2b. Resource-based learning

Lisa Campbell, Paula Flageolle, Shann Griffith, Catherine Wojcik
Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology, University of Georgia

Review of Resource-Based Learning

Play the narrated PowerPoint presentation that summarizes the content in this page. If you would like to see a transcript of the audio, click here to download script as a word document. This summary was created by Diana Cierski, Nikki Garmany, and Gretchen Hollingsworth (2009).



Click Here to Play the Movie Caption: The video represents the scenario portrayed in this chapter. It shows Mr. Hartman and Mrs. Russell collaborating on the Civil War project using resource-based learning. They decide who will be responsible for certain aspects of the lesson. Mr. Hartman gathers many different types of resources to target different types of learners in Mrs. Russell’s class. They present strategies for the students to use for their project. They then conclude by discussing the success of the students’ presentations. Mrs. Russell asks for Mr. Hartman’s help in planning another resource-based learning unit in the future. By Teresa Cruce, Kristie Michalowski, Mary K Oliver, Brenda Wynn (2003)

Mr. Hartman, the media specialist, was asked to collaborate on a Civil War unit for fourth grade students. Ms. Russell, the classroom teacher, informed him that the fourth graders had been introduced to PowerPoint and Kidspiration software. Together they planned the unit to include essential research skills and further exposure to these technologies. Ultimately, the unit would conclude with student-produced PowerPoint presentations displaying their understanding of the Civil War.

Mr. Hartman began by placing Civil War books on a cart. Some of these texts were primary documents and some were broad overviews of the war others dealt with the underlying causes such as the doctrine of states’ rights, slavery, and the abolitionist movement. Other books dealt with specific aspects of the war such as the battles, weapons, uniforms. There was even a book of recipes from the Civil War era. These books varied in reading level from quite low with many pictures, to a reading level of high proficiency. Mr. Hartman also selected biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Clara Barton, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Jefferson Davis, and Harriet Tubman.

Mr. Hartman’s next task was to research Internet sites that were appropriate for fourth graders. This portion of the preparation was time consuming and exacting, but he located a handful of WebQuests and databases that were ideal for his purposes. He designed WebQuest on the causes of the Civil War, because many of the the available sites were beyond the ability of fourth graders.

At this point, he turned his attention to audiovisual materials that could enhance the unit and pulled several videos from the media center shelves. In addition, he ordered a few others from the county instructional resource catalog. Mr. Hartman also found a collection of Civil War ballads, which he added to the cart. Additionally, he arranged for Civil War re-enactors to visit the school.

When it was time to introduce the materials to the learners, Mr. Hartman took the cart to the classroom and instructed the class that each student was to choose one Civil War topic of interest. He recommended that they browse the books to get ideas. Ms. Russell would screen the videos over the first few days of the project, and play the CD as they conducted their preliminary research. By the end of the week, Ms. Russell had helped the students use Kidspiration, a graphic organizer, to map their interests in the Civil War and focus on a topic.

The following week, Mr. Hartman returned and handed out a simple worksheet to help the students identify clear research questions related to their chosen topics. A discussion followed about the various resources available. He used several students’ topics as examples and the class helped choose the appropriate resources for those topics. Questions like the following were asked to prompt higher order thinking skills: “When would a map be the most appropriate resource for information? When would an encyclopedia be the best choice? When would they reach for Civil War diaries? When would an almanac, a biography or the Internet be preferable?” The students enjoyed the challenge of his questions and were becoming adept at understanding the benefits of various resources.

Using these resources, the class spent the next few weeks conducting research on their topics. The computer lab was also reserved for student use. Students used that time to build both their technical skills and the content to create their PowerPoint presentations.

At the end of the unit, each student had developed a small PowerPoint slide show depicting an aspect of the Civil War that was of personal interest. On presentation day, two girls dressed in period costumes, each giving their presentation on field hospitals in the form of a first-person dialog. Another student read portions of speeches by Abraham Lincoln, with a Civil War ballad as background music to accompany his PowerPoint.

