Choosing the right Tools for online teaching

Tired of trying a different tool each week and still not being able to find a solution that fits your needs? This article is for you.

I've tried to put together everything I take into account when selecting a set of tools for different online projects, plus my personal favourites (at the end of the article).
Hopefully, this will help you find a system that works for you and your students.

How do you want to interact with your students?

Whenever I start a new educational project, I try to visualize the type of interactions I'd like my students to have with me (and with each other).
How do I want them to access information, practice what they are learning and receive feedback? 

Taking some time to think about this in advance is the best way to make sure I end up choosing a learning solution that actually supports the type of interactions I want to have - discussions, simulations or even video sharing - instead of picking a multi-functional tool that has a lot of bells and whistles but ultimately not what I want or need.

Types of tools to consider

When choosing my tools I know they'll need to cover 5 main roles:

  • a Container
    A digital space that students can easily access to find links, resources, a class schedule and any other relevant info. This could be anything from an LMS to a password-protected web page or even a shared Google Doc.

  • a Learning Environment
    For both Synchronous and Asynchronous teaching, you'll need to figure out how and where you're going to interact with your students. This may include an online platform to deliver your content and/or conferencing tools (like Zoom or Google Meet) for lessons/office hours.

  • Quizzes, Tests and Exercises
    It's a good idea to decide in advance how you're going to check your students' understanding so that you can consistently use the same tools.
    Depending on the type of activities you're drawn to you might choose Google Forms, Kahoot, Google Docs

  • Image / Video Editors
    Most educational projects nowadays involve some type of graphic element. Deciding what you'd like to use in advance can help you work in batches and stay on top of your content creation. And there really are SO MANY options out there.

  • Admin Tools
    As a freelance teacher, I find this part to be the most important. How are you going to manage payments, enrolment, scheduling, reporting, attendance and so on?! The right admin tools can make your job 100 times easier, so take some time to research and test different options.

You'll find more recommended tools at the end of the article.

Wouldn't it be easier to go for an LMS/CMS?

Learning Management System and Course Management Systems can definitely cover the Admin, Testing and Container roles (and some are striving to bridge even more gaps) but they are not necessarily that mythical one-stop solution we're all dreaming of, and they might not be the best option if you're running a small or one-person educational business.

For Training Centres, these solutions offer centralized student management, a sense of cohesive teaching (which is especially important when lessons are delivered by different trainers), a professional appearance and in some cases they can help coordinate staff and students.

On the other hand, a good LMS can be more expensive than single licenses for different tools, setting it up can require a bit of time and experience, and updates/new features might not come as frequently as they do for specific tools.

My Experience with LMSs

Collaborating with different Training Centres has given me the opportunity to test a number of LMSs first hand and, even though I can see the benefits in student management and coordination, they didn't necessarily have the most user-friendly content-creation tools and they weren't always making MY job as a teacher easier.

When I was using LMS for blended programs, parents seemed to really enjoy the possibility to monitor what their kids were doing, but some adult students didn't seem to enjoy interacting through a platform and often bypassed the discussion boards opting for tools they were more familiar with - such as email or WhatsApp groups. To them, the platform felt almost like an unnecessary extra step.

This, of course, might not be the case for you, especially if you work with kids or if you're designing a self-paced, asynchronous course, though it is something that is worth keeping in mind.

My Favourite Tools

Google Meet  |  Web-conferencing

Working with corporate teams means I have to use EVERY web-conferencing tool out there. However, when I get to choose, I tend to pick Google Meet. It's reliable, user-friendly, free and their newest roll-out will seamlessy integrate Jamboard - my favourite online whiteboard. Apparently they might also be adding break-out rooms in the near future. Can't wait!

Prezi  |  Presentation + Video creation

Prezi has been adding some amazing features in the past months. Not only does it help you to create interactive presentations, but they've recently launched Prezi-Video that can help you film video-content for your classes and even add images and slides around your face during a web-conferencing session. When it comes to quick solutions to film videos, Loom still holds a place in my heart, but I might consider switching to Prezi full-time in the future.

Google Sites  |  Simple Website creation

I've mentioned Google Sites before in my post about creating a one-page educational website, and I will definitely talk about it some more in the future.
Though it's still lacking some features (mainly the ability to add a comment section), it's a free, user-friendly solution to build a promotional page, a simple teacher portfolio or a class website. 

Airtable  |  Spreadsheet / Database hybrid

This definitely falls into the admin category and is one of my favourite tools to manage data and projects. It's not the easist one to get into, and I can only define it as a more visual version of Excel, but it's great for storing student records, monitoring revenue and expenses or even creating a content calendar (AND you can create FORMS with it, so students can fill in their information on their own and you get to cut down your data-entry time!). I have used (and still love) Trello, but when I need to cross-reference different information, Airtable is unbeatable.

Canva  |  Visual content creation

If you need to creat visual elements for lessons, promotions or social media, you can't go wrong with Canva. It allows you to easily create anything from a banner, video-slideshow, infographic image and so much more. I happen to have the PRO version so I can easily access all their images, whip something together and post it directly to social media, but the free version is still pretty awesom.

Google Forms  |  Online surveys, quizzes and more

I once created a personalized self-assessing pre-course language test for a group of 100 students using Google Forms. That's all I have to say about it!

Honorable mentions

  • Calendly 
    Schedule appointments, group office hours or one-on-one coaching sessions (including payments - on the PREMIUM version).

  • Podia
    Ready-made platform to sell your digital products and online courses. It doesn't come in a free version, but It's packed with interesting features that make it an all-in-one solution for asynchronous courses.

  • Edmodo 
    If you're itching to try a CMS to accompany your synchronous courses, this is a great place to start. Edmodo is free and it's a very nice social learning environment for schools/groups of children (it's not meant for higher-ed or corporate teaching).

Which tools do you love to use?
Share your recommendations in the comments below!