In this section, we provide you with some hints and guidelines on how to design a good ILS. In general, a good ILS captivates the students’ attention throughout the session. It is pedagogically designed to meet the students’ abilities and skills, while challenging them and guiding them to acquire new knowledge and skills.

Captivate attention

Offering information and activities is not enough to initiate a learning process. Grabbing attention is important because it motivates students to engage in the learning process and makes them willing to invest their time and concentration on the lesson.

You can captivate students’ attention by:

  • using novelty, surprise or uncertainty to gain interest
  • introducing incongruity or conflict to arouse curiosity
  • posing challenging questions or problems to be solved
  • introducing a new topic showing connections to previous learning or real-world applications

This can be more effective by incorporating multimedia, such as videos and visuals, to which students are usually more receptive. 



Captivate attention with a visual curiosity

Maintain attention

Once students are engaged it is important to maintain their interest throughout the ILS. To keep them focused, you can opt to:

  • regularly pose questions or present problems to solve
  • introduce new lines of thought
  • regularly check for student understanding (e.g. using quiz with questions that give automatic feedback)
  • promote intermediate classroom discussions to check for misconceptions
  • incorporate different media to break with the routine – use the inquiry learning apps
  • use a conversational style and virtual coaches



Maintain attention using virtual coaches

Make it meaningful

Even if curiosity is aroused, motivation is lost if the content has no perceived value to the learner. Therefore, it is important to make learning relevant by connecting the content of the lesson to important goals of the students, their interests and prior knowledge.

To make the ILS meaningful:

  • activate prior knowledge, or explain (with text or video) the names and characteristics of key necessary prior concepts
  • show where the new knowledge/skills can be applied
  • relate the content of the lesson to a context that is well known to the students 



Relate the lesson to an everyday context

Plan for success

Students will be motivated if they have confidence and believe they can succeed in the task. To help students establish positive expectations for success:

  • start with simple problems and gradually increase the difficulty level
  • give hints about what to do or worked examples on how to do it - students need more instructions than you would expect
  • anticipate on commonly made errors
  • demonstrate the use of a lab or guide students to get familiar with it
  • give support by adjusting the content of the apps to students’ age/knowledge level. For students with little prior knowledge, partially filled hypotheses or concept maps could be included
  • give extensive and positive feedback
  • provide explanatory feedback instead of corrective feedback
  • provide opportunities to the student to apply the knowledge/skill just gained 


Provide positive explanatory feedback

Watch out for short-term memory limitations

Often the learning process is not optimal because of limitations of our memory. Here are some strategies to not overload working memory:

  • use bold words, arrows, etc. to attract the attention to certain parts of a text or picture
  • give meaningful titles to the inquiry phases
  • choose videos which aren’t too long - maximum 6 minutes, preferably 3 minutes or shorter
  • include both words and pictures that complement each other
  • place elements that belong together conceptually together in space or time
  • eliminate non-essential material
  • divide a phase in which students have to scroll a lot into two phases
  • make ILSs that are mainly sequential, avoiding students having to go back and forth between phases
  • give hints how students should proceed after completing a task and/or phase
  • use the “Hints” functionality to give additional support for those who need it and to limit scrolling
  • make thinking processes explicit 


Give meaningful titles to the inquiry phases

Include reflection

Reflection on action is an important element of the learning process. Stimulating reflection in an ILS or after an ILS has been worked through is essential. This can be achieved by:

  • promoting self-explanations and reflection during the ILS and/or at the end - learning analytics apps, such as time spent, activity plot, etc. can be helpful
  • including checkpoints for discussion on personal level, group level or on the whole class level. 


The activity plot app can be used in the reflection process

Include investigation

A good ILS doesn’t have to cover the whole Inquiry Cycle. It can be focused on certain elements of the circle, however, every ILS should center around investigations. All ILSs should include at least one lab activity. 


ILSs should include a lab activity which can be based on a virtual lab

Avoid gender and racial stereotypes

Stereotypes lead to exclusion because they alienate underrepresented populations. ILSs can contribute positively towards over-ridding long-standing stereotypes, such as: scientists are usually white males wearing lab coats, eyeglasses, and eccentric appearance; teachers are usually older women with eyeglasses; boys like science more than girls.

ILSs frequently have visuals depicting scientists, teachers and students. A good ILS should find gender and racial balance in its visuals and role models, avoiding stereotypes.

Check out this ILS to learn more about creating gender-friendly ILSs.  



Gender and racial balance in ILSs visuals.