Learning by Discovery

We explain what discovery learning is and what its principles are. In addition, we tell you how it can be implemented.

Two students in the classroom use a microscope achieving discovery learning.
Discovery learning involves rethinking everyday tasks and activities.

What is discovery learning?

Learning is the mechanism through which human beings acquire knowledge, skills, beliefs, and values., as the result of different dynamics of observation, study, practice and reasoning. It is a complex process that can be analyzed from different perspectives, which allows the existence of different theories of learning, that is, explanations and descriptions of how it occurs.

These theories, in turn, allow the creation of teaching and learning methods, that is, dynamics designed to promote certain types of learning, which differ from each other depending on how they understand the fact of learning and how they promote it. . One of these methods is discovery learning.

Discovery learning is based on giving the learner an active role in front of the knowledge, so that you know it through direct experience and order the concepts so that they adapt to your cognitive scheme. This means that instead of assuming a passive position in the face of knowledge, the individual must investigate, develop their skills and solve problemsso you learn as you “discover”.

This method is based on the principles of cognitive psychology, especially the learning theories of the American psychologist and educator Jerome Seymour Bruner (1915-2016), which opposed repetitive, mechanical learning based on memorization. According to this approach, the ideal learning should come hand in hand with the individual’s natural curiosity, which should be stimulated by the teacher through the right materials and problems.

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See also: Creative thinking

Principles of discovery learning

Discovery learning is a fundamentally active and inductive method, whose fundamental principles can be summarized as follows:

  • Learning is not given by transmission from teacher to student (passive role), but is built directly by the latter through research, experimentation and confrontation with reality (active role).
  • Depends on critical and autonomous thinkingsince the individual must learn to learn, that is, discover how this new knowledge is integrated with what he already brought with him (significant learning).
  • The teacher is a guide or facilitator that accompanies the learning process, instead of a transmitter of knowledge orally.

Advantages over other learning methods

Discovery learning places the student in an active role in his own teaching, which translates into advantages such as the following:

  • Promotes the formation of one’s own thoughtoriginal and individual reflection on the learning process.
  • stimulates creativity and the search for solutions to the problems they face.
  • Strengthens student self-esteem and self-confidence, by making him a participant in the learning process.
  • Links teaching with very elementary motivations of the human beingsuch as curiosity, problem solving, and a fascination with the unknown.
  • Open spaces for participation of the student, promotes a taste for knowledge and overcomes the limitations of memorization.

How to implement discovery learning?

The application of discovery learning in the classroom implies rethinking daily tasks and activities, in order to replace the idea of ​​oral transmission of knowledge with that of participatory teaching. This involves, for example, the design of workshops and projects in which students must be involved to obtain different resultsopening the space for debate and drawing conclusions.

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In the design of these activities, the student must play a leading role, that is, they must be motivated and involved, and learning should welcome curiosity and experimentationso that knowledge is not an abstract entity and disconnected from life experience.

These types of activities are conducive to learning in the natural and applied sciences, but they can be a challenge when learning content of a different nature. It is there where The role of the teacher is key and indispensable for the design of creative and interesting strategies..

The role of the teacher in discovery learning

Contrary to mechanistic learning models, in which the teacher bears all the responsibility in the classroom, relegating the students to receive knowledge, that is, to an inactive role, learning by discovery suggests that the teacher must be a guide and a facilitator of the learning experience: that It should stimulate the interest of the students.rather than sit down and repeat the information until it is memorized.

In this sense, the role of the discovery learning teacher is to design strategies and challenges according to the interests and motivations of the individual, in order to offer a favorable environment for the “discovery” to happen. Must act as an accomplice in the educational process, building situations so that the student can learn.

Continue with: Cooperative Learning


  • “Learning” on Wikipedia.
  • “Learning by discovery” at the Cervantes Virtual Center (Spain).
  • “Discovery Learning” (video) in Teachings in Education.
  • “Discovery Method” in The Encyclopaedia Britannica.