Creating online learning resources

By | December 12, 2014

Trying to find out about the host of  ‘e-learning’ tools available, then signing up, and applying them to your particular brief can be a lengthy process. In this post my aim is to make you aware of some of the tools that are available, grouping them into categories so you can better understand their purpose and function.

Actually, while writing this post I found this great quote that I felt highlights the trouble with the sheer number of tools out there:

No-one who ever bought a drill, wanted a drill. They wanted a hole!

There are many tools available but the trick is picking the selection that will best help you accomplish your objectives.

If you have an interest in this topic (i.e. leveraging technology to develop better experiences for your students) you may have found there are a large number of ‘drills’ out there – software, tools, resources, apps, websites… all vying for your attention (and often money) and all claiming to do what you want.

The trick is knowing what you want to accomplish, and doing the best you can with the most useful tools at your disposal.

For example:

I want to create a small online learning resource about topicX to support a larger course theme, Y,  which can be easily shared and accessed by my students. It would be good to include different types of media where possible.  Ideally we should be able to have checkpoints at specific intervals, identifying learning objectives, key points, and later to summarise and allow users to reflect and potentially discuss each topic.

This is a very generic example of what we may be thinking when we approach creating a learning resource for our students/users.

When you write this down and analyse it piece by piece, you will be able to slowly pinpoint the ‘core’ tools you need to familiarise yourself with. Let’s highlight some of the relevant information above and determine what we want to accomplish:

1. ‘Accessible online, easily shared and accessed.’

Immediately we should be thinking of hosting and sharing tools which will allow us to store and distribute our output online in some way. There are a number of tools that can do this for you depending on your needs. Some examples include your VLE (in the case of University of Bristol, Blackboard) to host files. There are also some cloud storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive etc. that can offer storage and sharing options. Thinking a bit outside the box, Youtube and Vimeo host and distribute your media files, so if you are dealing with just audio and video this may be the right choice for you. If you are just looking to share a bunch of interesting links (now we are thinking more about curating resources) you could try a tool like Padlet. Here’s a cool example where people have shared their favourite ‘teaching and learning’ tools:

[padlet key=’phnpxj9e5zcs’ width=’100%’ height=’480′]

2.’ Include different types of media.’

This statement has much bigger implications than it seems. Assuming at the very least we want to add the three main types of media: text, audio and video, we will need to know more about how and when these media will be used in order to determine more specific multimedia tools to use. We may also want to add interactive elements like quizzes to make things more interesting at certain intervals. More often than not, the nature of the learning content will determine which sort of media is best in each situation. For example, an exercise about the respiratory system maybe really benefit from an audio or video element. You can often easily create some really powerful multimedia content with minimal effort, free screencasting tools like Camtasia, Screenr and Screencast-o-matic can help with this.

At the University of Bristol we are currently in the early process of implementing the MediaSite recording suite, which allows you to screencast your desktop and save the recording automatically into an online University repository. From there you can choose to share your videos (via a link to the file itself), or embed them in web pages like the one below!

Another one to mention- you can use tools like Audacity to easily record yourself speaking on a specific topic for a few minutes and upload it to one of your hosting services, like Blackboard, Dropbox, or in this example Google Drive.

Conversely, you may find you have to source expert help depending on your requirements e.g. if you want to record a high quality video production and you are lacking the necessary kit.

3.  ‘Checkpoints at specific intervals’

Although this doesn’t have a direct impact on what tools we will use, it makes us think about the layout and structure of our content which is very important. We might be thinking here that we want to package all of our content and make it easily explorable. For that, we might think of using a ‘tutorial creation’ tool like eXe or Xerte (example here), or if we are thinking a bit outside the box, we may well be able to cover our learning checkpoints at the start and ends of our videos (or even in each video description).

