The concept of discovery learning is not a new one, examples can be drawn from every time frame. Throughout history, the best educators have advocated the principles of discovery in the learning process and they have suggested it be used as an active approach to education. It is evident as you look through the decades, that there is a developing pattern of discovery. These patterns are seen and developed through hands-on, experimental approaches to education that are applied to groups of children/people rather than focusing on the individual. Over the years, educators have taken principles developed before their time and either applied them or reinvented them to accommodate the changes created by time and or people.
"Today the use of discovery methods in primary schools is widespread. No set pattern or approach exists. Rather, schools have developed according to the teaching strengths that were available, or along lines suggested by local authorities concerned with the various curriculum development schemes of the Schools' Council and similar organizations" (Foster, 1972).
The ideas grounding discovery learning, such as a hands-on and inquiry based, have been addressed and readdressed by individuals dating back to Achimedes and carried throughout the ages with others such as: Charlotte Mason, Rachel and Margaret MacMillian, Maria Montessori, Edward O'Neill, Gardner, Piaget, Pasteur, H. Simon, etc. Each of these individuals while maybe not directly addressing 'discovery learning' as an individual theory have incorporated either one or all of the hands-on, experimental, and inquiry principles to guide education or explain the way in which children/people most successfully learn. All of these individuals are striving for the same goal, to find the best and most efficient way to teach, so that an individual will retain the highest capacity of knowledge.
In school, discovery learning will often involve a contrived experience, usually in the form of an example prepared by the teacher, that is derived from the interest of their students. The teacher will present the example so that each individual can develop it in the most effective way for them self personally. This allows individuals to discover regularity and relatedness within the learning experience. The Individual is more likely to retain information if they are allowed to problem-solve the solution based on information they already know.
It is not the idea of a structured theory that has kept discovery learning present and applicable within our schools but the idea that teachers are individually diagnosing their students and applying the best possible methods for the success of the individuals. Discovery learning is still engaged within the educational system because it is a method that allows teachers to insure the promotion and activation of the student as the principle agent in their own learning.