This excerpt from Michael Palmisano's Taking Inquiry to Scale: An Alternative to Traditional Approaches to Education Reform (NCLE & NCTE, 2013) discusses the differences between collaborative inquiry and traditional forms of professional learning.
What distinquishes collaborative inquiry from other approaches to educator professional learning?
Collaborative inquiry offers an alternative to one-size-fits-all and top-down approaches to educator professional learning through its approach and its results. Collaborative inquiry changes the professional learning experience by reframing how professional knowledge is constructed and applied. Moving from professional learning approached as the acquisition of methods and structures developed outside the classroom and the school, collaborative inquiry places educators in the role of actively constructing professional knowledge through treating their classrooms and schools as sites for investigation.
Professional learning centers on investigating shared problems or questions of practice as they relate to student learning. The student learning problem, not a prepackaged one-size-fits-all solution, is the departure point for inquiry. Recurring cycles of planning, action and reflection  characterize the professional learning experience. Educators engage in learning and conversation from inside their practice and build on their professional knowledge by examining and reflecting on new learning through the lens of prior knowledge and experience, new information and data, and the impact of their actions.
Collaborative inquiry engages educators in self-directed and participatory learning, moving beyond collective passive learning to learning with and from colleagues through action and reflection. In the supportive context of collaborative inquiry, participants explore agreements and disagreements about learning and teaching, uncover tacit knowledge, and come to individual and shared understandings of how, why and under what conditions instruction and leadership yield positive student results.
The results of educator engagement in collaborative inquiry speak to its effectiveness and viability as an approach to educator professional learning. Evidence of improved instructional practice, increased student achievement, and organizational conditions  that support high achievement are documented in multiple studies involving elementary and secondary schools in various settings serving diverse student populations. Results also demonstrate increased teacher agency in their practice and ownership of their professional learning. The persistent problem of transferring new learning into practice is overcome by centering professional learning on practice. Through collaborative inquiry, individual and collective action become more intentional, coherent, and evidence based.
This excerpt has been reprinted here with permission from Michael Palmisano  and NCTE.