Online encyclopedias are powerful tools not just to build your child’s knowledge, but also to build their effective learning skills! Here's how.
Did you know online encyclopedias are powerful tools not just to build your child’s knowledge, but also to build their effective learning skills?
Whether online or offline, paid or free - encyclopedias offer so much more than just information about different topics. They build critical learning skills especially in an age of information overload and distraction.
I'm a big fan of online encyclopedias for structured learning, because at home, we look for ways to focus on the learning process rather than the content. Encyclopedias help with both.
Here are 10 benefits of using online learning encyclopedias for our effective learners, especially tweens and teens between the age of 9 and 18, and tips on how to use encyclopedias so that your child gets the most effective learning benefit out of them.
Information Management skills
- Finding specific information by sifting through an exhaustive table of contents
- Learning to use research tools such as alphabetical keys, indexes, glossaries and key term lists when seeking information
- Thinking about how information is organized, how it can be improved for easier finding, reading and use. They start comparing UX of different resources, becoming discerning about the quality of the resource, and selective about what works for them
Deep Learning skills
- Connecting new stuff they have learned to existing knowledge, which leads to compound learning benefits and superior retention and recall of information
- Asking more questions about the topic being researched, often beyond what the encyclopedia offers, and finding additional resources to get that knowledge
- Expanding the learning by following connected themes. For example, while finding facts about India, my son realized that there are continents and sub-continents, and did further research on what a landmass needs to qualify as either.
- Framing the research: picking the angle they want to focus on and deep dive further into
Documentation and Communication skills
- Making notes on their research and organizing the information in their own notebooks
- Sharing, using or articulating the newly-learned facts to others in a structured and summarized manner
- Self-directed learning: topic selection, doing research on things that interest them
Also read: The 6 Abilities of Effective Learners
How to Use Online Encyclopedias for Effective Learning Outcomes: 5 Tried and Tested Tips
Before we get into the tips, remember - it’s not just about using online encyclopedias but using them to best effect, so that compound learning occurs for your child.
Make each visit to the site a structured and productive exercise rather than a knee-jerk reaction when your kids are bored or stuck for facts while doing homework. The idea is to help develop effective learning, which is different from any other kind of 'learning'.
Identify 3-5 learning resources and stick with them
Do not get into Google searches each time your child wants to know something. There is too much out there, and it will suck up your time just choosing the right resource.
If you find any particularly useful, sign-up for their newsletter updates and even consider a paid plan where all the contents are unlocked (in the case of paid resources).
If you find one of them is not great after a few times of use, replace just that one from your roster of 5.
Create a Bookmarks folder
Create a bookmarks folder for learning resources, with 3-5 specific learning resources bookmarked for each category: for example, a ‘general learning’ folder with 5 encyclopedias, subject-specific folders saving 5 resources for Physics, 5 for Chemistry, 5 for Language Arts and so on.)
Make a schedule for use
Encourage your child to make notes of the things they want to find out during the day (let them keep a notepad handy for this purpose), and give them 15 minutes at the end of each day to visit the specific sites you have bookmarked to find the information they need.
They will learn how to make self-reminders, and do more focused research than aimless browsing, especially if you put a time limit of 15 -30 minutes.
Every week, do one session of deliberate research. We use two approaches to this:
1. Fact Finder Friday 1: Every Friday, my 8+ YO is allowed one hour to log in and find out 5 facts to share at the dinner table from whatever subjects or topics he finds of interest.
Over the weeks, I have witnessed marked improvements in topic selection, quality and depth of the research, connectedness of the facts, fact selection (he can only share 5 facts on each topic) and articulation of the facts as they share them at the table.
2. Fact Finder Friday 2: Some weeks we switch up the activity by agreeing on one topic beforehand, which he researches for 25 facts. This helps deep dive into one topic and make stronger connections across the research, prioritize which facts and aspects he wants to include (selecting and discarding facts), and following interesting leads to expand the research to connected areas. For example, researching turtles got him interested in the concept of ‘extinction’ and the next week, he chose to research 5 scientific reasons behind extinction.
Also read: 22 Learning Skills for 21st Century Learners
Getting distracted online is so easy. Aside from the schedule above that always gives a fixed time block for encyclopedia use, try and be particular about the research goals in each session, using one of the Fact Finder Friday options I shared above, or inventing your own.
The idea is to find a balance between structure and flexibility. Initially, I did try leaving the research and browsing very free-style for my child, but found that it was too fluid for him to get much out of it, and retention was very low. I needed a new way to approach the learning.
When I added the element of researching 5 specific topics each Friday, while still giving him the freedom to choose the research angles, I found the retention shot up as did the interest and focus.
Documenting learning is a key effective learning skill - organizing the input data, summarizing it, and presenting or sharing it in a way that others can get it.
Sharing it verbally (in our case, we share facts at the dinner table) also helps them pick up skills like answering questions the audience asks (including saying ‘I don’t know’. Off late, I have noticed with glee that he also makes a note of such unanswered questions in his notepad to pick up in the next Fact Finder Friday session).
To make the most of the time spent researching, help your child create a journal or scrapbook and express their findings in whatever way they find interesting. This could be oral (sharing with the family) or even recording an audio summary, making a scrap book with illustrations and sketches, using a combination of text and visuals, making a short PPT or video of it etc.
Is Your Tween or Teen Ready to Start Using Online Encyclopedias?
Much as I love physical books, digital learning resources such as online encyclopedias offer a great alternative to expensive, space-consuming hardcover book sets. Polymath Parenting has curated a review of the 5 best online encyclopedias for your tweens and teens, so that you don't have to sift through hundreds of options.
Use these resources combined with the tips in this article for the best results. As I’ve explained throughout this article, using encyclopedias is not just about increasing knowledge but helps to develop the skills our children need to be effective learners as well.
We’ve reviewed these encyclopedias based on content quality, relevance, ease of use and additional benefits and features. Find the reviews of the 5 best online encyclopedias for tweens and teens here, and all our other reviews of learning resources which help strengthen the learning process here.
Curated resources on self-directed learning for your tweens and teens
How to Make a Growth Mindset Your Child's Default Learning Mindset
Our Set of One-Page Infographics about Effective Learning