PBL & Research Skills

This project presents educational improvements for research skills education at UM and focuses on:

1) Integrating content and research skills education on course level

  • Applying PBL core learning principles to research skills education
  • Connecting skills and content
  • Linking to real-world problems and involving professional stakeholders

2) Stimulating research skills learning trajectories

This guide presents best practices of research skills training at both the bachelor’s and master’s level at the UM faculties for future course and curriculum revision. Furthermore, it will reflect on the possibilities to align research skills within curricula to train research skills in an integrated and consistent manner. This guide serves those stakeholders in higher education at UM that are responsible for 1) teaching of research skills, 2) designing and/or coordinating curricula, and 3) ensuring the quality of students’ research capabilities and performance.


  • Multidisciplinary planning groups
  • Training of and communication between tutors and course coordinators
  • Link content and skills by infusing the coordinator’s/tutor’s expertise
  • Enhance the link to real-world problems
  • Increase group-work
  • Use students’ existing knowledge
  • Promote self-directedness
  • Combine formative and summative assessment
  • Use a variety of PBL approaches


  • Do not assume students will learn automatically by doing
  • One size does not fit all
  • Too much content, large groups, and lack of time

The analysis of UM case studies demonstrates that research skills can best be taught through engagement with the core principles of PBL. The best practices teach us that:

  • Students often learn (or are taught) in smaller groups (e.g. FASoS, FHS-UCM);
  • Students often do hands-on work (e.g. SBE, LAW);
  • Students often work on real-world problems (e.g. FHML, FHS-UCM);
  • Students must activate existing knowledge (e.g. FASoS, FHS-DKE, LAW);
  • Students must construct problem definitions, be aware of assumptions, and understand that there may be more solutions (e.g. FASoS, FHS-DKE, FHS-UCM);
  • Direct contact with, and guidance from, a tutor is essential (LAW, FASoS).

This section merges general theoretical recommendations based on an exploration of educational theories with concrete recommendations extracted from an in-depth study of three UM case studies.


  • Facilitate mastery of learning
  • Link diverse knowledge fields (skills & content) and diversify tasks
  • Freedom of choice
  • Contextualise and highlight transferability
  • Active experimentation
  • Demystify research
  • Tailor-made material
  • Consider assessment

Communication between coordinators
The key tip for merging skills and content in parallel courses is to work closely with other course coordinators (or co-coordinators) and to mind how the course is represented by other course coordinators.

Pay attention to the position of the course in the curriculum
Mind the position of the course in the curriculum when you are planning a research skills course. Consider existing prior knowledge, workload of other courses and relevance to other courses.

Student motivation
Assure that the course covers a variety of tasks, offers a satisfactory level of interactivity, links the tasks to the professional world to demonstrate the relevance of the assignments, use gamification (with measure), invest time in role plays, and make sure that you stay connected to your students’ needs. Forging a community of students and staff will contribute to the demystification of research and contributes to the course’s good reputation.

Often a small number of ECTS is attributed to research skills courses. Keep the workload (assessed assignments) to a small number and keep the workload in line with the amount of ECTS. Use formative assessment.

Responsive course
Include element of responsiveness: keep track of issues students may encounter and create on-demand responses to content questions.

Work in teams
Work closely with thesis supervisors in designing the course to ensure constructive alignment of research skills education on curriculum level and communicate the relevance of research skills training to students.

Explicate links
Explicate the link between the content and the research methods in coursebooks, tutorials or workshops.

Establish a link to the real world, e.g. create assignments that are transferable to the professional realm.

Place in the curriculum
Mind the connection with previous and follow-up courses where the skills are used and keep track of constructively aligned research skills education in the curriculum.

Real-world projects motivate students, staff, and external partners alike. Students are motivated to achieve good results as their work is perceived as meaningful and valuable, and may be utilised by the external partner.

Students learn specific research skills by training them in the meaningful context of a real-world problem (contextual learning) and receiving just-in-time feedback. Additionally, students recognise that the content of their study and the academic knowledge they have acquired thus far, are helpful in tackling real-world problems; students experience the practical use of any skills they have obtained during their training, ranging from project management to communicative skills.

Considerations to make when working with external partners:

  • Type of external partner
  • Role of the external partner
  • Attracting and maintaining a sufficient number of external partners
  • Assessment of student work
  • Project duration
  • Place within the curriculum
  • Group size
  • Product/process-centred

This section engages with the current trend and ambition in academic education to develop learning trajectories in curricula. This implies a consistent and reflexive alignment of final qualifications, learning objectives, courses and assignments. This section provides both strategic theoretical advice and a description of best practices. In particular, this section will build upon the 4C/ID-model.

A learning trajectory based on the 4C/ID-model is composed of four components:

  1. Learning tasks
  2. Supportive information
  3. Just-in-time or procedural information
  4. Part-task practice

The University Library’s website offers the following skills support services:

  1. The Thesis SupportAll portal provides tips and articles on the process of writing a thesis. Additionally, it addresses personal issues such as time management and fear of failure.
  2. The Writing Studio helps students reflect on their thinking, searching and writing process.
  3. Peer Point provides free research assistance to students.

The aim of the proposed Student Research Support Platform (SRSP) is to provide UM students with a research skills wiki comprised of content, documents, references and links to resources.
The SRSP will deviate from the wiki concept as editing will be restricted. Due to the educational aims of the platform, only teaching staff (from different disciplines), Peer Point students and University Library staff are permitted to create and edit content. It could be considered to dedicate certain pages to tips and tricks and to let students contribute to this topic as well. Staff is stimulated to include references to such resources in course books to facilitate student learning.