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University of London International Programmes

Understanding Research Methods

University of London International Programmes via Coursera


This MOOC is about demystifying research and research methods. It will outline the fundamentals of doing research, aimed primarily, but not exclusively, at the postgraduate level. It places the student experience at the centre of our endeavours by engaging learners in a range of robust and challenging discussions and exercises befitting SOAS, University of London's status as a research-intensive university and its rich research heritage.

The course will appeal to those of you who require an understanding of research approaches and skills, and importantly an ability to deploy them in your studies or in your professional lives. In particular, this course will aid those of you who have to conduct research as part of your postgraduate studies but do not perhaps have access to research methods courses, or for those of you who feel you would like additional support for self-improvement. No prior knowledge or experience in research is required to take this course and as such, the course is for everyone.

This MOOC draws on a wealth of existing course material developed to support research training across SOAS, University of London and particularly drawing from the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy (CISD). In 2015, the course was nominated for the prestigious Guardian University Award for its innovative approach to online learning.

Participation in or completion of this online course will not confer academic credit for University of London programmes


  • E-tivity 1: What Is Research and What Makes a Good Research Question?
    • PURPOSE: To focus upon formulating a research question. TASK: Please compose a brief question pertaining to your proposed research - whatever the subject - and post it under the 'My Project' tab in the peer review exercise below. Be brief insofar as it would fit on one metaphorical or literal 'Post-It' note. Also watch our interview videos below. RESPONSE: Having reflected on the videos, review other students' questions. Feeding back is an important part of the research process, so please spend some time providing considered feedback for three or more colleagues here. OUTCOME: You will have given considered thought to composing a research question and provided feedback to others on theirs.
  • E-tivity 2: What Is a Literature Review and Why Do We Need to Do One?
    • PURPOSE: To familiarise yourself with the nature and benefits of conducting a literature review. TASK: Please read the following three pieces on literature review, in conjunction with the interviews below. Then post your thoughts on one of the readings to the 'My Project' tab of the peer review (200 words). RESPONSE: Provide feedback on three or more submissions by your fellow students. OUTCOME: Upon the completion of the full cycle of this e-tivity, you will be able to distinguish the qualities of a literature review and begin to reflect on the value of a literature review to your own project.
  • E-tivity 3: Why Are Planning and Management Skills Important for Research?
    • PURPOSE: To be aware of the planning and management skills that are required in undertaking critical thinking for your research. TASK: Please watch the videos below, and also read the chapter provided. In conjunction with your reflections on the learning material provided and also research planning and management in general, please post your thoughts on the chapter, in no more than 400 words, under the 'My Project' tab. RESPONSE: Provide feedback on three or more submissions by your fellow students. OUTCOME: Upon the completion of the full cycle of this e-tivity, you will have reflected on the skills required to enhance your research.
  • E-tivity 4: How Do You Know You Have Been a Good Researcher at the End of a Project?
    • PURPOSE: To reflect upon the value of a good question, and provide an outline research proposal. TASK: In conjunction with our videos below, please go back to your research question proposed during E-tivity 1 and consider again whether you are still happy with it. Is the question one you are still interested in and one you think worthy of devoting your time and energy to? If so, after reflecting on your question, please compose an outline plan on how you would follow on from establishing your research question. Please submit your proposal, up to 800 words. RESPONSE: Provide feedback on three or more proposals submitted by your fellow students. OUTCOME: Upon the completion of the full cycle of this e-tivity, you will have formulated, in draft form, an overarching research question, and a plan of action to complete the research. In doing this, you will have honed your writing, research and analytical skills.

Taught by

J Simon Rofe and Yenn Lee


4.4 rating, based on 14 Class Central reviews

4.6 rating at Coursera based on 7083 ratings

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  • This is an engaging and interactive course that serves, for me, as "re-affirming" material on why do and how to do research. The readings are particularly excellent in providing an academic and surgical perspective on some assumptions I take for granted when doing research.
  • The interviews in the course were great way to explain what research methods are. Just note that the assignments per week should be submitted within a given period.
  • Sreekutty
    The course very useful in my study. I am a social work, in the first lessons are very useful in my study.
  • Ocheche Samuel Garuba
    I was able to learn different research methods and tools such as Experiment, Interview, Questionnaires, sampling etc. I was able to understand how to use each of the tool. i also learnt that it is very important to take permission from the person you are interviewing before recording.
  • Dr Ramakrishnappa D C
    Am Interested to join the mooc course through the online.. Becouse here provide to mossive knowledge from world wide with very wonderful resource person and their lecturer..
    So very exciting and very intersting to learn more and more like this platform ..
    Thanking you
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