In another fourth grade class, Ms. White also taught the required unit on the Civil War. The students were assigned to read the same historical novel set during the Civil War. Class time was used for reading, and additional chapters were assigned as homework. Each day Ms. White reviewed the chapter description of the Civil War with the class. On Friday of each week, the students took a short quiz on the completed chapters. Halfway through the unit, the class viewed a documentary about Lincoln, Lee, Grant, and Davis. Using the supplemental materials from the video, she led a question-and-answer session. She also played several Civil War ballads for her class and explained the lyrics. The students were provided a non-fiction text with a timeline and overview of the Civil War. For homework, Ms. White assigned readings from this text and handed out questions that she had written. The following day she explained the answers to the questions and collected the homework. Finally, after a teacher-led review, the unit culminated in a major paper and pencil test.

What is Resource-Based Learning?

The Civil War unit planned by Mr. Hartman and Ms. Russell, with its multitude of available resources, is the epitome of a Resource-Based Learning (RBL) unit. However, resource-based learning is not tied to a single learning theory or to any specific pedagogy (Hill & Hannafin, 2001; Ling, 1997). Nor is it new to teaching and learning.

Traditionally, resource-based learning has been used to supplement more instructivistic teaching methods. However, the volume of information available and the ability to transmit that information in multiple formats has refocused attention on the potential of resource-based learning (Hill & Hannafin, 2001) to support emerging inquiry-based models. (See Cognitive Apprenticeship , Problem Based Instruction and Constructionism, Learning by Design, and Project Based Learning for further information.)

Renewed interest in RBL has been spurred by the emergence of pedagogical constructs such as Blended Learning and Flexible Delivery. Orey (2002) defines blended learning from the perspective of the learner as “…the ability to choose among ALL available facilities, technology, media and materials matching those that apply to my prior knowledge and style of learning as I deem appropriate to achieve an instructional goal.” Caladine defined flexible delivery (2002) as including “various types of mediated instruction including print, audio-visual, computer assisted or on line delivery as well as traditional instructional formats such as lectures and tutorials.” In both instances, the teacher or designer of the experience locates and makes available resources for achieving particular educational goals. It is therefore useful to view Blended Learning and Flexible Delivery from the RBL perspective.

What, then, is resource-based learning? Resource-based learning is an educational model designed to actively engage students with multiple resources in both print and non-print form. Ideally, the classroom teacher and media specialist collaborate to plan resource-based units (California Media and Library Educators Association [CMLEA]). Learners take responsibility for selecting resources, human or otherwise, that appeal to their own learning preferences, interests and abilities. Thompson and Henley (2000) provide a comprehensive list of resources ranging from traditional reference books to the Internet, as well as innovative games. Resources incorporated into planned, authentic tasks afford students opportunities to develop the skills and techniques necessary to become autonomous, self-directed learners and effective users of information (Doiron & Davies, 1998; Atlantic Provinces Education Foundation, n.d.). Resource-based learning units often culminate in student products or artifacts, which are presented to an audience (Bleakley & Carrigan, 1994).

Teachers often teach lessons or units using a variety of media, including guest speakers, videos, or hypermedia presentations. Because teachers select content and mode of delivery, such instruction is more aptly deemed resource-based instruction (Doiron & Davies, 1998), a pedagogy that is more teacher-centered. Resource-based learning is predicated upon the principle that individual learners will be drawn to the media and content which best match their own processing skills and learning styles (Farmer, 1999). The learning focus shifts from teachers using resources to facilitate instruction to students directing the choice of resources. In a continuum between teacher-centered and student-centered learning, resource-based learning occurs somewhere in the middle. When the constructivist educator uses resource-based learning, instruction is teacher-planned, but student-directed. This was evident in Ms. Russell’s classroom.

