E-learning tools – recommendations from practitioners

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I always say that e-learning is not just about tools. Human competences are key. However, it’s impossible to create digital content without the use of technology. The number of websites and applications is growing at an uncommon pace. We should be happy about this, because it increases competitiveness and gives us more choice. However, you need to spend a lot of time constantly analyzing the market and creating your own toolbox. The purpose of this article is to make this process easier for you. With the help of our Polish experts, I have compiled a list of tools used on a daily basis in the production of educational materials. I divided them into several categories according to the purpose and life cycle of the project. I wanted to create a very practical list, so if you have questions, you can ask them directly to the group of practitioners, linked at the end of the article.

How to choose the right tool?

First of all, test. Most of the solutions presented below offer free versions or a trial period. Providers also organize a lot of webinars. It is worth following them on social media to be up to date with updates and the latest promotions.

Secondly, observe the market and the projects that appear on it, so as not to be left with tools that deviate from the new standards. The e-learning history knows many examples of giants who have virtually disappeared from the market and are not further developing their products.

Third, build a network, take an active part in discussions in e-learning groups and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Everyone started out sometime.

Attention! If you are a beginner e-learning training creator or you just want to start your career as an instructional designer, read the article How to design effective e-learning trainings, or why add color and animated elements? With its help, you will create trainings that will not only be “interactive and colorful”, but will bring specific value and will make your clients come back with new projects, and employees will give you high fives in the elevator (once we come back to the offices ;-)). Knowing the tools alone won’t let you spread your wings and create valuable educational content.

If you’ve already read the previous post, welcome to the e-learning Eldorado! 🙂

You will also find a lot of different types of tool rankings on the internet. My favorites include TopTools4Learning and Center for Learning & Performance Technologies (C4LPT). Be careful though: many of these surveys are financed and produced by software vendors, so there can only be one winner. 😉

Below I present my original list of the most popular e-learning tools used by experts.

I focused on three stages of creating materials:

  1. needs analysis
  2. projects
  3. development
    + tools to facilitate project management.

Where is the evaluation, you ask? 🙂 This is such an extensive topic that it deserves a separate thread.

Criteria

  1. I limited myself to “standalone” tools, i.e. I did not take into account the functions offered by larger LMS (Learning Management System aka e-learning platform) solutions. Many of them have built-in solutions that allow you to create educational content.
  2. I assume that we create asynchronous content, e.g. screen training, video, audio, animations.
  3. I don’t have an entire team of programmers, graphic designers, nor a video studio.
  4. The selected tools are recommended by practitioners and are not necessarily winners of awards and rankings.

Needs Assessment

Each project should start with the analysis stage. It determines, inter alia, business and training goals of projects, methods of their verification, requirements and limitations, details of the target group, schedule and roles in the project, among other things. The basis is fluent communication and trouble-free collaboration. Technologies supporting these elements are crucial, especially now, when we cannot meet and talk about a project over coffee.

Communication

Online communication is still dominated by e-mails and online meetings using tools such as Zoom, Webex, Google Meet or our Polish ClickMeeting. On the other hand, in the case of more advanced projects with multiple participants, applications and communication tools that allow for multi-threaded conversations and document exchange are needed. These could be:

Collaboration

Online group work is always a challenge, especially if we work simultaneously. Brainstorming, creative sessions, sketching are mainly associated with whiteboard, felt-tip pens, colored cards and walls covered with flips.

Miro and Mural – two very similar tools that have the format of a virtual board on which you can write, draw, place various types of objects, upload files or vote. Which one is better? In my opinion, they are very similar. You can take a look at this comparison, but the update dynamics is so great that this comparison may quickly lose its validity.

Padlet – a simpler virtual board that teachers love.

Google Jamboard – a free application from Google that allows you to work together on a virtual whiteboard. Compared to the examples above, it offers fewer features, but is integrated with Google Meet and …

Google Docs – working together on documents is essential at the moment. Let’s forget about sending attachments in emails and manual versioning. Google and Microsoft will take care of your data.

Mind mapping and note taking

When you want to gather all your ideas in one place, mind maps are a very good idea. They allow not only to combine various issues, but also show the relationship between them. Recommended applications of this type are:

XMind – one of the most popular mind mapping tools on the market. It also allows you to create various types of schemes like tree or fishbone.  It’s irreplaceable in brainstorming sessions and collecting ideas or categorizing information.

Mindomo – very similar tool to the above, except that it is completely cloud based.

Goodnotes – something for iPad lovers. It turns your device into a true digital sketchbook.

