Does IBL work?

All of us believe that IBL is effective because we tried it out and watched our students being successful. To us, that's the best evidence. :)
On this page we list some of the published evidence (that we are aware of) that IBL "works".

  • In our own project we track students' beliefs and attitudes. Learn about the detailed results regarding changes in students' beliefs and attitudes.
  • Mathematics: After taking our classes, students know more about what it means to do mathematics, who mathematicians are, and what they might feel. Students find mathematics more interesting and enjoy working on challenging mathematical problems and making discoveries. They find mathematics more beautiful and perceive an increased ability to understand and critique written or spoken mathematical arguments.
    General Education: Students report that their ability to communicate and reason effectively has increased and that they feel more empowered as learners. Their curiosity about the world around them has increased, as has their confidence in taking responsibility for their own learning.

  • College level STEM: PNAS Meta study:
    Freeman, S, S L. Eddy, M McDonough, M K. Smith, N Okoroafor, H Jordt, and M P. Wenderoth. "Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (2014). Print.
  • The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has called for a 33% increase in the number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) bachelor’s degrees completed per year and recommended adoption of empirically validated teaching practices as critical to achieving that goal. The studies analyzed here document that active learning leads to increases in examination performance that would raise average grades by a half a letter, and that failure rates under traditional lecturing increase by 55% over the rates observed under active learning. The analysis supports theory claiming that calls to increase the number of students receiving STEM degrees could be answered, at least in part, by abandoning traditional lecturing in favor of active learning.

  • College Level IBL study (4 campuses, math major and future teachers)
    Sandra Laursen, Marja-Liisa Hassi, Marina Kogan, Anne-Barrie Hunter. Ethnography & Evaluation Research: "From innovation to implementation: Multi-institution pedagogical reform in undergraduate mathematics."
    (Retrieved from: ),
    Evaluation of the IBL Mathematics Project: Student and Instructor Outcomes of Inquiry-Based Learning in College Mathematics - Full report (PDF)
    More publications at:
  • The use of student-centered teaching approaches improves student learning and persistence in undergraduate science, engineering and mathematics, but most prior studies have investigated these reforms on small scales and in well- understood conditions. A study of inquiry-based learning (IBL) as applied in undergraduate mathematics at four U.S. research universities demonstrates that such reforms are effective when applied on a multi-course, multi-institution scale that can make a real impact on student outcomes.

  • Active learning narrows achievement gaps for underrepresented students in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math
    Elli J. Theobald, Scott Freeman, et. al.

    We tested the hypothesis that underrepresented students in active-learning classrooms experience narrower achievement gaps than underrepresented students in traditional lecturing classrooms, averaged across all science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields and courses. We conducted a comprehensive search for both published and unpublished studies that compared the performance of underrepresented students to their overrepresented classmates in active-learning and traditional-lecturing treatments. This search resulted in data on student examination scores from 15 studies (9,238 total students) and data on student failure rates from 26 studies (44,606 total students). Bayesian regression analyses showed that on average, active learning reduced achievement gaps in examination scores by 33% and narrowed gaps in passing rates by 45%. The reported proportion of time that students spend on in-class activities was important, as only classes that implemented high-intensity active learning narrowed achievement gaps. Sensitivity analyses showed that the conclusions are robust to sampling bias and other issues. To explain the extensive variation in efficacy observed among studies, we propose the heads-and-hearts hypothesis, which holds that meaningful reductions in achievement gaps only occur when course designs combine deliberate practice with inclusive teaching. Our results support calls to replace traditional lecturing with evidence-based, active-learning course designs across the STEM disciplines and suggest that innovations in instructional strategies can increase equity in higher education.

