ASKS: an Inquiry-based Learning Model

Great results begin with great questions.

Marilee Adams

The Ocean and the Land

i4cl uses the ASKS Inquiry-based Learning Model. This way of thinking about learning starts with a metaphor question: Are we working on Land or Ocean learning? Land learning and ocean learning are distinct but equally important.

Land learning means gaining new facts or skills. Information is static, visible, and easily measured. This area of learning is the logical; it is the explicit mode of learning.

Meanwhile, ocean learning requires continuous adjustment to new circumstances, feelings, and experiences, just as the sailor gives continuous attention to water currents, tides, and wind. Ocean learning consists of changes in awareness and resulting changes to actions, which are are based on shifts in attitudes, beliefs, and perspectives. This area of learning is the psychological; it occurs within.

In the ASKS inquiry-based learning model, teachers, leaders, and facilitators are required by their roles to pay attention to what the learner knows and can do -- land learning -- in addition to what is happening inside the learner -- ocean learning. This dual attentiveness of the leader is necessary if they are to be of optimal support to learning.


This figure shows the ASKS model as divided into four equal areas of learning. The lower left quadrant is about knowledge and increasing the learner's supply of facts. Learning used to be considered the building of knowledge, with the teacher as the supplier and the student as the recipient. Today, a student still can be tested to determine how much relevant information has been remembered. However, in the ASKS model, knowledge is just one area of four. This shift is consistent given today’s interconnected world; schools and teachers are no longer considered gatekeepers of knowledge. Even as an expert's knowledge loses value in this age of freely available information, the leader's ability to support and facilitate learning in all four quadrants remains vitally important to the learner.


The bottom right quadrant is represents the building of SKILLS. This is another commonly understood meaning of learning: to become competent at a task. The recent focus on competency-based learning focuses on this quadrant. Here the teacher is a coach, describing and demonstrating a skill and giving the student feedback on his or her performance of that skill. This kind of learning can be measured through a demonstration by the student of their ability. In the ASKS model, this kind of learning is also just one component of a bigger picture.


The top left quadrant in the ASKS model is learning as developing AWARENESS. Educational theorist Caleb Gattegno argued that "only awareness is educable," meaning that awareness is the essential starting point for learning. Learning in the awareness quadrant involves noticing new things and developing stronger and more refined skills in noticing, in becoming aware. This includes noticing what is happening inside one's self, what we call the "inner landscape," and the information coming in through one's senses, "the outer landscape." This kind of awareness is an area of learning that is increasingly popular in the form of mindfulness training. Becoming aware is often a process of becoming conscious of what was unconscious or outside our awareness.


The top right quadrant in the ASKS model is learning as what we call Stance. This is the position from which you view something, the stance you take in relation to a topic, person, situation or problem. The stance portion of the model is not a quadrant alone, but the white background of that quadrant merges into the white background that makes up the page. Because our awareness, knowledge and skills are all embedded in as well as influenced by stance.

Austrian philosopher Martin Buber provides a useful illustration of stance in his concept of "I-thou" and "I-it" relationships. I-It relationships may simply be utilitarian, embodying an exchange of information to accomplish a task. Ordering at a drive-through might be a time you operate from that stance. At other times, we engage in I-It relationships with friends, colleagues, or neighbors when we treat them as an "it" by speaking down to them or talking at them, rather than being fully present with them. An I-Thou stance, in contrast, is one of full presence and a willingness to engage in dialogue. These are two different "ways of being." Different stances that emerge from all that has shaped us and influence how we engage in the moment.

Learning that engages one in identifying one's stance – where it comes from and how it influences one’s approach to a situation – is often called reflective learning or reflective practice. This form of learning is where paradigms can shift, resulting in a cascade of learning and change–an experience of transformative learning.

In the ASKS model, the unbound nature of that quadrant also reflects that much of what makes up stance is unconscious that this element of the quadrant is illustrated through the openness of boundaries.

Gathering & acting on information

We divide the top and bottom quadrants into ocean and land learning, respectively. The top half of the square captures the oceanic, psychological, and often unconscious elements of learning. The solidity of knowledge and skills learning – land learning – makes up the lower half.

In addition, we can differentiate between the two left and two right quadrants. Awareness and Knowledge are both modes of gathering information. In Awareness, we gather information from our senses and our internal landscape; in Knowledge, we gather information from the outside. The left two quadrants, Stance and Skills, are about acting on information, either acting from our particular perspective or position or acting using the skills we have developed.

learning is dynamic

The ASKS model is intended as an integrative exercise in making sense of several elements of learning and how they relate to the thinking of learning theorists. It is in keeping with the Western scientific paradigm to create categories like the quadrants in ASKS. However, ASKS recognizes learning is a holistic, dynamic, messy activity in which all of these (and more unknown factors) are involved. The model is useful for exploring the details but doing so while also recognizing the interconnectedness of each of the quadrants with the others, each influencing the others. These categories are not meant to imply a cycle, though they could be used in a cyclical way as an approach to planning a lesson or workshop.


This sense of learning as complex, dynamic and social is so central to our thinking about learning and teaching, and about individual and institutional change, that we’ve made it our logo.

The ASKS model was developed at i4cl by Sean Conley Ed. D. in dialogue with other i4cl fellows. It draws on the thinking and work of many others, including the KASA model developed by colleagues in the MAT faculty at the School for International Training, David Kolb and Bernice McCarthy's work in experiential learning, Laura Spencer's work with ORID, Martin Buber, John Dewey, and others. For an illustration of how ASKS draws on these influences see this chart.