Collaborative Learning, by definition, is two or more people working together to complete a given task. Research has shown that students who learn collaboratively develop better critical thinking skills than students who learn individually. In the days of the textbook, each student read the text and interacted with it (minimally) on an individual basis. Even with new digital textbooks increasing that interaction, they are still a very solitary experience. Now, with hardware, software, and cloud-based applications, students can collaborate with each other locally, with similar students on the other side of the globe, or even with professionals and academics in the fields they are studying. The learning process has become collaborative.
Incorporating other trends like Collaborative Learning, Differentiated Instruction, and Inquiry-Based Learning, project-based learning is perhaps one of the most important of today's educational trends. Students are given a problem or challenge to solve rather than information to consume. They go through a process of questioning, researching, solving, designing, creating, and presenting a long-term project. The learning happens along the way with the student directing his/her own learning and the teacher becoming a guide on the journey. Again, a textbook simply presents information. Sure, new elements of digital textbooks allow more interaction with them (clickable, searchable, and embedded media), but they are still mostly used to consume information. In order for students to truly learn, they must be allowed to become self-directed learners.
These educational techniques are here to stay because they focus on student learning rather than the material being taught. With a world of knowledge online, students can gather information with the press of a button without a textbook company in between. They can weigh that information--deciding which is useful and which isn't--and use it to develop their own learning in their own way. Despite what we may hear from the industry, textbooks--even new, exciting textbooks--are not the best way for students to learn. Let's help students use their screens for researching, collaborating, and creating instead of consuming.