Educators adhering to more didactic or expository pedagogy may also employ resource-based learning. For example, Ms. White used several resources to teach the same unit. Her instructional design, however, relied heavily on teacher directed supports, such as quizzes and choreographed discussions. Her students read the same historical novel, which eliminated “stray” learning and gave her more control over the facts disseminated to the students. Clearly, both resource-based teaching and resource-based learning access and use materials in diverse formats. Although Ms. White planned this unit around resources, her students had little opportunity to direct their own learning. Although the resources probably enriched the unit and raised the interest level of many students, Ms. Russell’s Civil War unit is a better example of resource-based teaching. The remainder of this chapter will address resource-based learning at the more student-centered end of the continuum.

The Association of College and Research Libraries [ACLR] and the American Library Association [ALA] (1989) strongly endorse resource-based learning schools. They envision a more interactive environment in which students pursue questions of high personal interest. To that end, students collaborate with their peers, teachers, and communities, to find answers with enormously varied information resources. In the Civil War example, Ms. Russell’s class had available databases such as the History Resource Center, where they can access primary source documents to answer open-ended questions about the war. They might also find historical images that will spark their curiosity and help them better understand the era. By accessing Civil War-era diaries, students are transported to the nineteenth century, where they gain insight into the feelings, fears, hopes and dreams of a war-torn nation.

In a resource-based learning school, students become more self-sufficient. They ask productive questions; they synthesize, analyze, interpret and evaluate information. Libraries and databases all over the world can be accessed almost instantly giving students access to an enormous amount of information from a variety of sources.

The nature of resources has changed as a result of technological developments and the ability to catalog and classify digital media. Considerable opportunities are now available to teachers and students. Metadata–data about data–provides information about documents that can be retrieved by searching for the author, creation date, or content (Hill & Hannafin, 2001). Technology allows teachers or students to use those parts of resources that will satisfy their curiosity or educational needs. The boundaries that once separated teachers and students from resources are virtually gone.

Implementing Resource-Based Learning

Constructionism, Learning by Design, and Project Based Learning can easily be used as models for implementing resource-based learning in the classroom. Resource-based learning begins with clearly identified instructional goals. The teacher and media specialist decide on acceptable student-generated products. They divide the teaching responsibilities and gather varied resources. A timeline is created and the media center, computer lab, guest speakers and other resources are booked. Rubrics are designed and the students begin their quests. The teacher, often with input from the media specialist, evaluates the student produced artifacts. Finally, both the teacher and media specialist assess the success of the instruction itself, making adjustments for future implementations of the unit.

These are the steps in implementing a resource-based learning unit:

  • Identify the goal or goals.
  • Determine acceptable student produced artifacts including, but not limited to timelines, electronic slideshows, dramatic readings, videos, debates, postcards, reports, diaries, hierarchal web-based documents, or poster-board presentations.
  • Collaborate with the media specialist to plan the unit. Divide the responsibilities.
  • Select resources in a variety of formats which can include diaries, WebQuests, original documents, newspaper articles, magazine articles, games, poems, reference books, nonfiction books, experts, videos, museums, maps, charts, the Internet, works of art, plays, CD-ROMs, musical compositions, costumes, exhibits, PowerPoint presentations and field trips. This list is neither exhaustive nor static. But, rather, it is a dynamic list that will grow and change as new technologies emerge. The idea is to enlist a multitude of quality resources that will help students gather information, create knowledge and increase understanding and skill (Thompson & Henley, 2000).
Table 1. This is a table of resources that could be incorporated in to Resource-Based Learning. This table includes a report, globe, books, map, slide projector, computer, video, field trip, floppy disk, and CD-ROM.
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  • Create a timeline for implementation of the unit.
  • Schedule the media center, computer lab, guest speakers and field trips, if applicable.
  • Create rubrics used to evaluate student artifacts.
  • Evaluate student products using rubrics.
  • Collaboratively evaluate the effectiveness of the unit and revise appropriately.

Determine unit goals. Because resource-based learning takes a great deal of time, teachers and media specialists must be sure the goal reflects higher order thinking skills and problem solving abilities. In the scenario, Mr. Hartman and Ms. Russell met in the media center to clarify the learning goals and objectives for the Civil War resource-based learning unit. The goal, a deeper understanding of an aspect of the Civil War, was reflected in student produced PowerPoint presentations.

