Effective independent learners know how to research, manage and use the information they find.
Let's get back to Benjamin Bloom. Remember him? He was the guy who came up with Bloom's Taxonomy, which shows how basic levels of thinking and learning begin with knowledge and understanding, and then progresses to higher-level skills like analysis and evaluation.
The basic skills required of the 21st century researcher must be to attain in-depth knowledge and understanding of their topic. This means getting an overview, then deepening your knowledge and clarifying your understanding through more detailed study. Here are some ideas:
Books: Published books and articles will always be essential learning tools, so make use of your school or public libraries. Also, make use of e-books that you can download or read on a Kindle. Audio books are great for auditory learners.
Internet: It's easy to use Google, but you might not necessarily be accessing the best information. There are a number of search engines and you need to decide which suits your needs. Try using Noodletools.com, which will help you to decide which search engine will provide you with the best information. In addition, your school or local library may have a number of suitable online databases for you to access, such as Questia School or Brainpop.
If you're an auditory learner, then seek out podcasts on your topic. The I-Tunes store has free downloads, but you can also access them through a general search if you're not a Mac user. I've named a few at the end.
For visual learners there is YouTube, but increasingly full documentaries are becoming easier to watch or download. I've named a couple at the end.
As you acquire knowledge and understanding of your topic, you need to work on application. This is when you choose which information you will use and how to interpret it. Take notes of the important things to help you remember.
Storing information is essential for two reasons. Firstly, you may need to check your information later on to clarify what you have learned. Secondly, all research that is used in a final piece of work must be referenced. To produce an accurate bibliography, you need to know your sources. With a book you can simply write down the author's name, date of publication and page numbers you used, for example, but what's the quickest way to store information you access through the Web? One way is social bookmarking. Delicous.com is just one example and it is free. You can create tabs to store your bookmarks in groups, and collaborate and share them.
Analysis is important, as it requires you to think critically about the information you have used. As you research, you may need to question and compare sources of information; anyone can publish on the Web and not all books provide accurate information. Think carefully about:
When the information was produced
Where it came from
What type of information it is
Wwho produced it?
Why it was produced
All of these questions get you to think about whether the information is written from a particular point of view, or for a particular audience. Most information is likely to contain some kind of opinion, which doesn't make it useless altogether, but just be careful: are you being informed or persuaded?
To collate your information you need to organise or assemble it to fit into your line of research. All research projects need a focus question to clarify exactly what you are trying to find out. This is all about synthesis: How to blend your research to fit that focus question. A good synthesiser knows how to organise what they know into headings that guide them to an answer. They don't throw out everything they know. They sort it.
All researchers want to find answers, and once they've found them, they need to make an overall judgment. This is all about evaluation. We make judgments all the time: who's the best band? Which movie do we like the most? Often, we find ourselves defending our preferences; we form an argument. We look for evidence to argue our case. Think about your evaluation for your research topic. How will you argue your case? What is your overall judgment?
Useful web links
How to research, and create a bibliography: www.noodletools.com
Podcasts: Brainstuff - science, LearnOutLoud - biographies; Philosophy Bites - if you're soon to begin International Baccalaureate, this may be useful for theory of knowledge.
Free documentaries online: http://www.snagfilms.com/films/browse/topic, or try PBS.org for a range of topic areas. If you go to: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/presidents/teachers.html, you can watch recent biographies of US presidents.
Verity Aylward has been a secondary school teacher for more than 10 years. She is the author of the book Mind Explosion: Max Out Your Brain for Exam Success. For more information about the author and her book, go to www.mindexplosionbook.com