The Learning Quest



Timothy Baird, Ed.D.


Teachers continue to explore new and interesting ways to delve into design and research learning units.  DREAMS (Design, Research, Engineering, Art, Math, and Science) provides a framework for thinking about the process skills and the content areas but it doesn’t provide an instructional model for doing the work. Perhaps the best instructional model being used currently is the 5E Instructional Model (Bybee and Landes, 1990). Even this model has its limitations. The 5E model is designed to create a learning cycle of Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.  This can help organize thinking related to planning a unit but it doesn’t identify key steps in each area of the cycle. It also doesn’t ensure that specific action steps such as asking questions or looking at the issue from different perspectives take place.

That is what drove me to create the Learning Quest. There is nothing new in this model. These are all practices that teachers use on a regular basis.  What The Learning Quest does provide is a step by step framework that a teacher can use to create a design or research based learning unit.


The model is based upon the following steps, Question, Understand, Experiment/Experience/Explore, Solve, and Tell.  Each step has specific actions that can be modified based upon the needs of the teacher and the learner.  The model can also be slightly adjusted and used to solve a specific problem, set up a design challenge, or simply focus work on interesting research questions.


Question(s) –    Formulate the Leading Question: What is the Leading Question to be answered?  The Leading Question is best if it is a real-world problem that you are trying to address.  Anything that can be answered with a Google search or it is something that the teacher already knows the answer is probably not the best Leading Question.  Leading Questions start the process and focus the follow-up questions, designs, and research on this big picture issue.  Leading Questions should be focused enough that they can be answered but broad enough that they can be approached from many different perspectives.

Teacher Tip – Initially this is probably a teacher task. However, as the learners get more skillful at Learning Quests, learners can eventually create their own Leading Questions.

  • Use the Question Formulation Technique: What new questions arise from the leading question? – Learners brainstorm all questions that they have about the topic. Questions can then be grouped by common factors or themes.

Teacher Tip – Teachers can be in control of this activity but the learners need to be the ones asking the questions.  The teacher can eventually release control of grouping by common factors or themes as the learners become more skillful at the process.

Understand  –   Task Understandings: What parameters do we want to put on this unit?

  1. Time – What is our timeline for this Quest?
  2. Team –   Who will I work with on this Quest?
  3. Task – What format will our answer take?
  4. Technique – If known, how will we try to solve the Quest?
  5. How will we share our work?


  • Perspective Understandings:
  1. Personal– What existing perspective, knowledge, beliefs, or bias do I start with about this issue? What impact does that have on my work?
  2. Audience– What do I need to understand or know about the impacted audience that this QUEST is focused on that will help me do this work more effectively?
  3. Nature– Is there anything that I can learn from nature or natural solutions that would help inform my work on this task?
  • Question Topics: What big ideas or concepts do I need to learn, know, or experience to answer the questions that have been raised? Which ones will I focus on in this unit?

Teacher Tip –  Teachers will probably establish the task understandings.  The learners and teachers will probably work together on the remainder of this part of the Learning Quest.

Experiment/ Experience/Explore   –   Starting the Work to answer our questions:

What experiments should I conduct to solve the Quest?

What learning experiences should occur to help me solve the Quest?

How can we explore these ideas deeper?

What data will help guide our work?

Teacher Tip –  Teachers can have as much or as little control around this part of the       work as they desire.  Some experiences and experiments may require preparation time before the Learning Quest begins, so the teacher may need to organize these.

Solve  –   Create solutions to the Quest:

Create prototypes if solving a design challenge. (Optional)

Answer specific questions that help to understand driving questions.

Design multiple iterations of solutions.

Use critical feedback and reflection to improve design or refine research.

Analyze various solutions that address understandings and answer leading question.

Evaluate and concisely determine best answer(s) to leading question.

Teacher Tip –  This is a learner task.

Tell – Tell your story

Who is the audience?  Why do they care about this?

What format / media do you use to tell the story?

Answer the leading question.

Teacher Tip – This is a learner task but must follow the task understandings section.



A blank Learning Quest Instructional Model Design Template is on the following page.  Feel free to modify and change the model to suit instructional or learner needs.

































          Leading Question –


        Follow-up Questions (Use Question Formulation Technique) –


       Key Themes to Explore –




          Task Understandings –

  1. Time Frame –
  2. Team(s) –
  3. Task –
  4. Technique –


Perspective Understandings –

  1. Personal Perspectives
  2. Audience Perspectives
  3. Nature Perspectives


        Big Ideas / Themes / Areas of Inquiry / Focus Areas –




         Preplanned Activities –


Design Work –


        Research Work –




       Identify Potential Solutions –


Analysis and Evaluation of Solutions –

  1. Addresses Understandings
  2. Answers Leading Question




            Audience –


Format of Presentation

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