10 Free Tools for Building Blended & Online Learning

As internet connections improve and costs of classroom hours increase, it’s becoming increasingly important to offer some form of blended or totally online materials to enhance courses.

In this posting I’ll introduce some useful free and freemium tools that can enable any teacher to start creating content for online delivery.

You can find more tools like these in Digital Tools for Teachers

1. Perusallhttps://perusall.com/

PerusallThis tool enables teachers to build onto more traditional course book based courses and add a blended element. Once you have created an account you can upload PDF documents and add them to courses. You then give your students a code to register on the course and they can access the texts, make notes and annotate the text and build discussions around them. The site also generates a ‘confusion report’  which can show you where they are struggling or having problems with the text. You can deal with the problems in the next class. When you register as a teacher you need to tell the site which school you teach at. You can try a live demo of a course to see how it works at: https://app.perusall.com/demo

2. NowCommenthttps://nowcomment.com/

NowCommentThis is a very similar tool to Perusall, but it’s completely free. and works around any web based text. You can create classes and groups and add students to them and then create and assign texts from the internet as reading activities. You then create questions and comments linked to specific parts of the text which your students engage with as they read. This enables you to create an online dialogue around the text and get your students sharing and exploring their views around the text.

3. Teachablehttps://teachable.com

TeachableYou can use Teachable to create and sell your own online courses. There isn’t much in the way of interactive exercise types available, but you can add videos text and allow comments. There is a built in payment system so this takes a lot of the headaches out of getting started. Teachable take 10% if you are working with a free account. If you find that you are selling a lot of courses you can switch to a paid account with a fixed fee to reduce the charges. This is a great way to start becoming an independent course designer.

4. CourseLabhttp://www.courselab.com/view_doc.html

CourseLabCourseLab has been around for a while now and is a free tool for authoring your own interactive digital content. You don’t need any coding skills, just use the drag and drop editor to create a wide range of multimedia interactive activities. This really is quite a powerful tool capable of designing a wide range of quite complex interactive activity types that include context specific feedback and a number of other features like scoring and timing, but there is quite a steep learning curve when you firs start using it. If you want to get serious about building complex online courses then it worth putting in the time. The activities it generates comply to the SCORM standard so you can import them into Moodle or any other standard compliant LMS.

5. DocentEduhttp://docentedu.com/

This is a great tool to start creating web based materials. You’ll need to have a Google account and   use it to sign up. Then you can use the Chrome extension to build interaction around webpages or documents. You can add videos from YouTube to enhance content or you can add discussion, questions or insights. You can make up to 5 activities for free, after that you have to sign up for an account, but it is reasonably cheap. There is also a schools option.

6. Edhttp://www.edapp.com/

Ed LMSEd is a really impressive course creation and LMS tool for creating highly interactive and touch responsive learning content for mobile devices. It has been designed to work on both iOS and Android devices and produces media rich learning activities. You can drop in video, images, text or audio and create a really wide range of interactions around them. Many of the activity types are ideal for developing communication skills. On the free trial account you can create up to 10 lessons. After that you have to pay per user per month, so this is a great tool to create commercial learning materials, but you have to make sure you will be generating some income.

7. Kotobeehttps://www.kotobee.com

KotobeeThis is a completely free authoring tool you can download to create interactive ebooks for delivery on either Android or iOS tablets. The tool goes beyond just creating a ebook, you can add quite a range of interactions to your books as well as video and audio files, so this is a great tool for creating a genuinely digital etextbook. As well as running on tablets the ebooks and activities you create can also be exported to the computer desktop or exported as native apps for Android or iOS (You’ll need to have Apple or Google developer accounts to do this.) This is a great tool for the truly digital classroom.

8. Close Test Creatorhttp://l.georges.online.fr/tools/cloze.html

Cloze Test CreatorThis is a very simple tool that enables you to instantly create cloze test activities based around any text. Just copy and paste a text from any site or document into the main field and click on submit. You can produce either plain text cloze tests or interactive ones. The site will also allow you to choose the types of words that are extracted from the text, so you can for example just remove articles or prepositions. When an interactive cloze has been created you can type in the missing words and the site will highlight the words in red if they are incorrect. The activities this tool creates can’t be saved, so there is no copyright infringement, but that also means that you can’t create and distribute the activities to multiple students. You can show students how to use the tool to create their own revision tests though, so it’s still very useful and works well on an interactive whiteboard.

9. Gnomiohttps://www.gnomio.com/

GnomioThis is a free hosting service that enables you to create your own free Moodle installation. Once you have created your platform you can build multiple classes and courses with a really wide range of interactions including a plugin for the http://bigbluebutton.org/ synchronous webinar platform. This is a great service that could enable you to create your own online school to deliver lessons or training. The free version of the site does carry some advertising, but for a small monthly or yearly payment you can get the ads removed.

10. Expertise.TVhttps://expertise.tv/

ExpertiseTVThis is a great tool if you want to start making money by training or mentoring online. It has everything you need to set up, sell and deliver a complete mentoring service including lead capture and a video conferencing and webinar platform. It’s also free, but if you do start selling courses or training sessions then the site keeps a small percentage of what you make. Unlike many webinar type platforms there’s no whiteboard or presentation space so it’s more like an enhanced version of Skype, but you can build you own landing page and develop a community on the site. There are lots of video tutorials to tell you more at: https://expertise.tv/content/Quick-Start-Videos

I hope you find one or two of these tools useful for creating your own courses or content. Remember though that finding the right tool is important, but how you structure and design interaction with the content is way more important. Taking classroom activities and materials and placing them on a web-based  platform and expecting them to work is sure way to disappoint students.

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You need to think carefully about how the student will engage with the materials and how the materials relate to each other to ensure that your materials don’t just test the students’ knowledge and abilities, but that they guide and enable the student to hypothesise and make and confirm deductions in order to encourage deeper levels of autonomous learning.

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