Determine acceptable student artifacts. The teacher should require a product that is challenging but realistic for the student. Ms. Russell wanted her students to integrate their newly acquired technology skills into the Civil War unit.

Thoroughly plan the unit. The teacher and media specialist outline the unit. To ensure complete planning, responsibilities and tasks for the teacher and media specialist should be determined. Generally, the media specialist is responsible for locating appropriate resources; the teacher provides guidance and feedback to students during the research process and is involved in student assessment. In our scenario, Mr. Hartman and Ms. Russell met to plan the unit and determine their individual tasks and responsibilities. Together, they brainstormed to select resources such as re-enactors, speakers, videos, databases, texts and Internet sites.

Gather resources in a variety of formats. Mr. Hartman was familiar with the many resources available in the media center. He gathered biographies of famous people of the Civil War. These biographies ranged from low to high reading levels. He included books containing primary documents and books about Civil War issues. He found Internet sites and produced his own WebQuest on the causes of the war. He reserved videos from the county instructional resource department and contacted the librarian at the public library for additional resources.

Generate a timeline for the unit. Mr. Hartman and Ms. Russell mapped out the timeline for the four-week unit. They set realistic dates, making allowances for technical difficulties.

Schedule research time. The unit designers must be sure the media center, computer lab and other resource sites are available. Guest speakers, field trips and other events must be arranged. A calendar noting each lesson within the unit is prepared.

Develop a rubric assess student artifacts. The teacher designs a rubric that clearly states the requirements for the end product. In the Civil War scenario, Ms. Russell determined that a rubric would be the best way to evaluate student performance. She designed it during the planning phase of the unit and distributed it on the first day. Students began their work knowing what was expected. With the rubric to guide them, they were able to choose a topic, research it, and finally create their products.

Evaluate student performance. Using the rubric, the teacher judges the student- generated product. In the Civil War scenario, Ms. Russell observed the PowerPoint presentations. In evaluating them, she used the rubric to ensure that the presentations had all the required elements.

Evaluate the unit. At the completion of the unit, the teacher and media specialist meet to assess the success of the unit. They make recommendations and changes for future use. Mr. Hartman and Ms. Russell listed the strengths and weaknesses of the unit and reflected upon how they could modify and enhance the unit for future implementations.

Developing a resource-based learning unit requires close cooperation between designers in all phases of design. This collaboration eliminates duplication of effort and ensures that the unit is complete.

Role of the Media Specialist in Resource-Based Learning

Figure 1. A illustration of a media specialist.

The media specialists play a crucial role in resource-based learning, beginning with the selection and acquisition of curriculum-supported materials. Aside from building the foundation of instructional materials, they must find the most appropriate information, map, music, or video from the plethora of resources that are available. Media specialists must teach students how to navigate websites. The History Resource Center, for example, an enormous and comprehensive database, can be used to research the Civil War. It contains periodicals, reference materials, primary sources, maps and images. However, Mr. Hartman must teach students how to efficiently use the various components of the site in order to maximize its potential.

Media specialists must be technologically up-to-date in order to offer the latest resources to staff and students. For example, it might be useful to add free e-books to the library home page and then teach the students how to download them from home. The scope of information literacy changes rapidly and the media specialist is instrumental in keeping the students and staff current on rapid changes in technology.

Role of the Teacher in Resource-Based Learning

Figure 2. A illustration of a teacher.

Teachers act as coaches, facilitators or guides as their learners are sampling and manipulating information in multiple formats. The teaching of facts is replaced by teaching students how to learn. The goal is to teach students to find, evaluate and use information to tackle the challenges they encounter along the way (Association of College and Research Libraries [ACRL] & American Library Association [ALA], 1989). Asking the right questions and finding the right resource to answer that question is a technique that teachers can model for their students.

In the Civil War resource-based learning example, Mr. Hartman and Ms. Russell provided a rich resource base from which students could choose. A student interested in visual arts might have chosen to design a timeline of the major Civil War battles; those interested in personal reaction might have selected primary resources such as the journals of soldiers, statesmen, or private citizens.

