25 Tools – A Toolbox for Learning Professionals 2009

April last year I wrote an article for e.learning age on the 25 Tools every learning professional should have in their Toolbox – and all for free! This year I have produced a 2009 version of the Toolbox , which contains 25 categories of learning tool. Within each tool category I provide the name of the most popular tools from the emerging Top Tools for Learning 2009 list, as selected by learning professionals worldwide. The majority of the tools are FREE, although a number of commercial tools are included. Some of the tools are desktop tools; others are online services.

  1. Web browser – A web browser is a fundamental tool in the Toolbox; it is your window onto the web. The award-winning browser, Firefox is still the browser of choice, because it is more than just a browser; there are hundreds of extensions available provide an enormous range of extra functionality. But why not try Google Chrome, which is quickly gaining market share
  2. Social bookmarking tool – Store your books online, tag (i.e. categorise) them and share them with others. Delicious is the leading social bookmarking tool. Diigo, however, takes social bookmarking to the next step, and supports social annotation
  3. Blogging tool – Personal and professional blogging is now considered a mainstream activity. WordPress is the people’s favourite blogging tool. This has now become a very sophisticated tool with many plugins available to embed resources – and yet remains easy to use. Available as a hosted service or to install as a blogging platform. Google’s Blogger is, however, also a firm favourite
  4. RSS/Feed reader – Have the news or blog updates sent to you! Although modern day browsers let you read RSS feeds easily, a feed reader will let you manage all your subscriptions in one place.Google Reader is the most popular online feed reader and also lets you share postings with others. Bloglines is another favourite online feed reader.
  5. Micro-blogging tool – Micro-blogging has really taken off this year, and this is mainly due to Twitter. You can communicate with your contacts – using up to 140 characters – and keep up to date with what they are doing and what is happening in the world. If you are looking for a desktop Twitter, client, then Tweetdeck is one to consider.
  6. Email – Email is now a well-recognised and understood communication tool. But do you want web mail or a desktop client? gMail (or GoogleMail as it’s known in the UK) is an efficient webmail service that provides you with tons of free storage space – and no worrying about spam and viruses. Outlook is a well-respected commercial desktop email client, and part of the Microsoft Office suite.
  7. Instant messaging – Instant messaging is now almost as commonplace as email. Skype provides an easy way of not only text messaging but also free computer-to-computer voice calls – with low charges out to landlines (SkypeOut) – as well calls into Skype from landlines (SkypeIn)
  8. Personal productivity tool – A personal productivity tool is one that lets you work more effectively and efficiently. This year, the leading productivity tool is Evernote. Use it to capture, clip and share notes on the web. There are versions available for the desktop or mobile phone. Another useful productivity tool is Google Calendar, where you can share your diary online. This makes scheduling meetings and other events an easy process.
  9. Mind mapping tool – A mind mapping tool is great for organising your thoughts or just brainstorming – either on your own or with others. FreeMind is an open source, desktop mind mapping tool.Bubbl.us is a web application where you can create mind maps online, share your work, embed them in your blog or website, email or print them.
  10. Presentation tool – A presentation tool is another fundamental tool for a learning professional. PowerPoint (a commercial tool) is the most well-known tool desktop tool – and invaluable for many – and is the basis for a number of tools in this Toolbox. A new breed of dedicated online presentation tools is appearing, and Prezi is emerging as a very popular free tool. Presentations are created online but are also downloadable.
  11. Presentation sharing tool – If you create presentations with PowerPoint or other desktop software, then here’s some popular tools for hosting them online and sharing them with others. WithSlideshare you can even synchronise your presentation with an audio file to create a narrated presentation. With Voicethread you can create an audio slideshow and comments can also be left by others.
  12. Online office suite – Do you need to work collaboratively on presentations documents or spreadsheets with your team or colleagues? Or want to share your results with others more widely? Then this is where an online office suite is of great value.Google Docs is the most popular of the office tools. You can start from scratch on a document or upload existing content created in MS Office, for example. Zoho is another online suite with a large range of productivity and collaborative apps.
