in which students learn the material from their interests, experiences, and exploration.

This is opposed to the idea of direct instruction which is the traditional method of teaching. Direct instruction involves teachers giving students specific discrete facts or learning objectives instead.

What Are the Types of Discovery Learning?

1. Pure Discovery Learning

Pure discovery learning is characterized by the techniques used. Essentially, these are techniques that include no direct assistance at all, other than the encouragement given to learners by the teacher.

This type of discovery learning is passive and can be compared to the type of learning that takes place when you go on a family trip and tour a museum.

You basically stand around and absorb what you can from a variety of methods such as reading the information, viewing pictures, and observing demonstrations.

However, you learn primarily by paying attention to what is going on around you. So, in pure discovery learning, students have to discover the rules and concepts on their own, with little to no assistance from a teacher.

A teacher merely provides a problem to the learners that they have not seen before. The teacher can then encourage them to work toward solving the problem on their own. They will do that with no explanation of how to solve the problem.

2. Expositional Discovery Learning

Expositional discovery is not a passive method where students are simply listening or reading; rather, expositional discovery involves hands-on activities such as conducting an experiment to test a hypothesis or building a model to test an idea. However, with maximal help from the teacher.

The teacher provides learners with some initial knowledge, then through a structured activity enables them to come to an understanding of a related principle.

In this type of learning, the instructor determines the procedures that should be followed to arrive at the solution to a problem. The expositional approach is often called expository teaching.

Generally, this type of learning is similar to Direct Instruction because the students or learners will eventually not make any discoveries themselves.

The teacher helps them with all they need and even what they will learn in the end. Therefore, students have no or little discovery to make.

3. Guided Discovery Learning

Guided Discovery Learning which is also known as directed discovery, is a type of learning where the teacher guides the students to solve problems, complete tasks, and make meaningful associations.

The teacher provides clues and information, but the learner makes discoveries on their own.

Guided discovery learning focuses on the process of problem-solving with the teacher acting in a supportive role. This type of learning is often used in advanced placement courses that focus on authentic learning, such as AP Physics or AP literature.

The teacher may point out specific details that students may not have noticed on their own. For example, the teacher might ask, “What’s different in this picture than in the previous one?” Or they might say, “Look at the title of these books. What do you imagine they’re about?”

In my opinion, it is a worthwhile method of achieving your goals in teaching and learning, especially if you are embarking on this path for the first time.

Guided Discovery provides you with more structure rather than using Trial and Error.

What Are the Benefits of Discovery Learning?

1. Increases engagement

Discovery learning is a way to engage this curiosity in the classroom, and let children explore on their own. Instead of giving them the answers, you give them problems, and let them work out the solutions. It’s an effective way to help kids learn math and other subjects.

Have your students talk through their approaches to equations, discuss their previous knowledge, and use it to solve problems (instead of telling them how).

Even better, make math a communal activity. Making math social enhances engagement and motivation while completing mathematical activities and projects.

When working in groups, however, the possibility of a single student dominating the debate cannot be discounted.

Using a pedagogical strategy known as “complex education,” you may both correct this inequity and guarantee that your classroom reaps the benefits of group work.

2. Promotes autonomy and independence

One of the main benefits of discovery learning is that it allows students to have a greater role in their own education.

Through discovery learning, students become more independent and self-motivated. Discovery learning also encourages your students to think critically.

This keeps them further engaged and encourages them. It is their responsibility to master each level before moving forward.

To engage in problem-solving, even when working in groups or participating in math talks, students must first think independently and creatively.

They must take information from multiple sources and formulate conclusions based on their findings. With practice, the skills learned through discovery learning can translate into a student’s personal life and professional career.

3. It motivates students to learn

Discovery learning through hands-on projects offers a way to motivate students from the very start, with active learning that is exciting, and challenging and encourages deeper levels of learning.

The best part? Since students have an interest in the subject matter from the start, it’s easier for instructors to reengage and motivate students in the lesson when distractions arise.

Students receive encouragement to learn about and explore the world around them. Since discovery learning is self-paced, your students can advance only when they are ready.

With this type of learning, students can take an active role in their education and gain knowledge via direct experiences, reflection, and interaction with their classmates.

