An Interesting Group Work Model

It has a long, not-easy-to-remember name: Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning. It usually goes by its acronym: POGIL. It’s a model designed to replace lectures (though not necessarily all of them). Students discuss course material in teams, and they use carefully designed material that involves sequenced sets of questions—that’s the guided-inquiry part of the model. The process part relates to what is generally a three-phase learning cycle that involves exploration, invention, and application. It is derived from Piaget’s work on mental functioning.

In the exploration phase, students usually start with a model and the questions help them see patterns within the model. “Often, the questions lead students to test hypotheses or explain the patterns and relationships found in the model.” (p. 263) The invention phase involves introduction of a concept or relationship. In the application phase, students are challenged to extend and apply the concept to new situations. “The sequence of questions in POGIL materials are carefully devised to help students progress properly through the phases, to guide them toward appropriate conclusions, and to develop desired process skills, such as problem solving, deductive reasoning, communication and self-assessment.” (p. 236)

The POGIL model was developed for use in the sciences and has been used successfully in a variety of chemistry courses; in biology, anatomy and physiology, physics, math, computer science, and environmental science; and now in other fields such as education and marketing. The website ( shows sample materials. For those interested in the model, the website contains much useful information, including a detailed instructor’s guide that can be downloaded for free.

In this model, the instructor functions as a facilitator who’s available to assist the groups. However, instructors do not answer questions that students should be able to figure out for themselves. Rather than answering student questions, instructors opt to ask the group questions that lead them to the answer. Students are assigned roles in this model. There is some variation in the roles, but there might be a manager who keeps the group on task, a scribe who is the group’s official record keeper, a spokesperson who may be called upon to share the group’s solution, and a librarian who may be the only person in the group permitted to have the textbook open.

The POGIL model has been studied empirically in a number of courses. Here’s a sample of the findings. In organic chemistry, less than 8 percent of more than 1,000 students were negative about the method. The same cohort had 30 percent registering negative attitudes about traditional lectures. In an anatomy and physiology course (see reference at the end of this article), grades improved at statistically significant levels. In a medicinal chemistry course taken by pharmacy students, exam scores for students in the POGIL section were higher, as was the final grade distribution (see reference at the end of this article).

This not a method that can be undertaken without significant planning and preparation. The anatomy and physiology professor writes, “Although POGIL requires a great deal of effort and a careful introduction to students who might be skeptical of a novel and unfamiliar classroom experience, its benefits cannot be easily disputed.”

Eberlein, T., Kampmeier, J., Minderhout, V., Moog, R. S., Platt, T., Varma-Nelson, P., and White, H. B. (2008). Pedagogies of engagement in science: A comparison on PBL, POGIL, and PLTL. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 36 (4), 262-273.

(Note: This excellent article contains information on problem-based learning, POGIL, and peer-led team learning (PLTL), which was the subject of an article in our March issue.)

Brown, P. J. P. (2010). Process-oriented guided-inquiry learning in an introductory anatomy and physiology course with a diverse student population. Advances in Physiology Education, 34, 150-155.

Brown, S. D. (2010). A process-oriented guided inquiry approach to teaching medicinal chemistry. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 74 (4), article 121.

Reprinted from The Teaching Professor, 25.4 (2011): 4.