What tools can’t you live without when designing e-Learning?

Apr 27, 2011

Hi, folks. This is one of the questions asked in advance of the European Conference in Leeds - I am hoping that, by posting it here, we may get some more ideas for the participants to ponder over on the day. Also, apologies if these questions have already been answered elsewhere - the fault is entirely mine for not looking properly. Now the question and many thanks in advance to you all for your suggestions:

What tools can’t you live without when designing an e-Learning course?

15 Replies
Dragos Ciobanu

I tend to make do with whatever (to the extent that, if I didn't have pen and paper - though I hope that never happens - I'd probably draw with a stick on the ground. However, I've got used to using:

  • pen & post-it notes for rapid prototyping
  • PowerPoint - for super fast & superficial image editing and course building
  • my own library of copyright-free images, sound and fonts (have started building it after reading one of Tom's posts about how he works - thanks, Tom, it's been a massive help!)
  • a nice Samson USB microphone 
  • Captivate - for its text-to-speech tool and the fact it produces PDFs, too.
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking for saving time writing handouts - I just dictate them to the computer nowadays and most of the time it gets it right.
  • Camtasia - have seen an extended demo and it's got some excellent features (e.g. the zooming and the menu creation for videos), so I think I'll use it more
  • Snag-it for the odd screen capture
  • Twitter, Screenr and the e-Learning Heroes forum for new, cool ideas
  • the world (the physical one) for inspiration through chats with colleagues and aimlessly gazing at the sky Newton-style...
Zara Ogden


- PowerPoint

- Articulate Suite

- PhotoShop ($) or Artweaver (free)

- Audacity (free)

Should Haves...

- Chart Paper

- Sharpie Markers (big fat markers)

- Daytimer

- Word

- Media assets (stock photos, fonts, sounds)

- Blue Snowball Mic

- Twitter

Nice to Haves

- Pixie

- PDF converter

- Professional Camera with video capability

Dragos Ciobanu

Wow, lots of things to check out! Thanks, everyone. Just remembered when I was reading James' point about Flickr: there's also a cool project from the University of Nottingham in the UK called Xpert which searches for copyright-free images, videos and music, too - worth checking it out.

I guess I also forgot to include:

  • Swix for quick and dirty editing of Flash files
  • external hard-drive (as well as something I never got round to buying but still kind of need: a bridged USB-to-USB cable for connecting two computers directly rather than messing about with USB sticks)
  • lino.it account for user interaction, as well as to plan your resources and share the planning with other folks - you could build this into some very cool interactive resources
  • external mouse - I was pretty chuffed about getting a tablet PC, but after a while I went out and got a separate mouse, too :)
  • decent webcam (I use a £30 Microsoft HD one with decent autofocus) for online conferencing and troubleshooting without having to travel to your client's place or scratch your head on the phone...
Steve Flowers

Must haves for me when designing:

  • A mechanical pencil
  • A good ball point pen
  • Ample note / grid paper
  • Human backboards (locally or remotely - in which case I'd add "phone")
  • Complete and total isolation from any kind of tech when I'm defining problems, conceptualizing solution methods, and challenging methods with potential risks and pitfalls. Unless of course I need to look something up or print a reference.

Whether it's technical design, instructional design, visual design, or bringing it all together with experience planning one of the greatest flaws I've seen in most common design processes is the tendency to jump right into development tools. Design and development overlap a bit. Development shouldn't exist without design. Maybe I'm being a semantic snob but to me design is the architecture and problem solving articulation. Sure it can contain prototype iterations but the term design, to me, doesn't define the activities I pursue when I'm developing a solution nor the products I would use to produce or assemble an artifact.

There's lots of tech that can help in the capture and elaboration subprocesses often encountered in design. But these are no replacement for raw and unfettered human processing. The computer will, in most cases, simply get in the way of solid design process. Most computer apps hinder natural problem solving processes. Design is problem solving

Mike B.

Photoshop, Flash, Pixie and Audacity are on my list too. Other tools include:

  • Soundbooth Pro (although I'm hoping to replace that with Apple Soundtrack Pro soon)
  • VLC Media Player
  • Windows 7 Snipping Tool (or another screen capture utility like SnagIt)
  • Notepad++
  • A USB Headset Mic
  • A digital still camera
  • A dry-erase board for concepting
  • The Google
  • Coffee
  • An iPod
Tamara Muroiwa

Images! My favourite source is sxc.hu - not always as sharp as commercial sites, but a whole lot more free, and usually worth the extra detective work!

Top of my wishlist is a tablet pc for adding hand drawn elements and fonts, although think I'll have to work around that for the forseeable future

Others' ideas and free templates can also be a great source of inspiration...although have to be careful not to spend so much time watching others' amazing work that I never get around to producing my own resources!

On that note I guess time is the biggest one. Closing down Outlook for a couple of hours might be an idea. And self-discipline not to click on all the other interesting links when you're just looking for that one tutorial/image/place-relevent-noun-here.

Mike B, what's the ipod for? Just curious...

Mark Shepherd

It's an old post, but I am totally with you, Steve, on having low-tech approaches to solving things.  I frequently get my best conceptual ideas from sketching things out on paper or on a whiteboard.

I also agree with you vis-a-vis development and design.  One can't really exist without the other, not without potentially causing issues. :)

Now I just need to join the 21st Century....:P

Mark Shepherd

My tools list:

  • Articulate Storyline 2
  • Camtasia SnagIt
  • Paint (We have graphics teams, so it's difficult to justify any version of Photoshop)
  • Microsoft Word - I would not work well without Outline View ;)
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Microsoft Visio - My latest toy - only now starting to integrate this into my workflow.

(Creativity is creativity.  You can't truly call yourself a creative if you don't occasionally put yourself into "Void Mode" and force yourself to work off of a blank canvas. 

And let's face it: Nothing focuses a designer or a developer more than a blank space - if you don't have a vision for what you are building, then the next best option is to go to the Internet and see what others are doing - for this, I often get a lot of value from Google Images (http://images.google.com/), just by typing whatever concept or topic comes to mind...)

  • Pen/Pencils
  • Ruled Paper
  • Graph Paper
  • Post-It Notes
  • Sketchpads

In a perfect world:

  • Camtasia Studio
  • Adobe Acrobat Pro
  • Full Adobe Graphics Suite, esp. Photoshop, Illustrator, and Dreamweaver
  • My Andrea Electronics Microphone/Headset
  • New (2017?) iPad Pro with Apple Pencil

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