Discovery learning: what it is and how to apply its theory

In the realm of education, the concept of discovery learning has gained considerable attention for its effective approach to fostering...
7 September 2023

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Discovery learning: what it is and how to apply its theory

In the realm of education, the concept of discovery learning has gained considerable attention for its effective approach to fostering meaningful understanding and knowledge retention

This article delves into the core principles of discovery learning, its definition, and the influence of Jerome Bruner’s contributions

If you’re seeking an engaging and efficient method to enhance your learning or teaching experience, read on to uncover the essence of discovery learning and its practical applications.

Discovery learning: what it is and how to apply its theory

What is Discovery Learning?

Discovery learning is a form of constructivist learning that emphasizes students acquiring knowledge on their own through active roles and direct experience. This approach doesn’t rely on linear or final knowledge transmission; instead, it encourages students to discover knowledge through their own curiosity. 

This constructivist methodology, also known as heuristic learning, was championed by American psychologist and educator Jerome Bruner in the 1960s and is rooted in cognitive psychology. It aligns perfectly with the disruptive education strategy, as we will explore further.

Before deciding on the resources to employ in implementing discovery learning in your classes, it’s important to consider the following needs:

  • Clear framing of the activity.
  • Student comprehension and adoption of the practice, making it interesting for them.
  • Setting and communicating objectives and the means to achieve them.
  • Student familiarity with the work methodology, observation processes, and result measurement and control systems.

Why is Discovery Learning important?

Discovery learning advocates for active learning, where students construct their own knowledge more naturally than other traditional methodologies, such as linear knowledge transmission. 

Among its benefits are the promotion of self-esteem and the reinforcement of creativity when finding solutions. This pedagogical strategy can be greatly facilitated by the advancement of technology, which is why we aim to provide you with a detailed insight into it. 

Key Principles of Bruner’s Discovery Learning

Jerome Bruner asserts that discovery learning should lead to meaningful learning, where students construct their own knowledge

This methodology is based on the following principles:

Active Knowledge Acquisition and Motivation

Self-acquired knowledge holds a stronger place in learning and is better retained. 

Furthermore, personalizing content increases student motivation by acknowledging their interests.

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Investigation and Experimentation

Both investigating and experimenting are vital empirical dimensions of discovery learning. 

They facilitate the consolidation of knowledge and represent the most natural way, according to Bruner, to acquire competencies.

Content Organization

By making students the origin and driving force of learning, they promote a better organization of acquired knowledge in their minds, making it readily available for future use.

Discovery learning is a form of constructivist learning

Long-Term Retention

Throughout the process, experiences reinforce each other over time, promoting effective information retention. 

This active learning approach places responsibility on the student, aligning with the learning-by-doing methodology.

Benefits of Discovery Learning

Discovery learning offers several advantages in a process where the teacher guides the student toward the desired outcome:

  • Overcomes the drawbacks of more traditional mechanistic learning, such as student demotivation and lack of meaningful learning.
  • Stimulates student intuition, which they subsequently verify by solidifying the learning themselves.
  • The “learn to learn” principle encourages metacognitive strategies and critical thinking.
  • Cultivates creativity in problem-solving.
  • Bolsters student confidence and self-esteem.
  • Facilitates content assimilation and cognitive maturity.
  • Due to its dynamic nature, this type of learning yields excellent results in foreign language acquisition, for instance.

How to Implement Discovery Learning?

If you’re interested in applying discovery learning theory, you can utilize some of the tools outlined below:


Workshops facilitate direct student experimentation, with observation and exploration taking the spotlight. 

Studying cause-and-effect processes allows students to naturally and dynamically solidify their learning.

Debates and Team Projects

Debates and team projects encourage idea exchanges and are excellent for finding alternative solutions collaboratively. 

They enable knowledge sharing, diversify perspectives, and encourage critical thinking.


Contexts that enable students to observe their environment and interact with it, such as fieldwork, integrate learning into their reality. This dynamic becomes a driving force for learning.

Key Principles of Bruner's Discovery Learning

Applying Discovery Learning theory

Incorporating discovery learning into the educational landscape requires a delicate balance between guidance and autonomy. Here’s how you can effectively apply this theory:

1. Design Engaging Tasks

Craft assignments that stimulate curiosity and compel students to explore. These tasks should provoke inquiry and demand active problem-solving.

2. Provide a Supportive Environment

Foster an environment where learners feel safe to explore and make mistakes. This encourages risk-taking and creativity, key aspects of discovery-based learning.

3. Encourage Collaboration

Promote group activities that encourage peer interaction and the exchange of diverse perspectives. Collaborative learning enhances the discovery process by exposing learners to alternative viewpoints.

4. Facilitate Reflection

Allocate time for students to reflect on their findings and experiences. Reflection aids in solidifying newfound knowledge and extracting meaningful insights.

Given its empirical nature, discovery learning is substantially influenced by ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) today. 

It adapts well to virtual environments, which help diversify practices in education for the future through augmented reality, virtual reality, and Learning Management Systems (LMS).

In this virtual sphere, our proctoring plans become essential allies to your educational strategy, creating secure environments that respect your students’ privacy. 

Request a free demo to understand why we’re leaders in the proctoring sector.

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