The research compass: a way of understanding the breadth of medical education research

Research is a daunting topic. Too often, it conjures up a vision of randomised controlled trials: a type of research methodology that is held up as the gold standard for clinical research but is almost impossible to use in an educational setting. After all, the confounders are immense, the ability to control them is very limited, and it is often almost impossible to decide what to use as a placebo.

In the next few blog posts, I wanted to introduce  the “research compass”, which outlines the way different research designs are utilised to answer different research problems, and different research priorities. The compass is discussed at length in one of the AMEE guides (you can get to know AMEE, the International Association of Medical Education, at

Conceptual Theoretical Framework: Explorative studies (Modelling); Experimental studies (Justifying); Observational studies (Predicting); Translational studies (Implementing).

Research Compass

You can also find the research compass at

Ringsted, C., B. Hodges, and A. Scherpbier, “The research compass:
An introduction to research in medical education: AMEE guide No. 56.

Medical Teacher, 2011. 33: p. 695-709.

The research compass is a model representing different approaches to medical education research, developed as part of an AMEE guide. The compass depicts four main categories of research approaches that can be applied when studying medical education phenomena.


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