Jane Hart is gathering votes again for her annual “Top 100tools for learning“ ranking. It has been a while since I last contributed, it’s time to pick up this good habit again.
Here is my top 10 for this year (in no particular order):
Microsoft OneNote: although I have tried and tested more “fancy” (Notion style) note taking tools, for me OneNote is still the best note-taking application. The web version is powerful, there are clients for most common platforms, including Mac OS. Wallabag: a self-hosted “Read Later” web application (or Pocket competitor), that allows you to capture websites via a “bookmarklet”, tag and store them for later. You can self host it, which is a privacy advantage. WordPress: excellent blogging platform. Administration is a piece of cake, even for non-tech users, with e.g. the auto-update feature. FreshRSS: I’m still old school, so still using RSS feeds. FreshRSS replaced the Fever app (which was no longer maintained by the author). It gathers hundreds of RSS feeds that would otherwise be impossible to follow. Microsoft 365: the “swiss army knife” of productivity tools: enterprise-grade e-mail and calendar, SharePoint sites for collaborating or storing knowledge, and OneDrive for personal storage. Freemind: open source mindmapping tool, replacing my earlier (too expensive) MindMeister X (formerly known as Twitter): I was hesitating to keep this one on the list. The attitude of their new owner and the fact that Tweetdeck (the only way to filter out corporate BS and focus on the people you want to hear from) became a paying option have put me in serious doubt. Maybe the last year… Microsoft Teams: my daily hub for “informal learning” and “knowledge sharing” with my colleagues. It remains a bit clumsy and managing the “firehose” of information is not always easy, but I’m learning to like it. LinkedIn Learning: a very rich range of e-learning courses on various subjects. I like the variation in subjects, approaches, level of detail… Obsidentify: not a “corporate” learning tool, but if you are interested in nature, this app helps you to identify wild plants and animals by simply taking a picture of them. Merlin Bird ID: same as above, but this time an app for identifying birds by simply recording the sound of them.
I use a Moodle platform often for testing SCORM packages, especially because Moodle has a very extensive SCORM debugger.
At a certain point, I got into trouble because the student name (cmi.core.student_name) was in a “weird” format: where the SCORM specifications expect something in the format lastname,firstname, I suddenly got firstname middlename lastname. Because of the missing comma, our LMS no longer managed to distinguish the last name from the first name.
Turns out that there is a new option under Dashboard > Site administration > Plugins > Activity modules > SCORM package called SCORM standards mode. By default, it is set to No (why o why?) and that causes the format of the student_name to be different.
More than 7 years ago, one of my customers asked me to organize an e-learning authoring workshop. The purpose was to empower the team leaders of people working on an assembly line to create short e-learning courses about very hands-on subjects. Their IT department recently had purchased iSpring licenses, so that was the tool to use for the development. I was truly impressed that at the end of the day, “e-learning newbies” walked out of the class with a course that was ready for production. So, after all those years, I was happy to get the opportunity to evaluate the latest version, iSpring Suite 9.7
iSpring Suite is not a stand-alone authoring tool: it uses Microsoft PowerPoint and adds tons of typical “e-learning” features to it. Simply calling it a “PowerPoint add-on” would not do it much right: it is a true “suite” because after installation you get several different applications. Some of them can be used independently, but the main activity will still happen in PowerPoint.
Some experienced e-learning developers might see the tight integration with PowerPoint as a disadvantage, because it limits the canvas, and you are tempted to create “slide based” content (sequential page turners), but on the other hand, it empowers people with less e-learning authoring experience to produce interactive content in no time.
In times where information is rapidly changing and content production needs to be “just in time”, the fact that any subject matter expert with good PowerPoint skills can easily produce course content is a huge advantage.
iSpring is only available for Windows (Windows 7 or higher, PowerPoint 2007 or higher), so unfortunately not on MacOS. Pricing is very reasonable and is a yearly fee per user.
“There is nothing I can’t do with PowerPoint”
The feature set of the latest versions of PowerPoint is so rich that it is maybe hard to imagine that there is something that PowerPoint can NOT do. Still iSpring manages to add several features that make the production of professional e-learning content much easier:
Content Library: an extensive library of backgrounds, cut-out characters, icons, templates complement the existing PowerPoint clip art
Quiz: iSpring Quizmaker has a really impressive feature set with multiple question templates, question pooling, branching, flexible feedback and scoring options… It is good to know that you can also use it independently of PowerPoint and publish your quiz to SCORM or another learning standard. The output is fully responsive, so ideal for a quick mobile assessment or a survey.
Enhanced audio/video recording: you can already record narrations with PowerPoint, but iSpring brings it to the next level with a microphone setup wizard, noise reduction, webcam recording and an Audio-Video editor that makes post-processing of your narration much easier. iSpring Cam Pro records your screen and/or your webcam and can produce stand-alone recordings that can be published directly to YouTube.
