June 05, 2016
By Gail Matthews-DeNatale, PhD.
Gail Matthews-DeNatale, PhD, is a faculty member in Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies graduate education degree programs. She specializes in eLearning and Instructional Design.
I’ve been involved with online learning for many years. I’m often asked, “What are your favorite ‘apps’ for learning?”
My answer is to turn the question around: “What are my favorite approaches to learning, and what apps are good at supporting them?”
Recent advances in our understanding of learning and the way the brain works shed light on this important question. For example:
- We grow and organize new neural connections in the brain when learning, so all learning involves change.
- Prior experiences are important because they can help or hinder learning.
- Learning is social. Interaction plays a powerful role in engaging attention and gaining new perspectives.
Here’s three learning concepts I put into action in my teaching, and the nine apps that support them.
1. Making Thinking Visible
Sometimes I wish I could turn the classroom into a cartoon world in which I could see the thought bubbles over my students’ heads to discover what they think.
Bubbl.us makes this possible. I have my students place the word “learning” at the center of a concept map and draw connections to all the things that come to mind when they think of the word. They revisit their maps at critical junctures in the course, and this makes it possible us to see how their thinking is developing.
I’ve helped other educators develop similar exercises. For a course on Politics of the Middle East, students used Scribblemaps to draw and annotate maps of the region.
2. Collaborative and Social Learning
How do teams of students get their work done? There are lots of great apps, including Doodle that lets them schedule mutually agreeable times to meet. They can also co-develop and share materials using Google Drive , and use Google Plus to get together in hangouts.
Student teams also often use VoiceThread to present their work, taking their social learning to the next level. VoiceThread makes it possible for peers to annotate and comment on the slides, and they can even phone in audio comments.
3. Curated Learning
We are awash with content that can be good, so-so, or ridiculous. How can we distinguish between precious metals and fool’s gold?
Fortunately, there are a number of easy-to-use tools to help us identify and organize resources. A great one is Pinterest, as well as Scoop.it, and Flipboard.
They each work differently, but all of them allow users to create collections of resources organized around a topic or a theme, and include some sort of social feature that recommends materials that have been identified by others.
Not sure which of these tools is best for you? Compare their curated resources on the topic of “digital storytelling” displayed within each of the three apps: Pinterest, Scoop.it, Flipboard.