Inquiry takes an approach to learning that is very different from standard educational practices. One of the most basic differences is that the focus of each learning project has not been predetermined by the instructor or the curriculum. Tailoring the inquiry to the needs and interests of the learner makes the learning process much more understandable, interesting, and memorable for the learner, but one thing that is lost is a ready-made plan designed by education experts to guide the learner in useful directions at reasonable speeds.
This makes the first step of an inquiry - asking a question - very important, because it is the question that determines the "speed and direction" of the inquiry. In formal teacher-guided inquiries, one of the most crucial roles of the instructor/facilitator is to ensure that the question is well-connected to curriculum goals as well as to the learner's present understandings and interests. In self-directed inquiries, the learner can become permanently discouraged if the questions asked don't seem to be leading in useful directions.
A good inquiry question:
- Is challenging - If the learner can simply look up and understand the answer, there is no need for a structured inquiry.
- Is within reach of the learner - If the learner cannot be expected to make significant progress in answering the question after several weeks of reasonable effort, a more manageable question should be adopted.
- Will lead the learner to new understanding, skills, and/or ways of thinking - A superficial inquiry that concentrates on learning new "facts" is not the best goal.
- Is of intrinsic interest to the learner - A teacher may provide suggestions and guidance and even insist that the inquiry take a certain form or lead towards a particular skill or type of understanding, but the actual question should be one that the learner would like answered.
The music-learning inquiry below is intended both to provide practice in conducting an inquiry and also to help the inquirer learn how to recognize and create the types of questions that will be most useful in future inquiries about music.