  13. Web conferencing tool – Web conferencing tools let you present to a small or large group of individuals, browse the web and even share your computer screen. They also provide a chat backchannel. Dimdim is the most popular free, open source web conferencing tool. Of the many commercial tools available, Adobe Connect is emerging as a strong favourite.
  14. Course authoring tool – There are a number of tools available to creating interactive, multimedia online courses. The most popular tools in this category are all commercial tools. Articulate E-Learning Studio consists of three main products: Presenter (which lets you create Flash-based courses from PowerPoint, Engage and Quizmaker. All are available separately. Lectora provides course developers with a comprehensive authoring environment.
  15. Screen capture tool – If you want to capture a screenshot or image for a learning resources, a good screen capture tool is a must. Snagit, a commercial tool from Techsmith is the most popular screen capture tool. Jing, also from Techsmith, is a free always-ready program that instantly captures and shares images and videos.
  16. Demo/screencasting tool – If you want to create a software demo or other screencast, then here are the most popular tools: BothCamtasia, from Techsmith, and Captivate, from Adobe, are popular commercial tools, whereas Jing, also from Techsmith, is a free always-ready program that instantly captures and shares images and video.
  17. Web authoring tool – If you want to build a web site, there are a number of tools to help you to do this. Here are the ones that learning professionals like. Dreamweaver is a powerful desktop web authoring tool. It is a commercial tool from Adobe. Google Sites is a free online tool to create simple, secure group web or wiki sites. More wiki tools also appear in the next category.
  18. Wiki tools – Wiki tools support collaborative working and learning. A number of users can edit a page and thereby create a collaborative document. PBworks (previously PBwiki) is a firm favourite, particularly amongst workplace learning professionals. The basic version is free, there are other professional price plans.Wikispaces has a strong following in the education world.
  19. Image/photo tools – An image is worth a thousand words! Here are some popular image and photo tools: If you are looking for a place to host your personal or professional picture collection, thenFlickr is the place to do it! It is also a great source of (often) copyright-free images. If you are looking for a photo imaging tool, the commercial Photoshop from Adobe, is designed for professional and serious amateur photographers
  20. Audio/podcasting tools – Podcasts, or MP3 audio files, have become a very familiar format. The following two tools are the favourite tools for creating and listening to audio files and podcasts.Audacity is a free, open source, downloadable tool, that makes recording and editing audio very simple. With the extra encoder you can convert your audio files into MP3 podcasts. Although many web pages have embedded audio players, iTunes is a must-have audio player that allows you to subscribe to podcasts, and also access iTunesU.
  21. Video tools – Video is a very powerful medium for presenting information or instruction of all kinds. YouTube is a favourite resource for finding videos. It is also very easy to upload your own videos and share them with others. Nowadays videos can easily be created using webcams, camcorders and even mobile phones. TheFlip is an affordable and popular mini camcorder.
  22. Personal dashboard – Personal dashboard tools or start pages allow you to aggregate all your digital resources – mail, RSS feeds, videos, etc – in one place. You can also design the layout and look of your start page. The two most popular, free start page tools areiGoogle and Netvibes.
  23. Course management system – A course management system lets you manage learners and their use of course content. The system of choice for many learning professionals – both in education and in the workplace – is the free, open source platform,Moodle. In addition to core course management functionality it also includes some social media tools like discussion forums, blogging and wiki tools. If you can’t install Moodle in-house, then there are low-cost hosting solutions available.
  24. Social networking tool – You may already belong to a public social network like Facebook or LinkedIn, where you can also set up a dedicated group for network members to join easily. However, if you want to create a private social network, for instance to provide the community side of a learning programme, then Ning is a popular online platform.
  25. Integrated social media platform – Too many different social media tools to choose from? Concerned about personal and organisational data privacy and security on external sites? Then,Elgg, the free, open source integrated social media platform brings together social networking, social bookmarking, blogging, wikis, RSS feeds, messaging and more in one platform. With Elgg you can create a social learning and collaboration platform for use across the whole organisation. Individuals can have a personal dashboard and groups can work together. If you can’t install Elgg in-house, then there are low-cost hosting solutions available.

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