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Inquiry-based learning

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IBL and research

One great attraction of IBL is that it strengthens the teaching–research link in universities, in an environment where reward is based on research output rather than teaching skill. In more traditional approaches, teaching about research happens either through the tutor telling the students about his or her own research, or in a specific "research methods" module as a preparation for the dissertation. In the IBL model, however, student learning is based on the principle of inquiry, so that the research ethos of the department percolates down to students at lower levels.

The whole approach of IBL is similar to that of research: both involve questioning, investigation, and some sort of peer review (in the latter’s case, the "peers" are often fellow students rather than members of a particular disciplinary community).

  • Research starts with the formation of a question or questions, which are then investigated in the literature and through the assembly of primary data. Findings are then reported to the academic community and further questions posed.
  • IBL starts with a particular area of investigation which acts as a stimulus to questions, identification of existing knowledge and gaps, consultation of primary and secondary sources, discussion and review of findings, which are presented in some sort of assessment.


  • MIT offers its undergraduates the opportunity to work with faculty on their research, either on an established programme or pursuing their own research ideas. They get to participate in all the various stages of research from proposal and planning to presenting the results. See
  • At Princeton University, students are required to do some independent work in their junior year, for example, a research project or critique of a research paper.
  • At Sheffield University, second-year archaeology students are trained in the research skills necessary to conduct their dissertation. The General Cemetery in Sheffield provides the starting-point for students to research into a topic of their choice. They select their own research question and assume responsibility for identifying the appropriate tools. They are also required to reflect on the research process, using WebCT.