Guided Discovery Learning Model: Social Constructivism and Online e-Learning Students

Ryan Hatch


Memorial University of Newfoundland



The COVID-19 pandemic has enormously impacted people’s social interaction and has changed the education environment. All aspects of our lives have been affected and changed, a natural occurrence when we have time to rethink, reassess, and re-evaluate perspectives, especially on how we perceive education. Distance, digital, and e-learning have reshaped education in many ways. With many technological advancements in education and the transitions to and from online learning, a perspective became an advantage for specific individuals in the education sector. Currently, those with a high interest in technology move more quickly in the distance education and e-learning processes. In this context, individuals want to express their skills in the digital age by taking full advantage of what e-learning offers. More learners are finding that they can work at their own pace, in the best way for them, focusing on learner autonomy that is of great interest to all. This review looks at guided self-directed learning, how it is affected by cognitive theory, and its effect on those that may not thrive in a traditional learning model. The reviewed research also looks at social constructivism and how guided learning and free expression help students meet learner expectations, but in a way that embraces creativity, actively search for information to discover new facts, and produces truths and a pace that works for them and learners. There is also a review of the critical elements of a strong guided learning program. In addition, it looks at this model’s negative aspects and shortcomings and the effect it can have on a student’s e-learning process. However, the review shows that guided discovery learning can work for those motivated to work alone and in online groups.


constructivism, cognitive load theory, e-learning, social constructivism, guided discovery learning, zone of proximal development,

Guided Discovery Learning Model: Social Constructivism and e-Learning Students

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted every aspect of our lives, including education. With schools and universities closed to prevent the spread of the virus, students worldwide have been forced to adapt to a new way of learning. As a result, many have turned to online learning to continue their education, online health care for visits, and connection through social media (Noviyanti et al., 2019). With the demand for online connectivity and the exponential growth of information and communication technologies and online programming, we were thrown into a technological cybernetic revolution (Grinin et al., 2022). According to Noviyanti et al. (2019), this rapid growth has encouraged citizens to have intellectual capabilities in the 21st century (p. 7) that they would not have even considered before the pandemic. The creation of the unprecedented revolution also affected enrolment in distance education, as specific individuals enjoyed the comfort and convenience of learning online.

E-learning is using digital media to accommodate the learning process in class. (Koohang & Harman, 2005). Before the pandemic, e-learning was considered a complementary social medium that only served as a supplement to the learning process periodically in the classroom or at home. However, in the past few years, e-learning has become necessary for some to continue providing the educational process. E-learning can be found on mobile devices, tablets, and computers in the form of apps, allowing people to perform numerous activities online without the need to leave their homes, which then leads to changes in existing traditional learning (Mouratidis & Papagiannakis, 2021) and education. This paper is a review of the literature that looked at e-learning and the individuals that we content with learning online with a guided discovery model.

My Teaching Philosophy

Early in my teaching career, my philosophy around technology in education had been based on the idea that powerful technology enhances the learning experience for all students. I was constantly looking for new and innovative ways to incorporate technology into my science classes and culinary arts program at school to demonstrate, more to myself, that these new tactile technologies had me at the forefront of the technological movement as an educator and contributor to my school community. My teaching practice had slowly become a technological solutionism (Morozov, 2013) with a propensity to jump to a solution with technology before adequately and thoroughly understanding the nature of a problem (McKenney & Reeves, 2020). This philosophy, however fun it may have been for me, became muddled and insignificant due to the COVID pandemic and the transition to online learning. I had assumed that the experience of the technology itself was the linking factor to better understanding the world and the content that helps students shape their understanding of the world. I learned that technology was more of a means of opening the door to greater understanding if used to enrich the learning experience (Simplilearn, 2023). Therefore, my philosophical perspective of technology in education moved from the flash and experience to a much more intentional integration to meet the learner’s needs.

Regarding instructional design, technology is a valuable tool for creating engaging and interactive learning environments (Pappas, 2021). Teaching online during the COVID pandemic taught me that, as educators, we can create immersive experiences that capture the imagination and inspire a love of learning from our students. Of course, it is essential to remember that technology is just one piece of the puzzle for effective instructional design in education. It also requires a deeper understanding of the learner’s needs, environment, digital access, preferences, and a thoughtful approach to content development and appropriate delivery to all students.