When teachers thoughtfully design resource-based units, as did Ms. Russell and Mr. Hartman, students are forced to analyze and evaluate the information they encounter. Teachers must ask the right questions and offer enough help so that students progress in their learning. Learners are further motivated when their final products, such as the Civil War PowerPoint presentations or reflections in the example, are displayed or published.

Insightful teachers have recast the role of the instructor from providers of information to facilitators who ensure that learning occurs (Beswick, 1977). Ultimately, the goal of education is to produce fully capable members of the wider, interrelated learning community (American Association of School Librarians [AASL] & Association for Educational Communications and Technology [AECT], 1998). Media specialists and teachers now facilitate learning rather than dispense content through worksheets and textbooks.

Benefits of Resource-Based Learning

Good lesson plans engage students. Resource-based learning is more engaging and therefore more motivating–thus, it helps make students better learners. According to Turner and Paris (1995), there are six strategies for motivation: choice, challenge, control, collaboration, constructing meaning, and consequences. (See the Six C’s of motivation). The resource-based learning unit in the above scenario employs all six of these strategies.

Resource-based learning provides the training ground for development of the necessary information literacy skills for learners to navigate the changing, sometimes confusing, landscape of information sources. When information literacy skills lessons are seamlessly interwoven into content lessons, resource-based learning enables students to independently meet their information needs during an activity and, more importantly, in their future learning; it promotes the goal of lifelong learning.

By using a variety of resources, students learn to efficiently use almanacs, encyclopedias, atlases, databases, technology tools and other resources. This awareness is at the very core of information literacy.

Student motivation is heightened during resource-based learning because final products are readily displayed or presented, providing consequences for a task successfully completed.

Students feel empowered by the freedom to explore various resources and often perceive that they have uncovered knowledge unknown even to their teachers. In the Civil War lesson, Ms. Russell might create a class Civil War web page; the students will realize that millions of people can learn from the results of their efforts. This is highly motivating to the learners.

Resource-based learning can significantly change teacher practices, challenging them to reinvent old instructional practices and routines in ways that reflect the changing world in which our students learn.

Computer software allows students to investigate and experiment in ways that would have been impractical or impossible before the advent of this resource. In this virtual environment, students can mix volatile chemicals, melt pounds of gold, or split atoms without the obstacles of cost and efficiency (Girod, 2000). This has changed the thinking skills of today’s students, as many lessons are open-ended and allow unlimited avenues for inquiry.

Figure 3. A illustration of students using a computer

According to McKenzie (2000), these are the three stages in problem-solving activities: “Prospecting –> Interpreting –> Creating good new ideas.” Information-literate students are proficient locators, capable evaluators, and responsible, creative users of information (AASL & AECT, 1998). Clearly, resource-based learning necessitates development of information literacy skills. Students engaged in resource-based learning activities must analyze, synthesize and evaluate information; these cognitive competencies are on the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Resource-based learning promotes problem-solving and higher-order thinking skills. Students no longer passively receive information; instead, they actively interact with it through engaging, relevant resources.

For instance in Civil War research, students might access school databases such as the History Resource Center, or use the World Wide Web to examine fashions of the day at http://www.costumes.org. Government documents, journals and videotapes can be used to gather even more information that can be pieced together to construct meaning and answer divergent questions.

When students know how to locate and use valuable, valid and reliable information, this enables them to meet any challenge that arises. By becoming familiar with different types of resources, students are better able to make choices when faced with important decisions. Through resource-based learning, students become aware of the wealth of information that is available to them.

An integral aspect of resource-based learning is its flexibility. Students may work alone, or cooperatively. They select resources which fit best with their learning styles. Resource-based learning can be used effectively as a component of project- or problem-based learning, or as a complement to other inquiry learning models. The benefits of resource-based learning also include maximizing the use of instructional resources and teaching time, as well as effective incorporation of technology into the curriculum (Doiron & Davies, 1998).

This is supposed to be a flash animation. You’ll need the flash plugin and a browser that supports it to view it.

