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Challenges faced when using enquiry-based learning – Course design

Addresses some of the difficulties that arise for course design when using enquiry-based learning

Cloud created by:

Peter Kahn
21 October 2009

•    Undertaking an enquiry often involves students in additional work compared to courses that rely on lectures.

Response 1 – Allow for the full demands of the course when setting its (credit) size.

Institutional regulations typically require programmes to be consistent with the requirements of the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which indicates that judgements on the volume of credit are determined primarily by the amount of learning necessary to achieve the intended outcomes.  While the coverage of the syllabus may be comparable to a module taught on traditional lines or the word-length of the assessment tasks may be comparable, credits are determined rather by the amount of learning needed to achieve the intended outcomes. Learning that is based around a process of research thus often occurs in relatively large modules (or in non-modular programmes takes up a relatively large part of the programme). Evidence may need to be gathered to justify that additional demands are placed on the students in specific settings.

Response 2 – Restrict the number and scope of required tasks, and the associated resources and support

Tasks involving research often require significant initial familiarisation, development of related skills, knowledge of the procedures needed to locate information, familiarity with equipment, and so on.  The demands increase significantly where research is carried out in authentic settings. When group is involved, then extra time is required to coordinate the activities of the group members.  Such considerations need to be taken into account when establishing what is required of students.


•    Enquiries are often extended in nature, making them difficult for students to pursue within a modular programme.

Response – Make use of large modules, or pre-requisites and co-requisites

A range of responses are possible to the challenges of pursuing extended processes within a modular system.

a)    Larger modules may be advisable to allow sufficient time to complete an inquiry, or to ensure that student work is appropriately recognised.  Institutions typically allow fairly large modules at undergraduate level, although typically one might expect to wait until the third year of a programme before asking students to pursue an enquiry that is extended so fully.  
b)    It may be possible to complete an initial stage of an investigation within one module, while a second stage is completed within a further module. In this case the initial module will be required as a pre-requisite for the second module.  Each module must obviously retain its own distinct identity, with separate learning outcomes, assessments and so on.  It should also be possible for one to proceed to the second stage of the investigation with only limited success in completing the first stage. This may, of course, limit the extent to which this course design strategy may be employed.

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