Discovery Learning (Bruner)

Summary: Discovery Learning is a method of inquiry-based instruction, discovery learning believes that it is best for learners to discover facts and relationships for themselves.

Originator: Jerome Bruner (1915-)

Keywords: Inquiry-based learning, constructivism

Discovery Learning (Bruner)

Discovery learning is an inquiry-based, constructivist learning theory that takes place in problem solving situations where the learner draws on his or her own past experience and existing knowledge to discover facts and relationships and new truths to be learned[1]. Students interact with the world by exploring and manipulating objects, wrestling with questions and controversies, or performing experiments. As a result, students may be more more likely to remember concepts and knowledge discovered on their own (in contrast to a transmissionist model)[2]. Models that are based upon discovery learning model include: guided discovery, problem-based learning, simulation-based learning, case-based learning, incidental learning, among others.

Proponents of this theory believe that discovery learning has many advantages, including:

  • encourages active engagement
  • promotes motivation
  • promotes autonomy, responsibility, independence
  • the development of creativity and problem solving skills.
  • a tailored learning experience

Critics have sometimes cited disadvantages including:

  • creation of cognitive overload
  • potential misconceptions
  • teachers may fail to detect problems and misconceptions

The theory is closely related to work by Jean Piaget and Seymour Papert.


  1. Bruner, J. S. (1961). The act of discovery. Harvard educational review.
  2. Bruner, J. S. (2009). The process of education. Harvard University Press.

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