Discovery Learning

Discovery learning is an important component of modern constructivist approaches that has a long history in education innovation. In discovery learning (Bergstrom & O’Brien, 2001; Wilcox, 1993), students are encouraged to learn largely on their own through active involvement with concepts and principles, and teachers encourage students to have experiences and conduct experiments that permit them to discover principles for themselves. Bruner (1966), an advocate of discovery learning, put it this way: “We teach a subject not to produce little living libraries on that subject, but rather to get a student to think . . . for himself, to consider matters as an historian does, to take part in the process of knowledge-getting. Knowing is a process, not a product”
Discovery learning has applications in many subjects. For example, some science museums have a series of cylinders of different sizes and weights, some hollow and some solid. Students are encouraged to race the cylinders down a ramp. By careful experimentation the students can discover the underlying principles that determine the cylinders’ speed. Computer simulations can create environments in which students can discover scientific principles (DeJong & van Joolingen, 1998). After-school enrichment programs (Bergstrom & O’Brien, 2001) and innovative science programs (Singer et al., 2000) are particularly likely to be based on principles of discovery learning. Discovery learning has several advantages. It arouses students’ curiosity, motivating them to continue to work until they find answers. Students also learn independent problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, because they must analyze and manipulate information.