By then end of this module, you will be able to: 

  1. Identify the characteristics and pedagogical implications of guided discovery learning;
  2. Design instructional events based on the guidelines of guided discovery;
  3. Use a task to engage your students in guided discovery;
  4. Evaluate the design of your task in order to improve it if found necessary.


This is an active learning approach that aims to engage students in a complex, reflection task. The suggestion is to use guided discovery methods with the objective to get students to discover some pre-determined goal.  Learners usually discover the desired knowledge by studying specific scenarios. The facilitator’s role is primarily to help students think, question, and evaluate for themselves.  Usually a discussion takes place to allow students to reflect on the range of causes that lead to a variation in the quality of output, process or result.

The following is a video provides a general introduction to the guided discovery method:


Discovery learning promotes critical thinking by actively engaging students in analysing complex situations.  It promotes the self-directed behaviours necessary to help students become life-long learners.  The discovery of knowledge also leads to ownership of the knowledge, and facilitates its transfer into other scenarios.  Guided discovery methods support better understanding of the complexities found in the practical implementation of a discipline.

Implementation Tips

The following are some general guidelines to keep in mind in the design of your instructional tasks:

  1. Select a problem or issue that is considered important by most.
  2. Design the exercise around a scenario that all students can relate to. The scenario should highlight procedures or particularities of the problem to entice critical thinking to discover the reasons.  A variation could include role play simulations to understand the thinking process of practitioners.
  3. Directly guide your learners’ thinking by asking questions about the problem or allow time for students to use supportive materials to research and discuss possible solutions to the problem.
  4. Allocate enough time to discuss results (suggested time 30 min) with learners. Question learner’s responses and keep track of them in an online or interactive board. Publish the results of this discussion on the platform for students to use as reference to entice reflection.  In a fully online context, setup forums or chats in small groups to keep communication flowing among participants. The discussion could also take place through comments on blog posts, through video conferencing systems, via mobile devices, interactive whiteboards, or through collaborative open source resources such as note taking or concept mapping software.
  5. During discussion, help students understand the relevance of concepts learned in the exercise and link them to real problems experienced by practitioners in the field.
  6. Prompt students to summarise the most important lesson from the exercise.  Ex. What are the main ideas you learned today? Why is the problem trying to tackle all causes of variation at the same time?
  7. Class size matters, optimal number is 35 students or fewer in face-to-face environment. In online context, organise students into groups of three to five, and have them post their results on a blog. A participation grade could be assigned to entice commenting on the results from other groups.


Direct instructional guidance is defined as providing information that fully explains the concepts and procedures that students are required to learn, as well as the learning strategy to support cognition (Kirschner et al., 2006).  Although it requires more time and effort on the part of the facilitator, it is reported to result in best performance and helps solve knowledge transfer problems.  Students need enough freedom to become cognitively active in the process of sense making, but need enough guidance so that their cognitive activity results in the construction of useful knowledge (R. E. Mayer, 2009).  Research supporting direct guidance urges facilitators to spend time in instructional interactions with students by:

  • “Teaching content and scaffolding relevant procedures,
  • modelling procedures for identifying and self-checking important information,
  • showing students how to reduce that information to paraphrases,
  • having students use notes to construct collaborations and routines,
  • promoting collaborative dialogue to address problems” (Kirschner et al., 2006, p. 79).

Direct instructional guidance should not be conceived as an introductory construct to the task, but rather as continual support in the form of modelling, scaffolding, monitoring, and feedback provided throughout. This is especially true in cases of critical discourse, for instance, where the facilitator may help focus and fuel the discussion.  A fairly consistent finding is that facilitators who positively and meaningfully engage students, combine support and optimal challenge. They support students emotionally, and interpersonally to meet the challenge of high level thinking or completing high-level work (Shernoff, 2012). However, the level of support should be gradually diminished until the learners are able to perform on their own (Harasim, 2012).

Supportive Materials

Here is another examples of a guided discovery lesson:


Now, you can work on designing your tasks, resources and support. Click on the following links to access guides to support your design process:


Write your Learning Objectives              Design a Learning Task/Assessment 

    Create an Assessment Rubric                           Evaluate Your Design


  1. Hattie, J. (2011). Which strategies best enhance teaching and learning in higher education? Empirical research in teaching and learning, 130-142
  2. Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why Minimal Guidance during Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75-86.
  3. Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia learning: New York : Cambridge University Press, 2009. 2nd ed.
  4. Mukherjee, A. (2015). Effective Use of Discovery Learning to Improve Understanding of Factors That Affect Quality. Journal of Education for Business, 90(8), 413-419. doi:10.1080/08832323.2015.1081866

  5. Rieber, L. P. (2009). Supporting Discovery-Based Learning within Simulations In R. Zheng (Ed.), Cognitive Effects of Multimedia Learning Hershey, Pa. : IGI Global (701 E. Chocolate Avenue, Hershey, Pennsylvania, 17033, USA), c2009.