4. ‘Allow users to reflect and discuss’

Reflection time is often something that is missed out of digital learning experiences (or e-learning courses), and being allowed the time to absorb and to query new concepts is important. In our scenario we also have the desire to allow discussion with peers to reinforce this reflection and understanding process. There are a number of tools that can be used to ‘discuss’ content, sites like Pinterest (with multiple users per Pinboard) and Padlet can be used to connect students to other resources and ideas. We also might be thinking here that having some sort of ‘traditional’ social media element would be useful- setting up, or piggybacking on a relevant Twitter hashtag might be a good start, as it directs your students to an array of relevant content in a space where discussion is promoted. If we are leaning towards more of a ‘knowledge check’ after each piece of material, a tool like Quizlet (below) could be really useful:


In a live lecture or workshop environment, you might want to encourage discussion among your learners, which is also possible through tools like PollEverywhere, Socrative or Nearpod. As an example, PollEverywhere allows you to set up a channel where your students can text in their thoughts or opinions on the subject you are discussing. This may be useful when presenting to a large audience, especially in situations where people may feel embarrassed sharing an opinion in front of a large number of people.

What tools do we use then?

Now we have broken down our requirements into categories we can have a look for the sort of tools that suit our more specific needs. Ultimately our final selection comes down to the sort of learning experience we are trying to provide. We may decide that the content we have is better suited to videos or podcasts, rather than huge swathes of text. In this case we may decide to use a tool to create those, then uploading and ordering them in a Youtube channel – this also gives students the option to discuss the content in the comments section of the videos.

This sort of thinking illustrates that we are sensitive to the ways in which our students study in reality. There are many benefits to providing a wide range of learning resources, for example a podcast can be listened to on the walk into campus or at the gym, a video can be watched on the bus/train. Reading long blocks of text takes more focus and a less crowded environment, which creates it’s own advantages and disadvantages. The point is that the control of when and how to learn is placed into the hands of the learner, with your support.

The tool you choose really depends on what sort of content you want to prepare, and the style of learning you are trying to promote. There is a pedagogical motion that is really pushing this idea at the moment called ‘Flipped Learning’ – the video below is a primer to this concept if you are interested in finding out more.

With that all said, here are some tools from each category that you can investigate in your own time. With some experimentation, you’ll soon find yourself coming back to these for their individual strengths.

If you don’t want to read this huge list, check out the interative padlet version.

Hosting and Sharing tool examples:

  • University of Bristol Blackboard – allows you to host all your content within a course and create a structure in which to seat it. Some of your content may be in html, which can be more readily developed with tools such as the two below:
  • eXe – an open source web authoring tool that is more focused around creating a ‘learning tutorial’, making content like quizzes very easy to achieve with little to no knowledge of html.
  • Xerte – a newer, larger and more powerful web authoring tool that allows users to make HTML5 compliant interactive learning materials, again with minimal knowledge of html required.
  • University of Bristol Google Drive – allows you to create, edit and save documents and folders online and share them with audiences of your choosing. We host a number of training/how-to guides for this site on Google Drive!
  • Padlet / Pinterest /ScoopIt – these curation tools allow you to collaboratively share online resources in the form of a digital pin-board (like this one)
  • Slideshare (just for slides) – allows you to create, upload and share slides in the more traditional linear format
  • Youtube (just for videos) – allows you to upload and organise groups of audio files/videos on your ‘channel’ and create relevant playlists (like MinutePhysics)
  • Prezi (for hosting ‘Prezis’) – takes Powerpoint to the next level, see below.

Multimedia Creation tool examples:

Discussion and Reflection tool examples:

  • University of Bristol Blackboard – allows you include course content such as Wikis and Discussion boards that allow members to discuss content easily.
  • Twitter – online social networking service; users to send and read  140-character messages called “tweets” which can include images/video. These tweets can be categorised using # hashtags in a simple but powerful way.
  • Facebook / Google Groups – users of Facebook and Google can create groups that are joinable by other users, where they can discuss and share information on the group topic
  • Quizlet – Simple but very powerful tool that allows you to revise content by creating ‘quiz sets’ that are automatically converted to flash cards, quizzes and mini-games.

Padlet Wall – Useful tools for our brief:
[padlet key='rht24hshoevz' width='100%' height='480']



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