Inquiry-based learning in the university context: A systematic review

El aprendizaje basado en la investigación en el contexto universitario: una revisión sistemática

Lidia E. Santana-Vega, Luis Feliciano-García and Arminda Suárez-Perdomo


Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL) is a methodology that enhances learning through a knowledge construction process. The aim of this study is to establish how IBL is used and what effects it has on university students from social sciences and health sciences. This study follows the PRISMA guidelines for conducting systematic reviews. It comprises an analysis of 31 studies extracted from four electronic databases and reference lists on the topic, published in English between 1998-2019. The results show that the strengths of IBL are: 1) promoting cooperative learning, 2) engaging students in self-learning, and 3) increasing critical thinking. Its weaknesses include: 1) the inability to meet learning expectations, and 2) the reluctance of university hierarchies to embrace IBL. The potential of IBL as a teaching strategy at university level is discussed as it allows deep knowledge construction, increased learning motivation, and development of students’ research skills as well as their self-learning, self-confidence, critical thinking, and academic performance. IBL favours meaningful learning by university students by offering a space for the creation of knowledge stimulated by the inquiry process.

Please, cite this article as follows: Santana-Vega, L. E., Suárez-Perdomo, A., Feliciano-García, L. (2020). El aprendizaje basado en la investigación en el contexto universitario: una revisión sistemática | Inquiry-based learning in the university context: A systematic review. Revista Española de Pedagogía, 78 (277), 517-535. doi:

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Lidia E. Santana-Vega has a doctorate in Philosophy and Educational Science and a degree in Psychology. She holds a university chair in the Department of Teaching and Educational Research at the Universidad de La Laguna. She is coordinator of the GIOES consolidated research group. Her research interests focus on attention/support for students, the life design of young people at risk of social exclusion, and decision making and gender.

Arminda Suárez-Perdomo has a doctorate in Educational Psychology and is Assistant Professor in the Department of the Family, School, and Society at the Universidad Internacional de la Rioja (UNIR). Her research focusses on fostering positive parenting in virtual experiential learning situations and on parents’ digital competence, as well as on the influence of procrastination on the academic performance of university students.

Luis Feliciano-García has a doctorate in Philosophy and Educational Sciences, and is Associate Professor in the Department of Teaching and Educational Research at the Universidad de La Laguna. He is a member of the GIOES research group. His research focusses on active methodologies and academic-employment decision making.