My Top 10 Learning Tools

On this blog I usually write in Dutch, but this post is in English because it is also my submission for Jane Hart’s annual Top 100 Tools for Learning survey. For this annual survey, learning professionals from all over the world are invited to submit their top 10 of learning tools*. The survey will end this Friday, September 18.

*Edited on September 22: Here’s the Top 100 Tools for Learning 2015.

This is how Jane Hart defines the concept ‘learning tool’:

“A learning tool is any software or online tool or service that you use either for your own personal or professional learning or for teaching or training.”

Here’s my list.

1. Evernote

This really is my number 1 tool, from a learning as well as a productivity point of view. In Evernote, I save all my notes, articles, tips, guides, etc. It is also the starting point of blog posts that I write and ideas that I want to explore. A very important additional tool that I should not forget to mention is the Evernote Webclipper. With the Webclipper, I can save any article, web page, image or pdf to Evernote. It even has special formats for Gmail messages, LinkedIn profiles, YouTube video’s and Amazon article pages to make sure all relevant information is preserved when converted to Evernote.

2. Twitter

I think Twitter is one of the most important tools for learning and sharing new knowledge. On Twitter, I follow all kinds of experts in fields that I find interesting, and I can share my own insights and articles, and those of others. It leads to new interesting people, websites, videos, articles, but also to unplanned and planned discussions (twitter chats) with colleagues from all over the world.
When I hear people say that Twitter is too superficial and boring, it reminds me of this quote:

“If you think Twitter is boring, you’re following the wrong people”.

3. Podcast Addict (Android) / iTunes

When running, during household work and long car drives, I often listen to podcasts. It is a great way to get new information and insights while being physically busy and unable sit or stand still to read something. The length of a podcast varies usually between 30 and 60 minutes, which is much longer than anyone would spend reading a blog post.
This is why in a podcast, topics are discussed much more profoundly. Podcast Addict on my Android smartphone is by far the best tool I know to download and manage these podcasts. But when I go running or during some household work it’s easier to use my very tiny iPod nano. I use iTunes to get the podcasts I want on my iPod. It works fine, but I never feel as much ‘In control’ as I do with Podcast Addict.

4. Google Search

Google is still the most important search engine I use to search information about anything that I haven’t explored yet. Sometimes I even find myself Googling for subjects that I already have articles about in Evernote. It’s such an automatism to start a new search for which, by the way, I never go to Google.com, but I always start a search from my browser’s address bar.

5. WordPress

I think WordPress.com is still the easiest tool to create your own weblog and share your knowledge, insights and reflections in blog posts and additional pages. In ‘no time’ and without any technical knowledge you can create a website via wordpress.com, with a nice layout, using one of the many themes that are available.
I prefer to use the version from WordPress.org that can be installed at my own webspace that I bought from my web host. Most web hosts also offer an install tool for WordPress (and other applications), so it can be installed with almost no technical knowledge.

6. Scoop.it

With Scoop.it, you can share articles from others while adding your own insights about the contents. Yes, you can also do this with Facebook or Google+, but the great thing about Scoop.it is that it is topic-centered and not account-centered. On Facebook, Google+ or Twitter, an account often contains messages about many different topics, based on the interests of the person who owns the account. On Scoop.it you work with topics, which makes it much less likely that someone would post an off-topic item in their Scoop.it topic. Scoop.it also helps you find new content by suggesting content for a ‘Topic’ that you defined by choosing a title, description, and keywords. Scoop.it suggests content from all kinds of social media and then you can decide which of the suggested articles you want to add to your Topic page on Scoop.it. You can also add content you find elsewhere on the web by using the Scoop.it bookmarklet, and you can share your ‘Scoops’ on other social media like Twitter and Facebook.

7. InoReader

I recently switched from Feedly to InoReader to read my RSS feeds (streams of new blog posts on blogs that I follow). I switched because with InoReader I can mark articles as ‘read’ directly in the list of available article titles, while they remain visible in that list. This way I can see which articles I’ve already made a decision about and which ones not.
Furthermore, I can save articles from InoReader directly into Evernote. In Feedly, this is only possible in a paid version or via IFTTT. I admit these are two reasons that are quite specific for my own workflow.

8. YouTube

Although I like to write (short) manuals and instructions, I noticed that when I want to learn about a new tool myself, I like to watch ‘how to’-videos on YouTube. Especially short videos about specific actions or functions are my favorites, but also an hour long video with all kinds of tips and tricks can contain a lot of useful information.

