Learn how to incorporate research activities into your online or blended class. Join me for a free webinar: Getting Started: Teaching Online Research Design Basics –  Monday 4 April 2016 – 3 pm (SAST) Find your time zone here.


Students in research methods classes benefit from the experiential activities that invite them to develop and practice skills associated with qualitative methods, such as interviewing and observing individuals and groups. Students in other curricular classes, including business or NGO management, sociology or education, benefit from research activities that invite them to bridge theory and practice by learning from practitioners or members of the community. Inquiry models of teaching allow us to create meaningful learning experiences online, for e-learning or blended learning classes.

Few textbooks have journeyed with me over multiple cross-country moves from student days at Cornell University to my current IMG_2895bookshelf. Models of Teaching is one I kept, and then updated to a more current edition (Weil, Joyce, & Calhoun, 2009, pp. 86-87). The models that have intrigued me all these years focus on creating communities of learners through engaging social-learning approaches. Yes, you could say their work represents a social constructivist perspective. And while I have given a lot of thought to social constructivism in the online world (Salmons, 2009, 2015), here I want to look specifically at inquiry models of teaching and how we can use them online to build deeper levels of comprehension.

What are inquiry models? Inquiry models of teaching and to stimulate students’ and participants’ curiosity and build their skills in finding, analyzing, and using new information to answer questions and solve problems. Instead of transferring knowledge, we aim to build new knowledge. Instead of providing facts, we create an environment where students are encouraged to look for new ways of looking at an understanding problems, discern important and relevant concepts, and inductively develop coherent answers or approaches. As Weil et al. (2009) explain:

Humans conceptualize all the time, comparing and contrasting objects, events, emotions – everything. To capitalize on this natural tendency we raise the learning environment to give test the students to increase their effectiveness. Working in using concepts, and we hope that consciously develop your skills for doing so. (p. 86)

They suggest 3 guidelines for designing this kind of learning experience (Weil et al., 2009):

  1. Focus: Concentrate on an area of inquiry they can master.
  2. Conceptual control: Organize information into concepts, and gain mastery by distinguishing between and categorizing concepts.
  3. Converting conceptual understanding to skills: Learn to build and extend categories, manipulate concepts, and use them to develop solutions or answers to the original questions.

How can we use inquiry models online? Online research activities can be incorporated into e-learning or hybrid instruction in formal or informal educational settings that reflect the Weil et al.’s guidelines:

  1. Focus: Assignments can begin with a research plan or design- what information is needed to answer what question? What are the parameters for this assignment, including time constraints?
  2. Conceptual Control: Approaches to gathering information can include online interviews with practitioners, experts, or individuals with experience in the topic at hand. Assignments can include observation of online activities, including social media, communities, and posted discussions. Or, assignments can include research and analysis of documents or visual records available online or in digital libraries or archives. Once information and data has been collected, participants organize, prioritize and describe relationships between key ideas.
  3. Converting conceptual understanding to skills: The above activities are of little use unless students can synthesize and make sense of what they’ve studied. What can they do with what they’ve learned– either to further academic study or to develop practical solutions using these new findings? A first step may be a discussion that where individuals or teams share what they’ve learned and invite new insights from others in the class. At this point they may identify new questions or topics for future inquiry.

Why are inquiry models important today? Educators engage learners when learners are engaged in true inquiry. In the digital age we overwhelmed with information, some of it vetted by editors or reviewers, but much of it made freely available by anyone with a point of view and a smart phone. It is ever more important to develop the skills needed to focus on specific questions and discern relevant and credible evidence as needed to address them. Research activities invite students to build critical thinking skills at the analysis and synthesis level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Whether students or participants are preparing to be scholars or professionals, research skills are essential and modern life. By integrating research experiences into content courses across the curriculum (rather than offer them in methods classes exclusively), students can learn to research and research to learn.

Where can I learn more? Join me for a free webinar: Learning to Research, Researching to Learn on February 5. Enroll here for the Connecting Online for Instruction and Learning Conference to participate in this and other sessions with educators from across the globe. See Doing Qualitative Research Online (2016) and Qualitative Online Interviews (2015), and companion websites, for more assignment suggestions you can adapt to your class.



Bloom, B., Engelhart, M., Furst, E., Hill, W., & Krathwohl, D. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: Book 1, Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay and Company.
Salmons, J. (2009).E_Social_Constructivism_and_Collaborative_E_Learning. In J. Salmons & L. A. Wilson (Eds.), Handbook of research on electronic collaboration and organizational synergy (Vol. II). Hershey: Information Science Reference.
Salmons, J. (2015). Qualitative online interviews. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Salmons, J. (2016). Doing qualitative research online. London: SAGE Publications.
Weil, M., Joyce, B., & Calhoun, E. (2009). Models of teaching (8th ed.). Boston Pearson.


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