4. Increases levels of retention

Discovery Learning is based on the idea that if students can come up with an answer by themselves, they will be more likely to remember it for a longer period than if they were taught the information by their teacher.

Unlike other types of learning that are rooted in memorization, discovery learning is a learner-centered approach that allows people to explore new ways of thinking and truly discover the meaning of the subject they’re learning in order to reach the desired outcome all by themselves.

Though this process takes considerably longer than if the teacher were simply to tell the students the answers and ask them to commit these to memory. But the long-term retention is much greater with discovery learning.

5. Generates life-long results

The Discovery Learning model creates life-long results. Your students will learn at their own pace with plenty of hands-on and project-based activities, keeping them engaged and excited to come back for more.

This model is especially effective in science, overall knowledge of the world, and life-long learning. With this method, students learn by doing.

By allowing them to explore concepts, they can develop a deeper understanding of content without the teacher forcing them to do repetitive drills or work at an arbitrary pace.

The best part? You get to see the growth over time and watch your students actually apply what they’ve learned.

How to Implement Discovery Learning In the Classroom

1. Have your students do tasks alone

Put the students in charge of their learning by having them discover which information is useful and important.

By having students work alone, instead of in groups for activities, you will see their participation increase greatly and the overall quality of their learning.

Maintain flexibility so that students have time to explore and think independently before gathering as a group. You’ll be astounded at how much knowledge they have will have about the subject.

2. Assign interviews to spark curiosity

Discovery learning thrives when students have the opportunity to investigate and set their own curiosity on the path to follow.

With this in mind, it’s important to assign projects that allow students to look at people and places that they may have never seen before.

One way to accomplish this is by assigning interviews among students. Let your students take on the role of the interviewer.

They can ask people (friends and family) about their professions, traditions, and culture. After that, make them share their findings with the class.

3. Do a virtual dissection

You can implement discovery learning with the interactive virtual dissection of a frog. Students can explore the different organs and systems of a frog. They can then create a presentation(s) and share data with their teacher.

Before commencing the activity, ask your students what they already know about a frog. (Use a class polling tool like Socrative to gather responses quickly.) Tell them that you want to find out what they’ll discover by virtually dissecting a frog.

4. Incorporate data-based projects

Teachers can easily incorporate discovery learning into any project.

You can help guide students by creating a framework and activities for the overall project while allowing students the freedom to discover new ideas within the project scope.

For example, a classroom project could involve creating a model of an earthquake zone or studying the effects of climate change across regions.

Students can use technology such as digital simulations or virtual field trips to assist with the analysis of data. With that, they compare how similar phenomena affect different regions.

Encourage mistakes and productive struggle

Encourage your students to take risks and embrace failure. Ask your students questions. Give them challenging tasks to solve. And let them discover for themselves new ideas that will fascinate them about the subject. This will also lead to stronger cognitive skills like critical thinking and problem-solving.

Discovery Learning: FAQs

Is discovery learning effective?

Yes. Discover learning is effective for a student because it allows them to learn something new by first observing it, then figuring out the information themselves.

This can have benefits such as engaging students more in their learning, connecting new ideas to prior knowledge, and getting students to practice creative thinking.

Can you implement a discovery learning model in an online class?

If the learning is self-directed, then yes. It requires that the learner experience first-hand certain tasks so they can discover new facts and rules of concepts. It promotes self-learning, which is a key aspect of any good eLearning course.

Discovery Learning: Conclusion

Discovery learning is an educational concept based on the idea of learning through experience rather than passively receiving information.

A class that incorporates discovery learning supports students in their efforts to build upon and test prior knowledge. It also allows them to base their conclusions on experiments and problem-solving activities.

The benefits of discovery learning are many. It’s adaptable to multiple subjects, easy and fun to implement, and most importantly – it fosters a love for relevant, engaging learning in your students.

If implemented effectively, it offers a positive approach to learning, where students can develop critical thinking skills, collaborative skills, and research new concepts independently.

If you need more types of learning you can use to improve the quality of your lectures/classes, you can read about the Asynchronous, Differentiated, and Synchronous learning methods.

I hope you found this article helpful.

Thanks for reading.