The 21st century has altered the way in which information is obtained and used – there is now an entire interconnected database of information available online. However, this knowledge base is underutilised, as traditional teaching methods often neglect to encourage learners to embrace information outside the pages of their traditional print textbooks (De Beer, 2019: 108). This may leave some learners at a disadvantage, hindering them in their pursuit to stay ahead in this ever-changing, content-driven society.
To safeguard learners, we need to equip them with a skill set that enables them to thrive in the face of this constant change, despite the presence of competing and often conflicting information. Self-directed learning (SDL) is one such skill, as it provides learners with the ability to prepare for a future that cannot be predicted (Jaleel, 2017: 1849).
EDGE Education has developed a unique offering to enhance this skill: the Digital CourseBook™. As an innovative fusion of the traditional textbook and online course, the EDGE Digital CourseBook™ is the ultimate expression of a 21st-century learning experience, and it serves as a valuable tool for developing SDL skills in learners.
SDL is an educational process wherein learners take responsibility for their own learning, by choosing what and how they want to learn (Bosch et al., 2019: 2). This process allows them to be guided by their curiosity. As such, learners’ needs and interests determine their mode of learning (Karanja, 2017).
SDL is therefore an effective way to motivate learners to learn. It keeps them engaged, as it requires them to obtain knowledge for themselves, and apply their skills in identifying solutions to problems. In this way, they are encouraged to take ownership of their learning experience (Saxena, 2013). In short, SDL teaches learners how to learn, which is a fundamental skill in lifelong learning.
The benefits of SDL
1. Deeper learning
The challenges that future generations will face are likely to be novel, due to the rate at which the world is changing and new information is being made available. While existing knowledge is a powerful base to draw from, it is no longer adequate (Mishra and Mehta, 2017: 6–7). It is now more necessary than ever for learners to develop the ability to assess their existing knowledge, acquire new knowledge, and apply this knowledge to novel situations. This process is referred to as deeper learning, or learning for transfer. Deeper learning is one of the hallmarks of a self-directed learner – it is the aim of taking ownership of one’s learning is to transfer knowledge to new contexts (Van Zyl and Mentz, 2019: 69, 96).
2. Critical thinking
Through SDL and deeper learning, critical thinking is developed. Critical thinking denotes the cognitive ability to analyse and interpret information, and to make informed conclusions based on evidence (Van Zyl and Mentz, 2019: 78). Learners who can think critically are able to draw conclusions based on a balance of alternative perspectives, as well as their own interests and responses to a particular subject (Petro, 2017).
3. Vetting information
Related to critical thinking is the ability to vet information. This is an SDL benefit that is becoming increasingly important with the rise of ‘fake news’. Vetting information involves evaluating the truthfulness of sources by considering factors such as credibility, objectivity and reliability (Georgetown University Library, n.d.). For example, if authoritative sources disprove the information in an article, a self-directed learner will hesitate to share the article with their network, as it lacks credibility. Self-directed learners are encouraged to investigate and question sources with the same open-mindedness and critical inquiry present in critical thinking, and to consider the impact of this information on society (Petro, 2017).
4. Locating relevant resources
Today, the remarkable rate at which information is being produced makes it more challenging than ever to locate relevant resources. The ability to locate relevant resources from a content database has therefore become another important skill – one that learners can develop through SDL. This skill involves the ability to navigate, evaluate and filter the wealth of content available. The more proficient learners become at sifting through information, identifying understandable and learnable resources, and weeding out irrelevant resources, the more empowered they will be to continue learning. Over time, this results in a continual ‘pattern of discovery’, thereby encouraging lifelong learning (Petro, 2017).
SDL also fosters collaboration among learners, by encouraging them to work together to achieve their learning outcomes. This creates an environment in which learners feel comfortable sharing their ideas and learning from one another. Collaboration also encourages them to reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses, thereby enabling them to identify any shortcomings, as well as determine how to overcome these in order to achieve success (Buitrago, 2017: 139). Collaboration is therefore a ‘social endeavour’, wherein learners can negotiate, compromise and engage in constructive evaluation and feedback with each other (Johnson and Johnson, 2019: 38, 62). Ultimately, this aids learners in internalising and relating to course content.
Developing SDL through EDGE Digital CourseBooks™
As mentioned, Digital CourseBooks™ are a fusion of traditional print textbooks and online courses. Each interactive Digital CourseBook™ includes all the familiar features of a traditional textbook (e.g. exercises and solutions) and is integrated with captivating videos, engaging digital activities and thought-provoking quizzes. Moreover, the CourseBooks™ feature a dynamic community chat tool, where learners and educators can ask questions, collaborate and learn together in real-time. These multimedia elements not only empower learners to direct their own learning, but also serve to improve the overall learning experience.
Deeper learning and critical thinking
Digital CourseBooks™ contain content that is designed to enable deeper learning, thereby facilitating critical thinking. This is achieved through the inclusion of text, videos, exercises, interactive activities and quizzes. These engaging multimedia elements serve to activate prior knowledge. They also serve to introduce and elaborate on new information in a way that enables learners to assimilate and apply such information, test their comprehension and improve their ability to retain the acquired knowledge (Duncan, 2020).
Vetting information and locating relevant resources
Because CourseBooks™ are available on a digital platform, learners can interact with the content easily and effectively. They can also access reputable online resources via educational links, by using the online search functionality in the EDGE Learning Ecosystem (ELE) (Duncan, 2020). In this way, they can both locate relevant resources and embrace broader content databases. The provision of educational links also gives learners the opportunity to vet information – i.e. they can use these links to gauge the credibility and reliability of information. The more learners are encouraged to actively evaluate their knowledge, the more adept they become at locating and vetting information.
Finally, the community chat tool enables learners to collaborate at a book level (Duncan, 2020). Through collaboration, learners can use what they have learned to engage with their peers on the matter. It is through this discourse that learners refine and reconstruct what they have learned. Through their shared experiences, learners forge a common bond with their peers and educators, which empowers them ‘to develop to their fullest potential through the support and confidence they gain’ (Bosch and Pool, 2019: 54).
It is clear that the benefits derived from Digital CourseBooks™ and SDL overlap. Both of these foster deeper learning, critical thinking, the ability to locate and vet resources, and collaboration. These skills are essential in a world where information and technology are continually evolving.
Because learners need to keep up with this fast-paced change, the education landscape of a decade ago is no longer sufficient. To adapt, learners need to become self-directed – and EDGE’s Digital CourseBooks™ are the perfect tool to foster this. Ultimately, by aiding the develop SDL skills, Digital CourseBooks™ equip learners to navigate the 21st-century education landscape successfully.
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Buitrago, A. G. (2017), ‘Collaborative and Self-directed Learning Strategies to Promote Fluent EFL Speakers’. English Language Teaching 10(5): 139–157.
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