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Exploring the world “out there”: the use of scoping reviews in education research

Godfrey, Christina1,2

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doi: 10.11124/JBIES-20-00134
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These are unprecedented times. In most countries around the world, people are under lockdown within their cities, and confined to their homes due to COVID-19. As we are all constrained to being inside, there has never been a more appropriate time to be asking, “What is out there?”

In the realm of evidence synthesis at least, the methodology of scoping reviews allows us to respond to such a question. Scoping reviews are uniquely primed to address broad questions that aim to discover the state of knowledge on a topic; for example “What outcomes have been reported following the implementation of physical distancing among preteenage children?” Or “What interventions are appropriate to support newly graduated healthcare professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic?” Scoping reviews are fit for purpose for researchers who wish to gather information about topics in which there is an overabundance of information,1 emerging topics that may have received very little research attention,2 or where the picture is simply unclear.3 Scoping reviews are also helpful where a core concept requires elucidation, and their conduct may be a critical step within the context of concept analysis work.4 The question of “What is out there?” reflects the very essence of the scoping review methodology.

Scoping reviews differ from systematic reviews; however, they maintain the systematic approach typical of other evidence syntheses. They are driven by broad questions to examine “what is out there” in the literature with the purpose being to approach the topic using a “wide-angle lens” instead of the “microscope” that is characteristic of a systematic review.4 If the topic is a well researched area, a scoping review will typically return a large volume of citations and have a large set of included studies. Gathering the knowledge into a coherent summary differs because there is no formal synthesis of the data. Instead, the themes, thoughts, ideas, outcomes, and strategies that are the results of the review are presented in a variety of formats or mapped out by the authors using graphs, diagrams, and pictorial methods.

The current face-to-face format of education that has been in existence for many hundreds of years is changing to adapt to the physical distancing injunction brought about by COVID-19. It is imperative for us to examine what is known about the use of alternate educational strategies for all levels of education and for all types of students. The scoping review methodology is ideally suited for this type of exploration. We can ask broad questions such as “What approaches have been used to teach a particular population?” or “What strategies have been used to measure the success of new methods of pedagogy?” Furthermore, the mapping of the review results can provide a novel and interesting graphic portrayal of the information.

This issue of JBI Evidence Synthesis brings to your attention an examination of several educational issues. These manuscripts offer valuable contributions to our understanding of the range of challenges faced by educators and learners. Many courses for healthcare professionals have already made the transition to online formats. However, there are some clinical skill courses, such as the teaching of gross anatomy, that face multiple obstacles. One scoping review in this issue examines the curricular and pedagogical aspects of gross anatomy education for undergraduate physiotherapy students.5 To understand this issue, authors Shead et al. examined what curricular approaches, learning techniques, and pedagogies have been used to teach gross anatomy to undergraduate physiotherapy students. They identified a variety of curricular content as well as multiple educational approaches, such as computer-assisted learning, team-based learning, peer teaching, and case-based learning, with a range of outcomes recorded. Their scoping review highlights a wide range of factors to consider when delivering anatomical knowledge to physiotherapy students.5

Another scoping review also focuses on physiotherapists, investigating the use of digital technologies in undergraduate and postgraduate education.6 The manuscript by Keeping-Burke et al.7 explores the experiences of nursing students in a clinical placement in residential aged facilities, and a further manuscript presents an exploration of the theoretical underpinning of non-formal patient handover learning programs.8 For additional reading on educational issues, see the special collection of articles on education in health care from JBI Evidence Synthesis.9

While we struggle to find our way in this new world of physical distancing and distant education, scoping reviews provide an invaluable resource as we seek to find out what others have done “out there.” Knowledge is power, and as we learn and understand more, we continue to expand the reach of effective health care to all.


1. McInerney P, Green-Thompson LP. Theories of learning and teaching methods used in postgraduate education in the health sciences: a scoping review. JBI Evid Synth 2020; 18 (1):1–29.
2. Godfrey CM, Harrison MB, Lang A, Macdonald M, Leung T, Swab M. Homecare safety and medication management with older adults: a scoping review of the quantitative and qualitative evidence. JBI Database System Rev Implement Rep 2013; 11 (7):82–130.
3. Evans N, Edwards D, Carrier J. Admission and discharge criteria for adolescents requiring inpatient or residential mental healthcare: a scoping review. JBI Evid Synth 2020; 18 (2):275–308.
4. Peters MDJ, Godfrey C, McInerney P, Munn Z, Tricco AC, Khalil H. Aromataris E, Munn Z. Chapter 11: Scoping reviews. JBI, Joanna Briggs Institute reviewer's manual. Adelaide: 2020.
5. Shead DA, Roos R, Olivier B, Ihunwo AO. Curricular and pedagogical aspect of gross anatomy education for undergraduate physiotherapy students: a scoping review. JBI Evid Synth 2020; 18 (5):893–951.
6. Olivier B, Verdonck M, Caseleijn D. Digital technologies in undergraduate and postgraduate education in occupational therapy and physiotherapy: a scoping review. JBI Evid Synth 2020; 18 (5):863–892.
7. Keeping-Burke L, McCloskey R, Donovan C, Yetman L, Goudreau A. Nursing students’ experiences with clinical placement in residential aged care facilities: a systematic review of qualitative evidence. JBI Evid Synth 2020; 18 (5):986–1018.
8. Bøje RB, Ludvigsen MS. Non-formal patient handover education for healthcare professionals: a scoping review. JBI Evid Synth 2020; 18 (5):952–985.
9. JBI Evidence Synthesis. Collections: education in healthcare [Internet]. [cited 2020 Apr 3] Available from: