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9 Great E-Learning Apps

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:

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. 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, 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:, Flipboard.

How to Build Your Own Interactive Content for the Classroom

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.

If your courses include any sort of online components, whether it’s a full-blown online course or a a small-time discussion board, you’ll need to learn to create interactive content to keep your students learning when you’re not in a physical classroom.

The most traditional choice for teachers are Learning Management System (LMS), but there are also other online tools. Let’s take a look at each.

Learning Management Systems

Most colleges and universities provide Learning Management Systems, which are the Swiss Army knives of online teaching.

They’re an online space in which the teacher can develop course websites that include both content and a range of tools for interactive learning, such as threaded discussions, live web-based conferencing, group work space, and collaborative authoring spaces (such as wikis).

The most popular LMSs in higher education are:

Edmodo is another LMS-like tool that’s frequently used in K-12 settings.

Many of these are only available through institutional licensing, but some, like Canvas and Edmodo, provide free accounts for those who are interested in using them on a small scale.  A number of them have launched handy mobile apps.

Pros:  Both licensed and free LMSs can be wonderful options for creating an integrated learning environment that provides both variety and continuity.

Cons: A full-featured LMS takes time to learn, and because your course content becomes embedded in the system, it’s cumbersome to switch to another LMS if a new and better one comes along.

Other Online Tools

If you’re in a face-to-face setting and want to augment your students’ learning experience, consider using products such as the Google Suite. Google Drive makes it possible to share files and author materials collaboratively, and Hangouts works well as a web-conferencing tool with an “on air” option in which live sessions can be recorded and exported to YouTube. You can even create surveys with Google Forms.

VoiceThread is one of the most popular tools for creating online conversations around presentations. You can upload a presentation, use a microphone or telephone to record the audio, and can even set it up so that viewers can comment on and annotate the slides.

SlideShare is a user-friendly tool for sharing and organizing presentations online and it can be embedded in social networking sites such as LinkedIn. In addition, many educators create a Twitter hashtag for their courses and use that as a method for engaging students in quick bursts of communication and resource sharing.

Pedagogy Wheel maps dozens of cutting-edge tools to learning scenarios. I encourage you to use it as tool for decision-making on how to use technology to support learning. The Pad Wheel helps all of us keep our focus on the forms of learning engagement that matter most: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

Pros: These “light weights” tend to be more attuned to the conventions of social media, providing a user-friendly, media-rich, and socially interactive learning experience. They’re also tools that we use in other aspects of our lives every day, so they break down the barriers between school and the rest of life.

Cons: Because these tools are free and on the cutting edge they also come and go in a moment’s notice. It’s important to avoid basing your entire course on one app. In addition, there are so many creative, free tools available online that it’s easy to get tool-happy and lose sight of your true goals.