My revamped philosophy on educational technology is now focused on finding the right balance between technology integration and human interaction. The theories of Constructivism and Connectivism are approaches to technology-enhanced learning environments and instructional design combining the best of both worlds; educators can create unique learning environments and learning opportunities that are both highly effective and enjoyable while meeting the needs of the individual learner and inspiring a lifelong love of learning.

Constructivism emphasizes the importance of active learning and the role of the learner in constructing their knowledge and how it shapes their world. In a technology-enhanced learning environment, the educator creates opportunities for students to engage with the desired materials in a hands-on, interactive way (Voon et al., 2020). By providing learners with the tools and resources they need to explore and experiment, we can help them build a deeper understanding of the subject matter. I best equate this to the culinary arts program I have taught for many years. Teaching students how to make soup is a fulfilling accomplishment, but introducing an immersion blender into the process opens a whole new world to the students’ experience and realm of possibilities.

Connectivism, on the other hand, emphasizes the importance of networks and connections in the learning process. In a technology-enhanced learning environment, the facilitator or educator creates opportunities for learners to connect with experts in the field. Again, in the culinary arts world, this is the equivalent of creating a shared file of famous chefs’ YouTube videos or TikTok that demonstrates their unique skills so the students can emulate and acquire them. By leveraging the power of social media, online communities, and other digital tools, we can create a rich and diverse learning ecosystem that supports collaboration, sharing, and lifelong learning (Downes, 2020).

Learning Theories and Models

At the heart of my teaching philosophy, up to this point in my career, I was a true believer in Cognitivism. Teaching in an industrial kitchen with twenty students meant that I had very little time for student discovery, as more times than not, it would lead to student trips to the infirmary. Cognitivism theory in a kitchen made sense; by following the ADDIE framework for designing in my class, I knew where the students needed to start and had all my courses and recipes parameterized into online modules based on the programs of studies provided by the Alberta Government. Progression was easy as we moved through the semester, and I ate well (Kurt, 2018), not always, but usually. Everything had to be organized to prevent injury, and the sequencing was monotonous (Power, 2023). It was effective, and kids mostly left with all their fingers.

Secretly, I was a closet believer in Constructivism. What I wanted my students to do was find a love for cooking as I did, trial and error. My chef father taught me how to use a knife and left me to my own devices in the kitchen. Practicing the principles of Constructivism at a young age, constructed knowledge, active process, socially constructed with and know chef for a father (Power, 2023). I have often pondered, emotionally cutting onions, whether Cognitivism is more effective than Constructivism. If I had followed a Guided Discovery Learning model (GDL), maybe I would have the next top chef walking out of my kitchen because I allowed them to discover their talent by trial and error, scaffolding their learning, free to express themselves (Noviyanti et al., 2019)

They are grounded in the idea that learning is a dynamic and ongoing process (Svinicki, 1998) requiring active engagement and participation. As an instructional designer for my students, my job is to create learning environments that support this process and empower learners to take ownership of their learning journey. Which is better, Constructivism or Connectivism? With the latest advancements in technology, I don’t believe there is a right or wrong answer. We as educators can create learning environments that are engaging, interactive, and practical and that inspire a love of learning that lasts a lifetime, no matter the theory we follow.

Literature Review: Guided Discovery Learning

Guided Discovery Learning for Online e-Learners

The guided GDL was a concept introduced by psychologist Jerome Bruner as a method of Inquiry-Based Instruction (Svinicki, 1998). This learning theory encourages students to take incomplete information (Noviyanti et al., 2019), and construct understanding by building from past experiences and knowledge, embracing the creativity of their imagination, and actively searching for information to discover new facts, correlations, and truths (Pappas, 2021). In practice for the 21st century, students are introduced to a complex problem or set of problems by an educator, which they work to solve through student-centered self-discovery by being actively engaged, creative, and inventive (Prilliza et al., 2020) by exploring knowledge and insights from various sources of technology that they are familiar with in their daily lives (Saptarini et al., 2022). GDL in an online e-learning environment presumes that the educator helps students by constructing real-world conditions by elaborating and providing real-time feedback on the student’s ideas, perceptions, concepts, and skills they observe/learn how to define their new knowledge (Karuniawati et al., 2022) and form to their own understanding in the 21st century.

Koohang and Harman (2005) described e-learning is the delivery of education (all activities relevant to instructing, teaching, and learning) through various electronic media (p.77). Online e-learning allows teaching materials to be accessible at all times and any place convenient to the students (Azhari et al., 2020) as long as they have access to the internet. Due to this flexibility, online e-learning allows students to practice GDL model at their own pace allowing for more learner control, better time management, and convenience for self-directed Discovery.

