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Enquiry and experiential learning

‘As a pedagogy, geographical enquiry is described as “any activity that opens up problems and issues, encourages questions and begins to find solutions”‘

Ofsted Research review series: geography, 2021 

Geographical enquiry is as a key subject pedagogy. An enquiry-based approach can enable students to enhance their existing geographical knowledge and develop new ways of understanding the world. Roberts (2023, p. 4) makes it clear that it actively engages students ‘in the practice of geography, investigating questions and issues and learning to think geographically’. 

The learning approaches outlined here are challenging. They involve students in higher order thinking and involve students in a learning experience to use and reflect on abstract concepts. These approaches relate to Kolb’s model of the Experiential Learning Cycle (see Learning theories and geography).

Teaching approaches such as geographical enquiry and fieldwork directly involve students in the geography learning experiences. Other activities, such as decision-making, role play and simulations. use real-world scenarios for students to experience and learn from.

A key component of all enquiry-based and experiential learning is to inspire curiosity. These activities often span several lessons and sustain learning over time, which allows more complex topics to be explored at depth. Most important for geographical learning is that they provide opportunities for students to make links between different concepts and aspects of geography and provide a good vehicle for the holistic learning processes that are central to high quality geographical learning.

This can be highly engaging for students if the content and contexts are carefully chosen, and the learning is planned and managed well. Information handling, analysis, problem solving, critical thinking and communication skills are key components of each of these activities.

These activities are not a panacea; they can be mis-managed and result in poor learning outcomes. Therefore, it is essential that teachers have good subject knowledge and pedagogic content knowledge to plan and structure the activities well. The teacher’s debriefing and the students’ reflection on what has been learned from the activity are key components if high-quality geographical learning is to be achieved.

The areas of enquiry and experiential learning in geography that are covered in this section are:

Reference: Roberts, M. (2023) Geography Through Enquiry: Approaches to teaching and learning in the secondary school (2nd edition), Sheffield: Geographical Association.