Study skills

La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library

Study skills

La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library

Study skills

La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library

Study skills


Enquiry-based learning

Enquiry-Based Learning (EBL) is a teaching-learning approach that focuses on collaboration, independent learning and problem solving.

In EBL you will:

  • use real-world situations as a context for learning,
  • focus on thinking skills: critical analysis, problem-solving, and decision- making,
  • use skills and behaviour from different professional areas,
  • take responsibility for your own learning and share your learning in small groups,
  • develop life-long learning (that is, learning throughout life) and teamwork skills, and
  • develop self-directed learning and evaluation.

With its emphasis on self-directed learning, EBL offers you greater opportunities than traditional teaching-learning approaches to develop the skills you need for life-long learning.

Why learn this way?

Each profession has a range of competencies necessary for professional practice. EBL will help you to develop the skills of critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, and reflective practice expected of a professional. Moreover, you will get to work in teams in an interdisciplinary context which is an important aspect of professional practice.

EBL is a reversal of the traditional order of learning, where you had to learn the information and then apply it. In EBL, learning focuses on an enquiry, or real-world project, which provides the context for group collaboration in research, exchange of information, and the presentation and evaluation of ideas in relation to a given enquiry problem.

In an enquiry, you need to carry out individual learning activities and work with other members of your team. For example,

  • you could be locating relevant sources
  • gathering key information related to a problem and
  • sharing these with the group.

structured learning tasks include lectures and workshops for group work led by a facilitator. Throughout an enquiry, you will participate in workshops and group meetings which will support your oral presentations, group posters, and written tasks.

Video: What is EBL?

This video explains what EBL is and what you will be expected to do as a student:

Example of a Health Enquiry

he aim of the enquiry is to explore the benefits of using a team-based approach for the delivery of health and human services from the perspectives of the consumer, health and human services organisations and their staff. The enquiry problem centres on the need for health agencies and local government to combine efforts to address the increasing number of injuries among young people in the Cooinda Region.

An interdisciplinary project team would be engaged by the Cooinda Regional Community Committee, established to bring together health and human service agencies, local government and community representatives in the Region, to investigate the issue and to present the findings to a meeting of the Committee.

You will begin this enquiry by considering the concept of a team using reflections on your own observations of teams in popular culture. Different models of teamwork, obstacles to effective teamwork and managing issues that arise when working in a team will be examined. In the latter part of this enquiry, you will focus on different types of teams that exist in the health and human services sector and how their function impacts on the outcomes for the consumer, their family, the organisation and its staff.

You and your team are required to submit a number of pieces of work for this enquiry.

The individual task involves three stages. Firstly, you prepare a short summary of a text allocated to you in the first phase of the enquiry. Then you share your review with those prepared by other team members of their allocated text. Finally, you locate a text, such as a journal article or section or chapter of a text, relevant to your work in this enquiry. You will need to prepare a summary of a specified length, synthesising the main points from the various texts you have read for this enquiry.

The team task is to prepare a team poster and an oral presentation. The poster presents the team’s exploration of interprofessional collaboration. Your oral presentation should support the content of your poster. Both individual and team tasks will be assessed according to specific learning outcomes in relation to team work, academic skills, and communication skills.

Adapted from Faculty of Health Sciences, La Trobe University (2008). Interprofessional Practice A (HLTIPA), Melbourne: La Trobe University.

Facilitator's role

The role of the facilitator is to:

  • support you in making your team an effective learning unit
  • encourage teams to become autonomous
  • promote development of learning skills
  • monitor your progress
  • question and challenge students in applying their learning to their investigation
  • provide you with feedback on achievement of learning outcomes
  • server as a resource person and promote the use of a variety of resources. Facilitators may differ in the way they run their groups. This may be due to the different expectations across subjects and across years and, of course, facilitators need to respond to individual team differences.

Adapted from Faculty of Health Sciences, La Trobe University (2008). Interprofessional Practice A (HLTIPA), Melbourne: La Trobe University.

Student's role

The role of the student is to:

  • think like a health professional: problem-solve, make decisions, think critically and creatively
  • accept responsibility for own learning and be a self-directed learner
  • take an active role in planning, organising, and evaluating own learning
  • be an effective group member: share information with group members by contributing to research, group discussions, making decisions about and evaluating group processes
  • evaluate own and group members' learning/achievement of learning outcomes

Adapted from Little, P. (2008, October).  Facilitating Enquiry Based Learning Teams. Workshop conducted in the Faculty of Health Sciences, La Trobe University, Bundoora.

An enquiry has 6 phases. Some of these will be repeated and may run over several weeks depending on the complexity of the task.  It is worth having an idea of the whole process at this point, as this will help you to manage any enquiry. The phases are:

1. Consider the enquiry problem or task

To do this you need to discuss as a team:

  • What are the facts?
  • Are these really facts or are they assumptions team members are making, based on opinions?
  • What are the critical questions?

2. Free enquiry.

In this phase you need to question your understanding of the meaning of words and concepts that are used in the enquiry presentation. These give valuable clues to the real meaning of the task.  If you see any inconsistencies in the information presented these should be identified and discussed. You also need to identify what you already know that is relevant to the enquiry.  Find the limits of existing knowledge within the group.

3. Identification of learning issues and making an action plan.

Learning issues are everything that needs to be learned to resolve the enquiry.

Questions and suggestions raised in phases a. and b. are the starting point for this phase.

Focus on what needs to be known to resolve the enquiry and how this may be found.  You may do this several times to clarify and find everything that is needed. Follow up the learning issues with an action plan. Each team member should follow up one or more of the learning issues, to report back to the team at the next workshop. This step is repeated each week until the enquiry is fully resolved.

4. Peer teaching.

Workshops typically start with each team member taking turns to teach the others the most important points from their follow-up from the action plan.

The most important points are those that are most critical to the enquiry task. In this way, all relevant knowledge and ideas are shared by the team.

5. Knowledge integration.

The cycles of identifying learning issues, finding sources or data, and peer teaching, help you to form a deeper understanding.  Each time you need to review your existing knowledge to integrate it – bring it all together in a meaningful way.  This should be done individually, and as a team. When the enquiry is nearly finished, knowledge integration by the team leads to the final step.

6. Resolution of the enquiry.

At this point the presentation and/or report is prepared. The team members have identified all of the relevant information and data, and shared this among the members of the group. Preparing a presentation or a report provides a focus for knowledge integration, leading to a final resolution of  the enquiry.