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Extensions to enquiry based learning

Overview of further approaches to enquiry-based learning

Cloud created by:

Peter Kahn
20 July 2009

The term enquiry-based learning (EBL) has been introduced in recent years as an umbrella term to describe approaches to learning driven by a process of enquiry.

The earlier curriculum guide from the Higher Education Academy emphasised problem-based learning (PBL), small-scale investigations and project work as three central approaches to EBL. I would like to emphasise here two further possibilites based on experience since 2005 when the guide was written:

Learning based on an aspect of the research process.

While there is inevitably some overlap between terms such as research-based and enquiry-based learning, focusing on a single aspect of a research process offers a good basis for an enquiry. But what this also does is provide natural limits to the scope of the enquiry. We can thus envisage the following sorts of activity under the banner of enquiry-based learning:

  • establishing research questions, data collection exercises, data analysis, peer review, peer editing, student conferences, student journals.

It is clear also that a focus on one aspect of the research process can help students engage in other aspects of research, and also support progression to more sophisticated enquiry tasks.

Learning based on an aspect of professional practice.

Practice also provides a helpful basis for enquiry, particularly if we are looking to develop professionals who are ready to rely more directly on an evidence-base. We can envisage advice centres for the general public run by students, consultations with clients and professional services offered by students (with some sort of supervision in place from staff!) The challenge here is to ensure that enquiry remains at the heart of the approach taken, rather than a more mechanical process.

The focus with these last two forms is not so much an entire investigation or project, but rather an element of an investigation; although there is clearly overlap between the terms involved as the guide originally indicated. But when you are looking to be creative, a slightly different focus of attention may assist in generating new ideas.

Contact details: Peter Kahn, University of Liverpool

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