2022 Top Tools for Learning
Via Stephen Downes
It is time again for my top 10 list of learning tools for Jane Hart’s Annual Top Tools for Learning roundup.
I see many friends and colleagues across Canada blogging their responses to this call. You can find Stephen’s list, D’Arcy Norman’s list, and Colin Madland’s list on their blogs.
I always find the lists interesting because the question is interpreted two ways, especially for learning specialists. The first is “tools you use to learn yourself,” and the second is “tools you use to create learning.” The order doesn’t matter. So in no particular order, here are ten tools I use practically every day, both for learning myself and to create learning.
WordPress – Self-Improvement and Work
Given that this blog is built on WordPress, this should not come as a surprise, but WordPress can be much more than blogging. One of the more interesting uses of WordPress I’ve been banging the drum about for years are SPLOTs. I have been keen on these since 2016 or 17. If you aren’t familiar, they are a set of themes created by Alan Levine that solve a few different problems when trying to build something collective with multiple authors, but don’t want the hassle of a) setting up feed press and b) teaching about WordPress itself gets in the way of the actual content contribution and sharing. One of my favourite examples is the GEOL109 Student Curated Video Collection, where students completed an assignment about geology videos, created self-check questions, and mapped the videos to the course they were taking. I occasionally use SPLOTs as a PPT replacement when I give workshops or presentations. Working with WordPress over the years has given me more appreciation and understanding of web technologies overall, so it has been invaluable in my learning in ed tech and instructional design. And I wouldn’t be able to do much of this experimentation and work without Reclaim Hosting, so thanks to that team for being so supportive.
H5P – Self-Improvement and Work
Surprised? You shouldn’t be; after all, I am still plugging away on my #InArticulateeLearningHero project, which is based almost entirely on H5P. If you’re unfamiliar, H5P is a tool that includes around 50 or more different interactive content types that are simple to the author and was a fantastic replacement for Flash (not by Adobe, but if you build elearning in Flash, H5P did a lot of the things people used Flash for). Mostly I author and distribute activities I create through the H5P WordPress plugin, but I also use Lumi Education, a desktop app that lets you author and export activities to different formats. It has only improved over the past six years I’ve been using it, and they’re not slowing down with the awesome.
Feedly – Self-Improvement and Work
How did I find out about these lists? People I follow through Feedly blogged about it. I follow a variety of categories, education, ed tech, journals, UX/UI, visual design, elearning and more. I don’t check Feedly every day, but there is always something worth reading and learning more about when I do.
Affinity by Serif – Work
I’ve had access to the Adobe suite for most of my career, working in universities. However, sometimes that looks like it might end because the subscription model is truly obscene. Not only that, but I do contract work, and therefore instead of spending big bucks on Adobe products for little jobs, I opted for perpetual licenses of Affinity products. This includes Photo, Design, and Publisher. I’ve looked at lists of open source replacements for most of the Adobe suite, but I found Affinity to be an easier transition, powerful, and affordable.
Canvas by Instructure – Work
Work in higher ed as an ed tech or instructional designer? You probably (given the market share) also use this. There’s not much to say; it’s a learning management system.
Pressbooks – Work
I’m carving this one out from WordPress because although Pressbooks is built on WP, its use cases tend to be different in my work than in WP. Pressbooks is a web authoring platform aimed at creating digital books. With that in mind, the UI paginates content automatically, including several other book-y things like glossary tools. I’ve been using PB since early 2016 (I think. I saw Hugh present about it at OpenEd in Vancouver in 2015), and it’s only gotten better. Most of my work with it is creating open textbooks, and I combine it with H5P for extra learning fun.
Zoom – Work
It’s 2022; I think enough is said here. Honourable mentions in this category include Whereby and AirMeet.
LinkedIn Learning – Self-Improvement
I use plenty of informal approaches when trying to learn something, but over the past two years, I’ve found myself landing at LinkedIn Learning more than I even used Lynda back in the day. Mostly I go after the essentials courses. If I need a crash course and a relatively brief overview of a new program I’m trying to use, then I check to see if there’s an essentials course. Even on topics I know about, I sometimes learn new tips and tricks I don’t think I would have found by the query. For example, I took a run through the HTML and CSS courses as part of the front-end web developer pathway and learned quite a few new tricks I might not have thought about, even though I’ve taken a few other HTML and CSS courses previously. Put it on 1.5x, and away we go.
Apple Podcasts – Self-Improvement
I know there are so many other podcast apps out there, but I’ve used Apple Podcasts since I got my first iPod in 2010, and I haven’t been able to break the habit. I listen to anything from the kind of culture-type shows like You’re Wrong About or Maintenance Phase, to news like CBC and Canadaland, to comedy like The Adventure Zone and Smashing Security. But the primary use of podcasts for me is to learn about the fields of learning sciences, ID, and edtech. Some highlights include the Learning Hack, #IDIODC, TLDC Cast, and Dear Instructional Designer (no new episodes in forever, but still so good).
SnagIt – Work
This is a new entry on this kind of list for me. I used SnagIt briefly in 2013, but IIRC it and Camtasia didn’t have Mac options for many years. I had gotten accustomed to cmd+shift+4 and using Preview to do quick screenshot work. But this year, I ended up purchasing a laptop with Windows on it to be a primary device for contract work, and with that, I’ve given TechSmith a second chance. I find I’m using SnagIt more and more; I love the different presets for screenshots. For example, with the region, it can pick up on different areas on the screen to quickly capture exactly the region I wanted. The magnifying glass for specific selections makes the screenshot pixel-perfect. The ability to make GIFs easily or to whip up a job aid is also helpful. There’s a lot you can do with it.