The GDL modle is rooted in the Social Constructivism learning theory, where new knowledge replaces existing knowledge or creates new subgroups related to prior knowledge after an experience provided with parameters (Stapleton & Stefaniak, 2018). Constructivism learning was conceived purely as a theory by Piaget (Hobbiss, 2018) and was not designed with any specific pedagogical approach. A theory of learning centered around individual choice, pure discovery, and minimal teacher guidance, according to Myers (2004), may fail to promote the first cognitive process, namely, selecting the relevant incoming information. Students with too much freedom may need help to come into contact with the to-be-learned material (Myers, 2004, p. 14). Suppose a student has the freedom of unlimited access to information online, but the material has little relevance to the learner or is too abstract (Saptarini et al., 2022). In that case, that student fails to discover the to-be-learned material, and no amount of self-discovery, active engagement, or creativity (Prilliza et al., 2020) will help the learner understand what is desired to be learned.

The theory of Social Constructivism responds to Myers’s (2004) cynicism by focusing on the collaborative nature of learning (Azhari et al., 2020). Knowledge for students develops from interacting with others. Online students rely upon educators, technology, peer groups, and social media to help them construct their knowledge and reality threw interaction, guidance, and Discovery (Stapleton & Stefaniak, 2018).

Optimal GDL online e-learning occurs when students learn to handle complex incomplete problems that are still within the cognitive reach or those tasks that fall within the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) (Wilson et al., 1993), a form of Social Constructivism. Vygotsky (1981) stated that: ZPD is between the actual level of development determined through independent problem-solving and the level of potential development determined through problem-solving under the guidance of adults or working with more capable peers (p. 86). Vygotsky (1981) taught that when a student is in the ZPD with a particular learning task, if provided with the appropriate assistance, an optimal environment is created for the student to achieve the task (Mcleod, 2023) by actively seeking answers and solutions through self-discovery in creative ways (Pappas, 2021).

Guided Discovery Learning Instructional Design

Instructional Design (ID) aims to create efficient and authentic learning experiences that are engaging, interactive, and effective in achieving the desired learning outcomes (Pappas, 2021). Cognitive Load Theory (Sweller, 2016) suggests that learners can absorb and retain information efficiently provided so that it does not “overload” the learners’ mental capacity. In other words, a learner’s short-term working memory can only retain a certain amount of information simultaneously, and working memory is extremely limited in capacity and stores information for a short duration (de Jong, 2009). The more information delivered to a student at a given time increases the possibility that the student will not retain what is needed, nor will they be able to access that information from their long-term memory later (Sweller, 2016). To reduce the Cognitive Load in learners, primarily when engaged in online e-learning, educators can apply a framework from an instructional design model to focus on what is most important to the learner and achieve desired outcomes.

Guided Discovery Learning Model for Online e-Learners

GDL, in an online e-learning environment, is an instructional model that encourages learners to explore and construct new knowledge through problem-solving and inquiry-based activities (Noviyanti et al., 2019) while engaged with various electronic media devices (Koohang & Harman, 2005). Unlike other ID models, such as ADDIE, which approaches ID as a stage-oriented, instructor-driven design with a clearly defined implementation plan for effective learning (Kurt, 2018). The GDL approach places the responsibility of learning and discovering the concepts and principles on their own. GDL online e-learning promotes deep understanding, through critical thinking, and the ability to transfer knowledge to new situations for the student (Noviyanti et al., 2019). Students become more cooperative problem-solvers as they develop skills to collaborate and work with others, with the freedom to work at their own pace and convenience (Azhari et al., 2020).

GDL model integrates five critical elements to help e-learners in their online learning, which include (Pappas, 2014): 1) Problem or Challenges, 2) Learning Management, 3) Scaffolding / Inquiry-based activities, 4) Collaboration, and 5) Assessment and Feedback. This model makes e-learning powerful by emphasizing problem-solving and developing metacognitive ability (Rahayu & Suparwoto, 2019), positively affecting learning achievement.

Problem or Challenge

Chen and Chen (2010) found that the GDL model effectively promoted problem-solving skills in computer science education courses. GDL is effective because it allows learners to engage in authentic problem-solving activities, further developing critical thinking skills and working at a pace tailored to each individual.

