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The call is out! Schools must change. Businesses are becoming more interested in employees with the ability to solve problems. Leadership books, such as Who Moved My Cheese? (Johnson & Blanchard, 1998), are
encouraging leaders in major companies, such as Exxon, General Motors, and Xerox, to look for employees who can
easily adapt to change and "sniff out" trends. There is a call from businesses for employees who can look at what
they are doing in their jobs and find ways to make it better and more competitive (McCain, 2000). Increasing global
economic competition spurs businesses to look for higher achieving employees who need little training once hired
(Lunenberg, 1998). Businesses look for 21st century employees and struggle to find them (November, 2000). Our
society now expects graduates from school who are able to collaborate, work in teams, teach others and negotiate
(Rice & Wilson, 1999). Businesses and society expect graduates to acquire, interpret, and evaluate data to learn,
reason, and solve problems (Rice & Wilson, 1999). These skills are not typically found in graduates from the
educational system today.
Traditional teaching and learning methods do not seem to be able to create the employee businesses look
for today. It may be that there are other approaches to learning that would have greater success. Discovery learning
seems to be a promising approach for a number of reasons. Discovery learning is an approach to learning that can
be facilitated by particular teaching methods and guided learning strategies. For the purpose of this paper, the term
discovery learning will refer to the learning taking place within the individual, the teaching and instructional
strategies designed by the teacher, and the environment created when such strategies are used. Traditional learning
will refer to the use of teaching and instructional strategies typically found in a teacher-led classroom, including
didactic, drill and practice, and expository learning. The purpose of this review is to show that the availability of
new technology calls for new research to consider the effectiveness of technology-based discovery learning as
compared to the use of technology through a traditional approach. WebQuests, an Internet-based tool created by
Bernie Dodge (1995), incorporates the principles of discovery learning into a usable classroom product. WebQuests
create contextual learning that still addresses the required objectives in the test-driven educational environment
found in today's schools. To demonstrate the need for comparative research that factors technology into both
discovery learning and traditional educational approaches, a literature review of discovery learning and WebQuests
was conducted. However, an exhaustive review would be nearly impossible considering the extensive writings on
these topics. The scope of this review includes literature that defines discovery learning, outlines the theoretical and
historical basis for discovery learning, describes practice and applications, and describes WebQuests as a current
technologically-based application of discovery learning. This review includes the following topics:
€ A definition of discovery learning
€ The theory base of discovery learning
€ An explanation of the architectures included in discovery learning
€ The advantages and disadvantages of using discovery learning
€ Technology's impact on discovery learning
€ WebQuests as a viable first step to bridge the gap between the benefits of discovery learning and
the existing circumstances found in schools, such as course content, preparation time, and class
€ Conclusions and Implications of the findings
What is Discovery Learning?
Discovery learning encompasses an instructional model and strategies that focus on active, hands-on
learning opportunities for students (Dewey, 1916/1997; Piaget, 1954, 1973). Bicknell-Holmes and Hoffman (2000)
describe the three main attributes of discovery learning as 1) exploring and problem solving to create, integrate, and
generalize knowledge, 2) student driven, interest-based activities in which the student determines the sequence and
frequency, and 3) activities to encourage integration of new knowledge into the learner's existing knowledge base.
The first attribute of discovery learning is a very important one. Through exploring and problem solving,
students take on an active role to create, integrate, and generalize knowledge. Instead of engaging in passively
accepting information through lecture or drill and practice, students establish broader applications for skills through
activities that encourage risk-taking, problem solving, and an exa mination of unique experiences (Bicknell-Holmes
& Hoffman, 2000). In this attribute, students rather than the teacher drive the learning. Expression of this attribute
of discovery learning essentially changes the roles of students and teachers and is a radical change difficult for many
teachers to accept (Hooks, 1994).
A second attribute of discovery learning is that it encourages students to learn at their own pace (Bicknell-
Holmes & Hoffman, 2000). Through discovery learning, some degree of flexibility in sequencing and frequency
with learning activities can be achieved. Learning is not a static progression of lessons and activities. This attribute
contributes greatly to student motivation and ownership of their learning.
A third major attribute of discovery learning is that it is based on the principle of using existing knowledge
as a basis to build new knowledge (Bicknell-Holmes & Hoffman, 2000). Scenarios with which the students are
familiar allow the students to build on their existing knowledge by extending what they already know to invent new
ideas. A good example of this attribute would be Papert's (2000) discussion of a kindergarten student's encounter
with the LOGO computer programming language. She played with the program's speed setting and discovering the
true meaning of zero. The student discovered that objects that were "standing still" were still "moving" just at a
speed of zero. Through the student's playing with something with which she was familiar, she was able to create a
new understanding of the concept of number including zero.
How do these three attributes combine to make discovery learning different from traditional forms of
learning? The most fundamental differences are 1) learning is active rather than passive (Mosca & Howard, 1997),
2) learning is process-oriented rather than content-oriented, 3) failure is important, 4) feedback is necessary
(Bonwell, 1998), and 5) understanding is deeper (Papert, 2000).
First, in discovery learning, students are active. Learning is not defined as simply absorbing what is being
said or read, but actively seeking new knowledge. Students are engaged in hands-on activities that are real problems
needing solutions. The students have a purpose for finding answers and learning more (Mosca & Howard, 1997).
Secondly, the focus shifts from the end product, learning content, to the process, how the content is learned.
The focus in discovery learning is learning how to analyze and interpret information to understand what is being
learned rather than just giving the correct answer from rote memorization. Process-oriented learning can be applied
to many different topics instead of producing one correct answer to match one question that is typically found in
content-oriented learning. Discovery learning pushes students to a deeper level of understanding. The emphasis is
placed on a mastery and application of overarching skills (Bonwell, 1998).
Thirdly, failure in discovery learning is seen as a positive circumstance (Bonwell, 1998). Discovery
learning emphasizes the popular lesson learned from Thomas Edison. Thomas Edison is said to have tried 1,200
designs for light bulbs before finding one that worked (Love, 1996). When someone asked Edison if he felt
discouraged by so many failures, he responded that he never felt discouraged because he had learned thousands of
designs that do not work. Learning occurs even through failure. Discovery learning does not stress getting the right
answer. Cognitive psychologists have shown that failure is central to learning (Schank & Cleary, 1994). The focus
is learning and just as much learning can be done through failure as success. In fact, if a student does not fail while
learning, the student probably has not learned something new (Schank & Cleary, 1994).
Fourthly, an essential part of discovery learning is the opportunity for feedback in the learning process
(Bonwell, 1998). Student learning is enhanced, deepened, and made more permanent by discussion of the topic with
other learners (Schank & Cleary, 1994). Without the opportunity for feedback, learning is left incomplete. Instead
of students learning in isolation, as is typical in the traditional classroom where silence is expected, students are
encouraged to discuss their ideas to deepen their understanding.
Lastly, incorporating all of these differences, discovery learning provides for deeper learning opportunities.
Learners internalize concepts when they go through a natural progression to understand them (Papert, 2000).
Discovery learning is a natural part of human beings (Percy, 1954). People are born with curiosities and needs that