Other tools to assist with analysis

Lastly, I’ve left tools that fall outside of the above categories, but are too cool not to be mentioned 🙂

Dovetail – great application if you conduct research or interviews and you need a tool to analyze them.

Smaply – a smart tool that will facilitate the process of creating a persona or describing a customer journey.

e-learning useful tools

Designing

The next stage of e-learning content creation is design. This is where prototypes, sketches and the project skeletons are created.

Graphic tools

Adobe CC (Ai, PS, XD) – Adobe’s unique suite of tools.

Canva – one of the most popular graphic tools for “non-graphic-designers”. It comes with tons of great templates including infographics, presentations, videos, social media and more, all in an easilyaccessible form. Another tool of this type is Crello.

Gimp – one of the most popular open source raster graphics editors.

Remove.bg – my favorite website for cutting backgrounds from photos. Indispensable if you work with photos of people.

Photophea – useful when you need to quickly edit graphics online.

Comixify.ai – indispensable if you would like to create a comic book based on video (a project of Warsaw University of Technology students!).

Storyboards

Powerpoint – there is only one king! 🙂 Still one of the most popular scriptwriting and training storyboarding tools.

Pixton – a very nice website where you can create comics that can be a scenario for our training.

Hemingway and polisg Jasnopis – without simple, understandable language, there is no effective training material. These websites will check the readability of your texts and suggest what to change to improve.

Mockups

Balsamiq – irreplaceable if we want to show what the user interaction with our application, game or simulation will look like.

Development, i.e. creating the final product

When we know what and how we want to design, it is time for development, i.e. creating the final product (or at least its first iteration). In this category I included authoring tools used to create “screen” trainings, applications used when working with audio and video materials, creating screencasts (recordings of interactions with the application) and animations.

Authoring tools

Articulate (Storyline, Rise, Replay, Peek, Review) – the undisputed leader on the e-learning tools market, with in its package both tools for the production of advanced interactions and simple mobile solutions.

iSpring Suite – a popular tool that allows you to create interactive materials based on PowerPoint presentations.

Genially – multitool, thanks to which you can create interactive presentations, infographics or simple games without any programming knowledge.

H5P and Adapt learning – two free tools for creating interactive HTML5 content.

VTS Editor i Branchtrack – very cool tools if we want to create the so-called branched scenario or conversation simulator, define places, characters and then define decision paths.

Video

Premiere Pro – they write on their website “The best video editing tool” and they don’t lie.

Nano teleprompter – a great prompter that you can use when recording a video.

Happscribe – intuitive tool for creating audio-to-text transcriptions and adding captions to videos (similar tool – Trint).

Prezi Video – You probably know Prezi as an application for creating crazy presentations. They also have a tool in their package that will allow you to spice up video materials or live sessions with animated content.

Audio

Audacity – free, mega popular audio editor. It covers most e-learning needs.

Hindenburg – if you need a more advanced tool, or plan to record podcasts, audiobooks.

Screencast & Mirroring

Camtasia – for me it’s the undisputed king of screencasts, ever since I started dealing with e-learning. If you plan to record a lot of screencasts, you must have one.

Techsmith Capture (aka Jing) – come in handy when you are looking for a free tool.

SnagIt – if, in addition to screencasts, you’ll be working a lot with screenshots.

Reflector i Vysor – when you need to transfer images from mobile devices to your computer

Animations

Vyond – former GoAnimate – the fastest, easiest, best. 

Project management

Finally, I left the software that will allow you to control this creative turmoil for the very end. Project management tools will allow you to monitor all tasks, assign them to specific people or teams, and keep track of the progress of work.

Jira – classic, used in small businesses and corporations, lots of functionality.

Basecamp –less functionality, more intuitiveness, lower price.

Trello –my favorite, fast, simple, clean and it works.

Kanbanchi –best if you work with customers with Google software. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The world of digital tools used in education is growing at a dizzying pace. The only way to monitor what is happening on the market is to participate in thematic groups and build a strong network in social networks.

If you still feel hungry for tools, I recommend you to frequently check the eLearning Robię group I do and carefully review the post without which this post would not be created. Alternatively, you can take 2 weeks of vacation and view the 447 pages of the “Vendors of Learning Management and eLearning Products” chart prepared and updated annually by Don McIntosh.

I hope that with this post I helped you brace yourself for an additional e-learning project. Good luck!

CONTACT WITH Editor in Chief

Michał Serwiński

+48/ 698 059 620‬
michal.serwinski@frsi.org.pl

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