In order to get the best results from inquiry-based learning, the learner should not rely on assessment by others, but should regularly reflect on such issues as what has been learned, what new questions have arisen, and what the next cycle of inquiry should include.
Inquiry into Music: Course Home-based learning differs from traditional classroom teaching in many ways, including the way in which the results of the learning process are assessed. Formal learning processes always include an assessment step, a moment when the following concerns are addressed in some way:
- What knowledge or skills has the learner gained?
- What has not yet been understood or mastered?
- What aspects of the learning process were most helpful, and which were the least helpful?
- Given the answers to the other questions, what would be the most useful educational steps to take next?
In informal learning, individuals simply learn about whatever interests them, on their own and without formal assessment, although they may consciously or subconsciously notice what kinds of experiences tend to lead to new skills and interesting ideas.
In traditional education, assessment usually involves testing. Students often receive a grade reflecting individual progress, but curriculum issues, such as what to study next and how to study it, are typically decided on behalf of entire groups of learners, rather than individuals.
In formal inquiry-based learning, the learner regularly reflects on what has been learned, what new questions have been raised, and what direction to take next. For example, in the style of inquiry used in these Inquiry into Music: Course Home modules, reflection is a step that takes place at the end of every inquiry cycle, to help prepare for the next cycle. If the inquiry is being guided, the teacher/facilitator may also assess the learner's progress, giving feedback or even grades. However, regardless of whether there is a teacher/facilitator, inquiry-based learning works best when it includes regular, in-depth reflection by the learner about the inquiry itself, because the learner has significant control over the questions that guide the learning process and over the choice of the materials that inform it. The learner is therefore expected to seriously consider such issues as:
- What do I hope to gain from this learning process, and what hopes do others have for me? What progress have I made towards these goals? What (and who) has contributed to that progress? What might be slowing my progress?
- What have I learned so far? How does it fit in with what I do, and with what I think and believe? How does it not fit in with my life and my views, and what might help me understand the discrepancies?
- How does it fit with what others know and believe? Am I looking at all sides of the question? Who values the knowledge and perspective that I am gaining? Who values other knowledge and perspectives on this subject, and should I be learning from them, also? Do I need to broaden the course of my inquiry, and how would I do that?
- Am I getting to the root of what I need or want to know? Do I need to deepen my inquiry, and how would I do that?
- What new questions have been raised along the way? Am I developing new curiosities and puzzlements that I need or want to explore? Should I consider taking a side trip into another area, opening up a new area of inquiry alongside this one, or changing course altogether? What would be the effects of such changes?