In this post I argue that information literacy (IL) is a last century concept and that inquiry learning (IL) is a more holistic and powerful framework with which to understand how people learn to find and use information.
I was first introduced to the concept of information literacy in the late 90s when I began my librarianship studies. As an experienced teacher, I immediately felt there was something lacking in the way that information literacy was portrayed by the librarianship profession. It gradually became clear to me that, in formal educational contexts, information literacy was being advocated without a pedagogy supporting it. This was due, I felt, to information literacy being ‘owned’ by academic librarians, who in most cases were not teachers and did not understand learning theory or curriculum design theory. I subsequently wrote about the problems I saw in a profession (i.e. academic librarianship) taking ‘ownership’ of a literacy (Lupton 2002).
It seemed obvious to me that inquiry learning was a pedagogy which provided the framework for information literacy. At that time, inquiry learning was being advocated as an innovative pedagogy for higher education curricula. In 2002, I became the coordinator of a curriculum project at the Australian National University that aimed to develop inquiry learning courses in first year. In those courses, information literacy was embedded into the inquiry curriculum.
In the years following, I undertook my Masters and PhD research investigating how students learned through using information (i.e. information literacy) at university. I still used the concept of information literacy even though I became increasingly uncomfortable with what I saw as its limitations. There still seemed to be a divide between the educational concepts of curriculum and pedagogy and the librarianship concept of information literacy.
So, what is the distinction between inquiry learning and information literacy? First, inquiry learning is a pedagogy and a curriculum design framework. Pedagogy is related to the teacher. It is ‘any conscious activity by one person designed to enhance learning in another.’ (Watkins and Mortimer 1999, p. 3). Pedagogy includes the teacher’s strategies, their choice of teaching and learning activities, the way they manage their classroom and the way they design and implement curriculum. Pedagogy is the way teachers organise learning, underpinned by the values and beliefs that they have regarding teaching and learning.
Curriculum is related to pedagogy. Curriculum includes the content and skills to be learned, teaching and learning activities and assessment. There are three manifestations of curriculum: 1) the intended curriculum – what the teacher plans will happen in the classroom; 2) the enacted curriculum – how the teacher actually enacts the plan; and 3) the experienced curriculum – how the teacher and students experience the curriculum.
By contrast, literacy is related to the learner. It is regarded as the knowledge, skills and abilities demonstrated by the learner. The knowledges, skills and abilities are deemed to be different depending on the view of literacy one takes. For instance, (information) literacy can be seen in three ways:
- Generic – a set of discrete, neutral generic skills related to reading, writing and the use of technology
- Situated – social practices involving solving personal, work, family and community problems
- Transformative – effecting social change through an emancipatory process. (Lupton & Bruce 2010)
Thus, literacy is not a pedagogy, or even a curriculum framework. Literacy needs a pedagogy to develop it and give it meaning. I believe that inquiry learning is a natural pedagogy and curriculum framework for information literacy which relates more closely to the type of learning outcomes we wish to achieve in contemporary educational contexts. As Kuhlthau (2010 p. 3) argues, ‘school librarianship has evolved from emphasis on library skills to information skills in the 1980s, to information literacy in the 1990s, to inquiry as a way of learning in the first decade of the 21st century’. This view is reinforced by the prominence of inquiry in the new Australian Curriculum (Lupton 2012).
The purpose of this blog is to explore these ideas. My next post will be presenting my description of inquiry learning.
Kuhlthau, C. (2010). Guided inquiry: School libraries in the 21st century. School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1), 1-12.
Lupton, M. (2012). Inquiry skills in the Australian Curriculum. Access, June, 12-18.
Lupton, M., & Bruce, C. (2010). Windows on information literacy worlds : Generic, situated and transformative perspectives. In A. Lloyd & S. Talja (Eds.), Practising Information Literacy : Bringing Theories of Learning, Practice and Information Literacy Together (pp. 4-27). Wagga Wagga: Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University, 4-27
Lupton, M. (2002). The getting of wisdom: Reflections of a teaching librarian. Australian Academic & Research Libraries. 33(2) http://alia.org.au/publishing/aarl/33.2/full.text/lupton.html
Watkins, C., & Mortimore, P. (1999). Pedagogy: What do we know? In P. Mortimore (Ed.), Understanding pedagogy and its impact on learning. London: Paul Chapman Publishing.