Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL)

Process-Oriented Guided-Inquiry Learning (POGIL) is a teaching approach which integrates discovery activities into the lecture with collaborative learning. One of the theoretical considerations behind this approach is social interdependence theory, in particular, the principle that students and people in general learn concepts through social interactions in which they negotiate their understanding with others. In this approach, students are guided to discover the concepts taught in a course by working together in groups (3-6 students) on carefully scaffolded activities and will out worksheets with questions which build on each other. Typically, this approach integrates lecture with laboratory although this is not necessary.

A typical POGIL class:

  • Students are first introduced to the learning goals of that particular class (e.g., by the end of this class, you should be able to quantitatively describe the connection between A and B, use knowledge of A and B to predict the outcome of an experiment, etc.) Note that the goals can include both learning of concepts and science process skills (see Coli et al., Teaching the Process of Science: Faculty Perceptions and an Effective Methodology)
  • Students think about the concept(s) being pursued in that class, for example by answering questions related to the concept(s).
  • Students work on guided activities, which may include one or several experimental setups.
    • The activities help them use the experimental setups to discover and build an understanding of the concepts.
    • Students are asked to use a setup to generate a particular result.
    • Once the result is generated, they are asked to come up with a rule which explains why the result occurred.
    • Students test the rule by trying to achieve the same result in a different way (i.e., make a modification to the setup and predict the result based on the rule they generated, then figure out if the rule new setup conforms to the rule).
    • These steps can be repeated several times. Perhaps the initial rule can be more rough/broad and subsequent questions guide students to make it more precise and closer to the intended end result.
  • At different stages in the process, students can be given hints (either in the worksheets or by the instructor, or both) to help them progress in a particular productive direction.
  • In the last 10 minutes of the class, students are asked to summarize what they learned and answer conceptual questions or solve problems which require application of the concept(s) learned.
  • As they exit the class, students are given a sheet which summarizes the key conceptual and quantitative relationships learned in that class and connect them to the formal way they are represented in a textbook.
  • The homework assigned after the class can ask questions which require students to apply the concepts in various contexts and make connections to previous material.
  • The homework can also ask preparatory questions on a future topic, which can be used as a starting point for the next class.

As mentioned before, lab and lecture do not need to be integrated for this approach, and, instead of using an experimental setup, students can be presented with experimental data, graphs, tables, observations etc., and asked similar questions as the ones discussed earlier.

Important aspects of POGIL:

  • The activities students engage in during class are carefully designed to guide students to discover the concepts of a topic, and, if possible, take into account prior knowledge.
    • This is probably the single most important and difficult aspect of this approach.
  • In order to increase student buy-in the approach should be properly framed (see Framing an Instructional Transformation)
    • Keep in mind that students may have never been exposed to this kind of approach (especially in a natural science course) it is likely that they will show resistance to it. o   Appropriate framing of the approach can aid greatly in reducing student resistance and improving student engagement and learning.
  • The instructor acts as a guide and, when students get stuck, he/she gives hints or asks guiding questions instead of telling students what to do.
    • This can be a difficult task, but gets easier as the POGIL approach is used repeatedly.
  • The goals of each class are carefully spelled out and communicated to students so that they can monitor their progress.
  • Close collaboration between students is encouraged
    • Each student in a group can be given a clearly defined role, and the roles can switch from week to week
    • Peer evaluations can be included (i.e., students in a particular team evaluate each other at one or several different points during the semester).

More information/resources:

  • Video describing the POGIL approach in an introductory chemistry classroom.
  • POGIL instructor’s guide at
  • The POGIL Project is dedicated to this approach. It contains many instructor resources and detailed information about how to implement this approach successfully in a course.