Interactions: iSpring Visual lets you select one of the 14 different interactions. They are especially useful if you want to break the “page flipping” and engage your learner with a “do it yourself” activity. If you would prefer using an external tool, you can use the “Web Object” to integrate a web site or an embed code easily in your presentation.
Dialogs: iSpring Talkmaster is a conversation simulation editor. It allows you to script a dialog with complex branching scenarios; it can be very useful in courses on communication, negotiation skills, sales pitches…
When your course is ready, you can publish it directly from PowerPoint in multiple outputs:
Local file (html5 or video)
iSpring Cloud or iSpring Learn (the iSpring LMS solution)
LMS (SCORM 1.2, 2004, AICC, xAPI or cmi5)
Because the output is based on PowerPoint, the rendering on mobile devices is an attention point. PowerPoint slides simply scale to the size of the screen and are not truly responsive, unlike the “iSpring content” like quizzes and interactions, which are adapted on mobile.
In the SCORM output (which is still probably the most popular output), the completion and scoring options can be adapted, which is a real plus to get the correct tracking information in your LMS. You rarely find these options in other authoring tools. When published, the course is embedded in a player (navigation, resources, course outline…) that can be customized with author information, a custom logo…
iSpring Flip deserves a special mention, as I have been looking for a long time for a tool that can easily create a SCORM package from a Word or Pdf document. My quest is over, this is exactly what it does: you open your Word, PDF or PowerPoint, publish as stand-alone HTML or as a (SCORM or others) package to your LMS. When published to an LMS, it tracks the progress of the learner in the book. Unfortunately, it does not seem to track the time spent but hey, you can’t have it all. iSpring Cloud is a small hosting solution that allows you to publish your course online if you don’t have an LMS (or just want to make your content public).
iSpring Suite 9.7 turns PowerPoint into a very powerful desktop authoring tool. It is the ideal toolset for trainers, subject matter experts, product specialists… to add the necessary interactivity to their already existing material and produce standards-compliant courses that can easily be published online or integrated into any LMS, without a steep learning curve.
Jane Hart is gathering votes again for her annual “Top tools for learning“. You have until September 21 to contribute, and results will be available on October 1.
Here is my top 10 for this year:
Microsoft OneNote: still the best note-taking application. Unbeatable in combination with SharePoint or OneDrive, and a tablet pc with a digitizer pen (like the Surface, or recently the new iPad with the stylus). It is fully cross platform with a nice and stable client for OS X! (personal and professional learning)
Wallabag: a self-hosted “Read Later” web application (or Pocket competitor), that allows you to capture websites via a “bookmarklet”, tag and store them for later. For those who don’t want to give all their data away and don’t mind playing with a webserver, it is a must try. (personal and professional learning)
WordPress: excellent blogging platform. Recent releases have been focussing on the usability for the writer, and it is setting the standards for usability. I’m looking forward to their update that has the new editor. Administration is a piece of cake, even for non-tech users, with e.g. the auto-update feature. (personal & professional learning)
Office Lens: a Microsoft mobile app (Windows, iOS, Android) that “scans” about everything with the camera of your phone. I especially like the way it “straightens” pictures of documents, whiteboards, flipcharts…
Invaluable for capturing the notes of a meeting, or “scanning” a document when you don’t have a scanner. (personal and professional learning)
Fever: this “self-hosted Google Reader” is still my main information hub, gathering hundreds of RSS feeds that would otherwise be impossible to follow. Fever is unfortunately no longer maintained by his author, but it remains very stable. (personal & professional learning)
Office 365: the “swiss army knife” of productivity tools: enterprise-grade e-mail and calendar, SharePoint sites for collaborating or storing knowledge, and OneDrive that has 1TB of storage and that is a serious competitor for tools like Google Drive and DropBox. The price is very reasonable and once everything is set up for your domain, it “just works”. (personal and professional learning)
Mindmeister: mindmapping tool with extensive possibilities and a very good iPad app. (personal and professional learning)
Twitter: if you don’t mind reading an occasional rant or filtering out the corporate BS, the best way to generate your own “information streams” about various subjects. (personal & professional learning)
Microsoft Teams: gradually replacing Microsoft Lync as a communication tool, and trying to compete with Slack. I’m still discovering all the possibilities, but the integration with SharePoint and OneNote looks very promising (workplace learning).
Microsoft To Do: Microsoft recently acquired Wunderlist, and Microsoft To Do will hopefully gradually integrate all the nice features of this “GTD” app. It is still a bit rough on the edges, but with a nice iPhone app and a good Windows client, it is keeping me organised throughout the day. (personal and professional learning)