Caption: This animation is entitled Resource-Based Learning and the caption above the animation reads ‘The Benefits of Resource-Based Learning.’ The animation shows a thermometer on the left side of the screen. The lowest measurement on the thermometer is labeled ‘Passive Student’ while the highest measurement is labeled ‘Active Student.’ When the viewer clicks on the start button, the mercury in the thermometer raises one level. As the mercury rises on the left side of the screen, benefits are listed on the right side. This shows that as students become more actively involved in Resource-Based Learning they receive more benefits. The benefits listed on the thermometer are: 1. When the instructor introduces additional resources, the students benefit by increased by motivation and interest. 2. When students are allowed to choose their own resources with the guidance of a teacher, they can match their learning style. 3. When students are asked to find resources for their project or artifact, they learn problem-solving skills. 4. When students are able to participate in deciding how to use resources to complete their project, they learn how to learn. 5. When students are able to understand how resources can be used for learning, they gain information literacy.

Challenges of Resource-Based Learning

Perhaps the greatest potential obstacle to implementing resource-based learning activities is cooperative planning, which the teacher and media specialist do together. In order to create this teaching team, the media specialist and the teacher must apportion responsibility, and ensure that each knows the teaching needs and methods of the other (Farmer, 1999). Cooperative planning requires good communication skills and requires both time and effort. Resource-based learning also necessitates planning a timetable for the unit, student grouping, structuring the learning environment, and the management of the unit as well as summative evaluation of the entire process.

The scenario offers an exemplary case of collaborative planning. Ms. Russell facilitated and guided the students after Mr. Hartman gathered the Civil War materials and gave a lesson on the use of each resource. She took over the webbing exercise as students searched for personally interesting topics and he helped them clarify their research questions. From this point, Ms. Russell guided student learning through the end of the unit. Mr. Hartman was invited to observe the student presentations.

Another challenge of resource-based learning is assessing student attainment of learning goals and objectives. Assessments veer away from the multiple-choice quiz to observations of students as they demonstrate mastery of the subject matter and information literacy . In resource-based learning, students will be involved with a wide variety of resources. Consequently, the information accessed will not be uniform from student to student. Rubrics offer clear expectations and provide specifications for the desired product(s) and process accompanying each learning outcome. When presented to the students at the onset of the learning activity, rubrics afford students the ability to self-assess their ongoing efforts as well as their final product.

Figure 4. A illustration of students using the globe

The dynamic components of resource-based learning are also problematic. Many Web-based information sites are updated frequently (Hill & Hannafin, 2001). Information may become inaccessible literally overnight. Despite fast Internet connections, transmission speeds vary considerably from day to day. In addition, the reliability and validity of digital resources can be difficult to establish. Although not confined to digital resources, student plagiarism is another challenge of resource-based learning.

Planning resource-based learning experiences for all students–at-risk, minority, economically disadvantaged, and ESL student populations–is also challenging. Information literacy skills, developed through resource-based learning, will aid these learners in attaining financial independence. The educational system must offer these opportunities to all students; otherwise, that system will be responsible for developing a new elite–the information elite (Bell, 1986).

Of course, resource-based learning must be supported by school administration. With encouragement from the principal, teachers will begin to view media specialists as teaching partners and as information specialists. Media specialists must also be allowed sufficient flexibility to meet with teachers during their planning periods. A fixed media center schedule severely restricts teacher access to the expertise of the media specialist. Administration must also provide the media center with adequate funds to build the collection and to keep its resources and facilities current. Clearly, the support of administration is paramount for resource-based learning to work effectively.

RBL Knowledge-Check

Click Here to check your knowledge of Resource Based Learning with a PowerPoint Jeopardy game! This game was created by Jenny Bridges, Carrie Davison, and Karen Hymas (Fall, 2008). PowerPoint Jeopardy template by C. Harr-MAIT.


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APA Citation: Campbell, L., Flageolle, P., Griffith, S., & Wojcik, C. (2002). Resource-based learning. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved <insert date>, from http://epltt.coe.uga.edu/