Online training: Synthesis methods for systematic reviews

This distance-learning short course is designed for experienced researchers who want to gain an advanced working knowledge of synthesis methods for systematic reviews. It runs over 11 weeks.

You’ll learn the critical and technical skills essential for working in the field of evidence-informed policy and practice. You’ll study alongside researchers from a diverse range of public policy sectors and disciplines.

As well as the established method of statistical meta-analysis there are many possible ways of combining the results of studies in a systematic review, in what has become known as a synthesis (e.g. meta-ethnography, critical interpretive synthesis).

You’ll learn about, and use, both established and emerging methods that you can then employ in your own research (including statistical meta-analysis, thematic synthesis, realist synthesis, and mixed methods synthesis).

You’ll study alongside researchers from a diverse range of public policy sectors and disciplines.

This course is run by the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre), part of UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and recognised world-wide for its work developing methods for diverse kinds of systematic reviews to answer a broad range of policy and practice relevant review questions.

Who this course is for

This distance-learning course is for experienced researchers who want to develop highly sought-after skills and knowledge in a flexible online learning format.

It supports career development in those academic, policy or practice settings where systematic reviews are used and produced.

The course is relevant for those in academia, government and the voluntary sector.

Those taking this course have a wide range of interests have a wide range of interests, including health and social care, as well as social work, criminology and education.

Course content

During this course you’ll cover:

  • statistical methods for synthesis in systematic reviews, including data extraction and calculating effect sizes, heterogeneity, and statistical model
  • the synthesis of ‘qualitative’ research, including data extraction, the ‘translation’ of concepts, and ‘line of argument’ synthesis
  • the role and methods of quality assessment, including separating ‘quality’ and ‘relevance’, and quality in the context of a study and a systematic review
  • combining different types of study in the same synthesis (both statistical and narrative approaches)
  • developing a critical understanding of the role that different methods of synthesis can play

Teaching and structure

This course is run in an online format and you’ll study entirely at a distance.

You’ll study individually and with other students, using the course virtual learning environment (VLE).

Every one or two weeks, you’ll cover a new course ‘unit’ where you’ll carry out a set of learning activities. You can carry out these activities at your own pace and at times of your own choosing as long as you complete the specified tasks by the deadlines set.

Typical activities include:

  • reading a journal article or book chapter and identifying key themes
  • critically appraising reports of qualitative and quantitative research
  • using software to practice meta-analysis and key stages in the synthesis of ‘qualitative’ research
  • drafting short summaries on a topic, sometimes on your own, sometimes with fellow students
  • posting comments and observations on your own reading and learning and providing feedback to other students


You can request a certificate upon completing the course.

Learning outcomes

At the end of this course you’ll be able to:

  • identify the different purposes, types of data, and analytical approaches underlying different forms of research synthesis in systematic reviews
  • critically appraise and interpret syntheses and their findings and identify the principles and stages of aggregative and configurative approaches to synthesis
  • prepare data from primary studies for use in different types of synthesis
  • select from and apply a range of frameworks for appraising the quality, relevance and contribution of primary research to a synthesis


You should have previously taken the UCL IOE course, Systematic Review Design and Planning or an equivalent course, or have a working knowledge of research synthesis.

You’ll need access, from the start of the course, to a copy of the SAGE 2012 textbook, ‘An introduction to systematic reviews‘ by David Gough, Sandy Oliver and James Thomas.

How to apply

To apply, you must:

If you’re interested in taking this course for Master’s level credit, please contact the administrator.



Next start date

23 April 2018

For more information click here.