9. Powerpoint

Powerpoint is still a very easy tool for creating presentations and prototypes. I also tried Prezi a few times for creating presentations. I enjoyed it very much, but it just took a lot of time. Besides that, I’m not convinced that the twisting, turning and zooming on the screen (while used sparingly), will always add enough extra value to the presentation that makes it worth to spend the extra time on it.

10. Moodle

This is an online learning environment that you can install on your own web space by using an install tool from your web host or by downloading it for free from Moodle.org. Since a few months, there is even a MoodleCloud solution. In Moodle, you can create a learning environment for each course with instructions, quizzes, assignments, feedback, badges, resources, news, discussions, calendar, etc. Like with WordPress (tool 6), themes are available for a nice layout and you can add all kinds of plug-ins for extra functions. On Moodle.org, you can find extensive documentation about all functions, settings, and plug-ins.
People often think that Moodle is complex because of the many options and settings it has. I think that Moodle’s many options actually provide the flexibility that is necessary to be suitable to support so many different learning processes. It’s a matter of exploring these options and making decisions about which ones to use, based on learning objectives, and didactic vision and principles.

Other useful tools for learning

There are a few tools that didn’t make it into the top 10, but which I still like to mention:

Degreed

In Degreed, you can register all your learning activities. You can not only add your formal education but also short (online and offline) courses and MOOCs and even articles and books that you read. It will give a much better overview of everything you know. They offer a personal version and an enterprise version. I’m very excited to see how this tool will evolve.

Yammer

I started working with Yammer only recently and still need to learn a lot about it, but I think it’s a very promising tool for collaborating and sharing knowledge within companies. You can have conversations with (groups of) colleagues and share documents and even invite others from outside your company, like customers, partners or suppliers to join the groups in your Yammer network. I think this can also be considered as an important productivity tool while it supports team collaboration and probably will reduce the amount of e-mails around projects.

Google Chrome

I doubted for a while if I should put Chrome into my top 10, mostly because I need a browser for many of the other learning tools I’m using. I decided not to mention it, because it’s just too obvious. Chrome has some special advantages though in comparison to other browsers: it’s very fast, bookmarks can be synchronized easily, there are many useful browser extensions and by right-clicking on a page you can open the ‘element inspector’ to see the HTML and CSS of a page in a way that’s very helpful for web design and learning these languages. Safari is a good competitor but besides having no ‘Element inspector’ it also doesn’t show any icons of bookmarks in the favorites bar which is why you can’t use it as easily as in Chrome.

Mindmeister

This is a tool to create mind maps. I use MindMeister when I need an overview for a project plan or a blog post. I also use it sometimes to create an overview of a subject that I’m interested in and that want to learn more about. I think I should even use it more often, for example when reading a book: a mind map creates a much better overview than highlighted texts on many different pages.

Hootsuite

I started using this app because I had to manage multiple Twitter accounts. With Hootsuite, I’m logged-in to all these accounts at the same time and for each of them I can create a column that shows their ‘Home’ timeline. On a laptop or iPad screen these columns can be showed next to each other and on my smartphone I can easily switch from one column to another just by swiping to the left or right.
Hootsuite is also important for learning purposes, because I can create a column from a Twitter search, which is very useful for following Twitter chats, and I can also create a column for each of my Twitter lists. Besides Twitter accounts, I can also manage other social media accounts in it, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Instagram. Though in the free version there is a maximum of 5 accounts that can be managed on one Hootsuite-account.

Diigo

With Diigo, you can not only bookmark and share web pages, but you can also highlight texts on pages, add notes and create a ‘Read later’ list. For a while, I even thought seriously about switching from Evernote (tool 1) to Diigo for keeping my collection of articles. I decided to keep them in Evernote though because I like to have everything in one application, and I don’t have to be afraid that a page or an article will be moved or go offline. Although, with the paid version of Diigo this last argument isn’t an issue anymore…
While writing this blog post I found out that I can use Evernote’s Webclipper to save a page of Diigo bookmarks to Evernote, including highlights and notes and the links to the bookmarked websites, and it all still looks great in Evernote.

Kindle

I’m getting more and more enthusiastic about reading e-books in the Kindle-app on my iPad. The texts I highlight in the book will be saved online and I can visit the page with these highlights and save them into Evernote with the Evernote Webclipper.

Flipboard

With Flipboard, you can read articles from social media accounts, RSS feeds and some news accounts. Flipboard presents the articles in a very pretty way and I used it for quite a while to read my RSS feeds. You can also collect articles that you read and create your own Flipboard magazines with them. At the moment, I’m thinking about creating such a magazine with important articles in it about learning and productivity.

What is your list?

Well, what tools do you use for personal/professional learning and teaching? Did you submit your vote for the 2015 survey, and/or did you do this in any previous years?

Please leave your comment below.

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