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Jane's Gems: Top Tools for Learning

By Jane Hart / October 2011

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Jane Hart is the Founder of the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies, one of the most visited learning sites on the Web. In her new monthly column she will be sharing some "gems"—useful or valuable tools, resources, and products she has unearthed for learning and performance improvement/support. In this month's column she focuses on some new tools for learning.

For the last five years I have been asking learning professionals (academics, teachers, trainers, etc) from around the world to share their favorite tools for learning, and from these contributions I have been generating an annual "Top 100 Tools for Learning" list. One thing that has becoming increasingly apparent over the last few years, is that more and more people are making significant use of free, online social tools both to develop and create formal learning solutions for their students or trainees, as well as for their own personal and professional learning and self-development. In fact, it is clear that many tools on the list started as personal tools and have now evolved into valuable working and learning tools.

This year's Top 100 Tools list is no different and once again contains a wide range of tools. Although I won't be finalizing the list until mid-November, I wanted to share an early preview of some of the fascinating tools that are appearing on the list for the first time this year. So here are five of the newcomers—all of which are free to use.

Symbaloo is your personal start page to the Internet. You can use the default desktop, which consists of a number of "tiles" that contain the links to Web resources, or add your own sites. You have complete freedom to move, delete or add tile icons, which are color coded. Symbaloo could therefore be seen as your own "personal learning environment" or a place to organize learning resources for others. You can share the desktop without registering; however you do need to register to publish your "webmix."

Read-it later lets you save what you find on the Web to watch and read on any device, at any time—very useful if you haven't got time to read something and don't want to forget it. To make life even easier, there are extensions for Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera browsers as well as apps for iPhone, iPad, Androids, Blackberrys and other mobile devices. It's also integrated into more than 250 applications across platforms you might already use, like Flipboard, Seismic, Twitterific, etc. Haven't got time to read all the tweets or Facebook status messages from those you follow or items in your RSS feeds? Then use this service to automatically generate your own Daily Newspaper with the best stories shared by those you follow? Or if you prefer you can subscribe to the daily newspapers created by others, like The C4LPT Daily. is just one of a growing number of content curation services that help to provide a filter to the important content.

lino is a free sticky and canvas service that requires nothing but a Web browser. You can move the stickies around and change their colors however you like. You can use lino as a personal tool, or use it with a group to share your ideas as well as your files with colleagues (or trainees). In other words it is a dead simple way of encouraging communication and collaboration with a team without an expensive overhead. You can even embed lino into your blog or Web page, and there are also iPhone and iPad apps too.

CamStudio is a free, open source screencasting tool to record screen and audio activity on your computer and create industry-standard AVI video, which can then be converted into bandwidth-friendly streaming Flash videos. So for instance, you could use it to create demonstration videos or tutorials.

If you have enjoyed taking a look at these tools, then you will find plenty more on the "Top 100 Tools for Learning 2011" list, which is available here. Please also consider sharing your own picks to help me continue to build this year's list; you can find out how to do so here. And if you are looking for an even bigger collection of tools, then my Directory of Learning and Performance Tools contains more than 2,000 tools in 12 main categories.


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