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An evaluation of the first year of an enquiry-based learning midwifery curriculum

02 December 2015
15 min read
Volume 23 · Issue 12


Enquiry-based learning (EBL) is an approach to education that generally involves students working in groups, forming their own questions and solving scenarios formulated from an initial ‘trigger’ presented by tutors. EBL entails specific demands but is believed to effectively apply theory to practice and enhance deep learning. In 2012, the midwifery programme at the University of Worcester was reapproved to run as an EBL curriculum. The research summarised here is an evaluation of students' perceptions and experiences of the first year of the new curriculum. A mixed-methods design was employed, using questionnaires and interviews. The students were most likely to perceive the benefits of EBL as increasing critical thinking (73%), problem-solving (68%), and leadership skills (66%). Concerns were voiced about the teaching of anatomy and physiology, and consistency of approach among tutors. All the students stated that their perceptions of EBL and its outcomes became increasingly positive over time. This evaluation suggests that EBL has potential to enhance the key skills of students who will be required to practise within increasingly complex maternity services. Further research is needed to explore the views of mentors as key stakeholders in midwifery education.

The fundamental aim of pre- and post-registration midwifery education is to develop safe, competent practitioners ‘so that, on registration, they can assume full responsibility and accountability for their practice as midwives' (Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), 2009: 3). The key challenge for educators and mentors, therefore, is to ensure that each student is equipped with the necessary skills to be able to practise autonomously and provide the highest possible standard of care at the point of registration.

Enquiry-based learning (EBL) is an approach to learning that has been implemented in a number of universities as a means of encouraging students to more effectively apply theory-based knowledge to practice, both during their studies and post-registration. It generally involves students working together in small groups (or learning sets), formulating their own learning outcomes and exploring scenarios that arise from an initial ‘trigger’, presented by tutors. A trigger can take many forms—for example, a photograph or fictional extract from case notes or video—and it should always be firmly located within ‘real life’ (Price, 2001), in this case, midwifery practice. The tutor in this situation acts as a facilitator, guiding students through the enquiry, occasionally making suggestions and supporting feedback both within the small learning sets and the group as a whole. The facilitator also has a pivotal role in ensuring that the learning outcomes are appropriately set, managed and achieved. EBL, therefore, demands a high level of cohesiveness among learners and the teaching team.

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