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Enquiry Learning Unit

The Enquiry Learning Unit is maintained by John Schostak who is currently a Professor in the Education and Social Research Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University

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Qualitative Research, Research based Education and Enquiry Learning


Purpose of the ELU website

A (very) brief history of the ELU

Go To the Qualitative Research Resources on the ELU Website and Go to the BLOG for discussion on Qualitative Research

see research methodology books by John Schostak. See education, youth and popular culture books by John Schostak. See the key publications projects and experience of John Schostak


Education from a standpoint of human rights and social justice has almost been lost sight of in the rush for 'standards', 'quality assurance', and the surveillance and control of people in an age characterised as 'postmodern', transformed by the language of 'cyberspace' and the networks of global media, financial and multi-national corporations. Yet, to be truly postmodern is to be open to the opportunity structures of rapidly changing technologies and cultures. For this, reflective processes of enquiry, educational dialogue, enquiry based learning and research are essential supports for both individual freedom and creativity and the emergence of communities exploring curricula founded upon freedom, problem solving and creativity. As long ago as 1552-3, Etienne de la Boetie wrote that people can be free, even under dictatorships "merely by willing to be free":

Resolve to serve no more , and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands on the tyrant to toppl.e him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Collossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.

(Source Rothbard - here to download)

Of course, this is easier said than done.

Nevertheless, through critical reflection systematically applied to all spheres of public life, research can make a radical difference in the lives of people. The ELU archive of papers is a contribution to this aim where freedom is democratically constructed in the public lives of people. It is in drivng this aim to the heart of everyday life that research creates the conditions for democratic public spaces.

Research focusing on the impact on everyday life of education, political, social, economic and cultural structures and processes is critical in a 'postmodern' age dominated by information media, globalisation and the use and abuse of knowledge. Qualitative and participative action research strategies alongside the appropriate use of quantitative research strategies can provide all decision makers at every level in a given system or organisation with a democratic means of access to information. Such research can provide not just professionals but all concerned with learning, knowledge creation, the politics of knowledge, and cultural studies with a means to adopt a critical stance and formulate strategies to engage in the kind of action that leads to real changes in practice. Change is possible as many will testify. An example is to be found in the 'Early years talking and listening project' which in many ways exemplifies the use of action research to bring about change. But change requires imagination, de-constructing the rigid ways of writing and reading the 'realities' that frame our everyday lives. It draws upon personal experience to develop curricular action. Opening up imaginative spaces is the purpose of enquiry learning, emancipatory, radical qualitative research and the processes of education.

Purpose of the ELU Website

The purpose of this web site is to contribute to the development of qualiative research and its application to enquiry learning, or enquiry based learning as a basis for evidence based decision making for all, not just professionals, policy makers or politicians, as a basis for everyday living. Its purpose is about making changes so that the institutions that frame everyday lives can be reformed to meet the needs, interests of people in a context of human rights and social justice. The term 'enquiry learning' is used in order to make a contrast with the more traditional forms of schooling associated with prescribed curricula and transmission learning. Enquiry learning is about people formulating their own agendas of concern which they wish to explore. The enquiry learning approach is then about promoting the strategies that enable people to identify, choose and explore whatever it is that interests them. The whole process is, at its widest, curiosity driven, that is, driven by one's own motivations and interests. Some may use it to explore workplace, or professional problems, issues, needs. Others may be driven by wider cultural, political or humanitarian interests. It is hoped that this web site may contribute a little to these ends.

A (very) Brief History of ELU

The ELU was initially developed to respond to the increasing demands of professionals for learning to be founded upon real life professional practice. Since real life practice does not take place according to neat text-book formulae and since real life is complex, ever changing, professionals need to adopt strategies for learning which enhance their practice. These strategies take the form of enquiries on practice within the context of the place of work. The purpose is to gain better understandings of the complexities of professional work, improve the knowledge, skills and information which guide professional decision making and hence improve the quality of professional action.

The approach of the ELU is fully cross professional. It is of interest to any profession. We have worked with business consultants, health professionals, police officers, psychotherapists and teachers amongst others.

ELU was first placed on the Web at the School of Education, UEA by John Schostak. No new material will be added at this site.

ELU has now transferred to its own site at www.enquirylearning.net and is being maintained and developed by John Schostak who, from September 2003, works at the Manchester Metropolitan University, Institute of Education. The orginal plus new material will be added to this site.


This web site was initially designed by John Schostak and Daniel Schostak, and implemented by Daniel Schostak about 1995. It has been re-designed by Mathew Saward and further revised by John Schostak in 2003 and 2005.