  • College Level: Inquiry-Oriented Differential Equations Project
    Chris Rasmussen, Oh Nam Kwon: "An inquiry-oriented approach to undergraduate mathematics"

    Journal of Mathematical Behavior 26 (2007) 189–194

  • To improve undergraduate mathematics learning, teachers need to recognize and value characteristics of classroom learning environments that contribute to powerful student learning. The broad goal of this special issue is to share such characteristics and the theoretical and empirical grounding for an innovative approach in differential equations called the Inquiry Oriented Differential Equations (IO-DE) project. We use the IO-DE project as a case example of how undergraduate mathematics can build on theoretical and instructional advances initiated at the K-12 level to create and sustain learning environments for powerful student learning at the undergraduate level. In addition to providing an overview of the five articles in this special issue, we highlight the theoretical background for the IO-DE project and provide a summary of two quantitative studies done to assess the effectiveness of the IO-DE project on student learning.

  • College Level: Coverage Issue
    Stan Yoshinobu & Matthew G. Jones (2012): The Coverage Issue, PRIMUS: Problems, Resources, and Issues in Mathematics Undergraduate Studies, 22:4, 303-316
  • We address coverage versus depth as a false dichotomy, and reframe the issue in terms of critical questions for instructors to consider regarding student learning. We also review some key reasons to favor inquiry-based learning as an approach to undergraduate instruction.

  • Student Reluctance: Ice Berg diagram (IBL Blog, Stan Yoshinobu)
  • When students say something like, "I don't learn this way...", it may be the tip of an iceberg. A sign that math anxiety and/or fixed mindsets about learning math lurks underneath the surface. Unless you know the student really well, you may not know the size and depth of the issue.

  • Study shows students in ‘active learning’ classrooms learn more than they think
    Research article from PNAS: "Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom," Louis Deslauriers, Logan S. McCarty, Kelly Miller, and Greg Kestin,
  • Despite active learning being recognized as a superior method of instruction in the classroom, a major recent survey found that most college STEM instructors still choose traditional teaching methods. This article addresses the long-standing question of why students and faculty remain resistant to active learning. Comparing passive lectures with active learning using a randomized experimental approach and identical course materials, we find that students in the active classroom learn more, but they feel like they learn less.

  • Overview of other publications at AIBL from a (Modified) Moore Method perspective:
  • This literature summary begins by discussing the various incarnations of Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL), elaborating on various modifications as well as providing links to resources. The often discussed coverage issue and the costs of choosing to teach in a lecture-intensive approach are also explained. Inquiry-Based Learning is offered as an alternative to the traditional lecture-based approach. IBL allows students to not only cover, but engage with the material in a more stimulating way. Strong evidence from the literature is presented in favor of using Inquiry-Based Learning in the teaching of proof. Furthermore, this summary highlights the positive effect between an inquiry approach to teaching and overall better acquisition and retention of conceptual understanding as well as improved enjoyment of the subject for the students and the teacher.

  • High School: Comparison of 3 high schools in England
    Boaler, Jo, and Megan Staples. "Creating Mathematical Futures Through an Equitable Teaching Approach: the Case of Railside School." Teachers College Record. 110.3 (2008): 608-645. Print.
  • School tracking practices have been documented repeatedly as having negative effects on students’ identity development and attainment, particularly for those stu- dents placed in lower tracks. [] In an effort to better the field’s understanding of equitable and successful teaching, we conducted a longitudinal study of three high schools. At one school, Railside, students demonstrated greater gains in achievement than students at the other two schools and higher overall achievement on a number of measures. Furthermore, achievement gaps among various ethnic groups at Railside that were present on incoming assessments disap- peared in nearly all cases by the end of the second year. This paper provides an analysis of Railside’s success and identifies factors that contributed to this success.

  • Problem Based Learning (PBL) is related to IBL. Here is some PBL evidence:
    Large scale study:
    IBL Science Middle School:
  • This article provides a review of research (2000-2011) regarding the effectiveness of project-based instruction in preschool, elementary and secondary school classroom settings, including academic, learner, and teacher response outcomes. First, the review provides some historical context, and a definition of project-based learning. Next, the reviewer synthesizes several themes emergent in the literature, including student and teacher attitudes, academic outcomes, and information about what recent research on project-based learning has shown as it has been used with specific student subgroups. Finally, the author provides a perspective on factors that can enhance or detract from instructional success with project based methodology, and suggest directions for further research. Overall, current research offers a generally positive view of project-based methodology, with some practical and theoretical caveats voiced by practitioners and researchers.