Learning Management

The GDL model allows participants to work alone or with others and learn at their own pace. This flexibility (Khan, 2011) makes learning more than a sequence of lessons and activities; e-learning technologies can improve performance and reduce unnecessary stress by empowering the learner makes them feel in control of their learning.

Scaffolding / Inquiry-Based Learning

The GDL model uses ZPD, which consists of two components (Kurt, 2020). First is a student’s potential development as a learner, and second is student interactions with peers and the teacher. The potential development with ZPD is simply what the e-learning student could learn but not independently. Students participate in online chats, message boards, and other activities that require them to ask questions, investigate, and explore new concepts and ideas (Simamora et al., 2018). These activities may include simulations, case studies, or group projects. The teacher then facilitates by scaffolding information to the student and provides guidance, support, and feedback to help learners progress through the learning process.


The GDL model encourages discovery learning, often involving group work and collaboration, as learners can benefit from sharing ideas. Suyatno (2020) shared that many teachers struggled to hold regular online classes during the COVID pandemic and reported poor attendance (p. 1884) Yet also reported remarkably high group participation and completion for assignments when offered through social media applications and open-to-group collaboration.

Assessment and Feedback

Formative assessment and feedback are essential components of GDL, as they help students monitor progress, identify areas for improvement, and adjust their learning strategies accordingly. Learning does not only occur when we find the correct answers. It also occurs through failure (Nicol & Macfarlane‐Dick, 2006). Discovery learning focuses not on finding the correct result but on the new things we discover. Moreover, it is the instructor’s responsibility to provide feedback since, without it, learning is incomplete. Some strategies for assessing and providing feedback to e-learning students in GDL are (Nicol & Macfarlane‐Dick, 2006):

Rubrics: Rubrics can assess student performance on specific tasks or assignments.

Self-assessment: Self-assessment can be a powerful tool for promoting metacognitive skills and self-regulated learning.

Peer assessment: Peer assessment can be an effective way to provide feedback to students and to promote collaboration and teamwork.

Formative assessment: Formative assessment can be used throughout the learning process to provide students feedback and guide their learning.

To optimize the effectiveness of the DGL model for online e-learners, instructors need to design educational sessions that are engaging, interactive, and observable. These mediums could involve YouTube videos, online games, visual aids, and other digital attention-grabbing methods that stimulate curiosity and foster interest (Pappas, 2014). Encouraging students to explore and manipulate situations, grapple with difficult questions, and conduct experiments makes them more likely to retain and apply newly acquired knowledge. The ultimate goal of discovery learning is to empower learners to arrive at their own conclusions and solutions (Karuniawati et al., 2022; Mcleod, 2023; Prilliza et al., 2020), which can enhance their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

However, as with all models, the GDL model also has a few drawbacks that can make it difficult for ID to rely on this model consistently. Again, returning to Myers (2004) exposes the models’ blatant weakness by pointing out that a theory of learning centered around individual choice, pure Discovery, and minimal teacher guidance may fail to select the relevant incoming information. Chen and Chen (2010) expressed that the GDL model should not be used as a primary instruction method as it has limitations in practice and might produce inadequate education for a self-directed learner. Finally, many authors indicated that this model’s secondary weakness is the teachers (Chen & Chen, 2010; Myers, 2004; Nicol & Macfarlane‐Dick, 2006). Instructors in the GDL model must be well prepared, anticipate the questions they may receive, and know the correct answers or guidelines to continue the learning process.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Guided discovery learning is a highly effective approach for self-motivated online e-learning students. By designing and providing a structured framework for exploration and discovery, students can engage with many materials in a more meaningful self-directed way, leading to a more significant potential for deeper understanding, knowledge retention, and greater critical thinking. The flexibility of the GDL model for online e-learners provides more opportunities for personalized instruction and feedback, and more time for collaborating and participating in in-depth conversations with teachers and peers, further enhancing the benefits of this learning model.

However, there is still much to explore in the GDL model as we are still limited by factors such as our digital divide, connectivity, and the lure of the unknown. More time must be spent looking into mixed learning theory models, which combine elements of traditional classroom instructional models like ADDIE can combine with e-learning approaches like GDL. There has to be a medium where all types of student learners and instructional designing educators can find a model that works for all learners. Hopefully, it is in a kitchen around a freshly baked apple pie prepared in an industrial combination oven. As technology evolves and new pedagogical approaches emerge, the possibilities for enhancing the e-learning experience for each individual are fascinating.


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