Digital Learning Tools

Digital teaching tools take many forms. The most well-known is probably video. Sites like Khan Academy help learners focus on specific skills and pick them up quickly. Apps like Duolingo take a similar approach to self-directed learning.

We get a ton of value out of these tools. Really – schools that leverage these tools are equipping their students better than schools that don’t. Digital interfaces are universal, and navigating them should be second nature. What’s more, there are plenty of things that can be done digitally that simply can’t be done manually at the same speed or scale.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, let me clarify: these tools do not replace teachers. These tools help both teachers and students. Would you want to be educated by an AI? (Hint: There’s no such thing as real artificial intelligence.) I’m not at all suggesting that we could have less teachers if only we had more or better technology. I am absolutely claiming that with the help of the right technology, teachers can make a much bigger impact.

Value added experiences

Digital learning tools deserve more investment for a variety of reasons:

  1. Like a book that is written once and read by many people many times, high-quality digital learning tools are developed once and used by many learners
  2. They can be easily distributed at a relatively low cost as there is no manufacturing involved
  3. While in-person instruction has its own incredible value, the ability for each individual student to learn at his or her own pace is also incredibly valuable
  4. Any learner can re-watch, re-read, or re-try digital content, which saves a lot of time with questions
  5. These tools make information easier to navigate – students can easily search for and bookmark important content, creating a reference they are more likely to use
  6. Digital tools can adapt to the learner’s needs, such as adjusting the difficulty of review questions to match the learner’s ability level
  7. Digital tools save teachers valuable time with administration and bookkeeping, allowing them to devote more of their attention to quality instruction
  8. Digital tools can help teachers efficiently assess student learning, which allows them to do so more regularly, which allows them to create a more personalized learning experience
  9. Digital tools can compete in a world of constant stimulation and immediate gratification, providing an engaging experience for young digital natives
  10. Digital tools enable collaboration and competition, even remotely, providing a more engaging classroom experience

We have this technology at our fingertips. The question is: how do we take advantage of it?

Finding existing tools

The easiest way to leverage education technology is to just use what already exists. Many of these tools are free!

I already mentioned a few examples of great learning tools above. The table below lists a few more, along with the specific needs they address.

DuolingoFreeAn app and website for learning languages.
Khan AcademyFreeHigh-quality, organized, focused video tutorials on a variety of topics, with a special focus on math and science.
QuizletFreeInteractive study tools like flash cards, word matching, spelling, and multiple-choice review.

There are plenty more where those came from. Try Googling some of these terms:

  • Free learning tools
  • Online teaching tools
  • Educational video sites
  • Classroom apps

If all else fails, you can always build your own!

Build your own digital learning tools

Programming may not be your cup of tea, but you don’t have to be a computer wizard (or a huge nerd) to make your own learning tools.

Some of the free sites listed above will let you create new experiences tailored to your specific classroom. For example, you can create flashcards for your specific vocabulary, or a practice quiz for your own concepts.

If you’re a little more media savvy, you might want to create your own videos to really help concepts sink in. My favorite is still Cry Me a Verb from when I was in high school Spanish.

Alternatively, you can have your students use these tools to create their own review activities! As they say, the best way to learn something is to teach it.

But what if you’re a little more hardcore than that? What if you want to actually build something? A totally fresh, from scratch, new-this-year learning experience? Whether you can see it in your head or you just want the skills, I’m happy to point you in the right direction.

Check out my article on Creating New Tools.