Creating Learning Resources with Free Tools
This course looks at a range of free software that can help with producing richer and more engaging e-learning materials. It provides suggestions for the efficient and rapid production of resources and includes links to relevant free-to-use products.
JISC RSC East Midlands Loughborough College
Rapid e-learning Authoring
The concept of rapid e-learning authoring reflects the recognition that quick and easy methods for producing e-learning materials are the most realistic approach for busy tutor practitioners. Developing sophisticated interactive resources takes time and technical skills, so tends to be the realm of specialist development teams.
The guide below provides some suggestions for ways to make the development of your own e-learning materials efficient and effective.
Applications (software programs) such as word processors, spreadsheets, presentation and mind-mapping tools have traditionally been something you install and run on your computer.
These days, however, an increasing number of applications are available to use online. This means that, instead of installing the program on your computer, the program is effectively stored and runs on a website. To use the program (a word processor for example) you simply go to the website, use it, then save your work. Many of these web-based applications include storage and, if you want it, sharing of your work (for collaborative working). A number of the free-to-use applications listed here are web-based.
See the quick guide below for some advantages and possible disadvantages of using web-based applications.
Another recent development is the increasing number of applications that can be run from a memory stick or similar forms of portable storage (such as external hard-drives). As with the web-based applications, you don't install the software on your computer. Instead it runs on the memory stick. Any work you do can be stored on the stick, together with the program.
The obvious advantage of doing this is that you are not tied to a particular computer. Instead, you can carry the program with you and use it wherever you can get access to a computer.
Possible down-sides of this approach include: losing your memory stick; limitations in how much can be stored; slightly slower response times when reading from and writing to the stick.
Some popular free software
The software listed below includes tools highlighted in a recent RSC survey of what learning providers are using, together with some additional recommendations of our own.
Picasa is a photo editing application from Google. It is simple to use and allows you to make a range of adjustment to improve and modify still images. It also acts as a browser for your image collections, helping you to find what you are looking for quickly. There is also an image sharing feature
You can download Picasa 3 here: http://picasa.google.com/
Picasa is fairly self-explanatory, but there is a detailed guide to its features here: http://picasa.google.co.uk/help/userguide_organize.html
If you just want to do a bit of quick editing of your images there are a number of free online tools out there. Of these, we have found Pixlr to be particularly straightforward and reliable: http://pixlr.com/
These tools enable you to "cut out and save" any area you can see on your screen. The latest operating systems include them for free. Microsoft Windows 7 includes a "Snipping tool" which you can normally find in the programs list. Apple Mac computers include a similar tool which can be accessed by hitting command+shift+4.
If you don't have access to either of these, Snippy is a very simple tool that you can download and use for free. It copies whatever you have selected straight to the clipboard. You can then paste the image into documents.
You can download Snippy here: http://www.bhelpuri.net/Snippy/SnippyDownload.htm
Snippy is a very simple tool, hence it only needs a simple user guide. You can find that here: http://www.bhelpuri.net/Snippy/default.htm
[Note: To enable snippy images to be pasted into PowerPoint you need to right-click on the snippy icon in the "tray"on the bottom right of your screen, select "settings" then un-check the "copy as HTML" box]
Don't forget: Be careful with copyright issues when grabbing images from websites
Photostory is free to download for registered users of Microsoft Windows. It allows you to quickly create engaging slide-show movies from your still images. It is simple to use and produces good results.
You can download Photostory 3 here: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/digitalphotography/photostory/default.mspx
The user guide from Microsoft is clear and easy to follow. You can find it here: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/digitalphotography/photostory/tips/firststory.mspx
Prezi is a web-based tool for creating dynamic, zooming presentations which some people are finding offers an engaging alternative to PowerPoint. It is web based, so you create your presentation online then can link to it or embed it on your VLE or similar. More details here: http://prezi.com/
Freemind is one of a number of free mind-mapping tools available. Once you've learned the basics, it is simple to use and has a number of useful features. Mind-maps are a good way of thinking about and presenting subject matter in a structured way. Items on the map can include links to associated materials
You can download FreeMind here: http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Download [Note: To run FreeMind, you need to have Java installed on your machine. You can get that here: http://www.java.com/en/download/index.jsp]
You can download a comprehensive manual here:
Another popular mind-maping tool that we didn't cover at the worskop is Bubbl.US. You can find it here http://www.bubbl.us/index
Audacity is a free audio editing program that allows you to modify and improve your sound recordings. It is currently a very popular choice for editing recordings for a range of uses, including for assessment and for creating recordings for "podcasts"
You can download Audacity here: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
There is an easy to follow guide to using Audacity in this document: http://www.educause.edu/sites/default/files/library/presentations/E08/SEM14P/14peducause08.pdf
There are also audacity tutorials here: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/manual-1.2/tutorials.html
Screen capture with Wink or Screenr
Wink and Screenr are examples of free-to-use screen capture tools. Screen capture tools enable you to record your interactions with the computer screen. They are good for producing short clips to show people how to use programs on the computer but have many other uses. Screenr has proved popular with a number of the learning providers we support but, as it uploads your recordings to the Screenr service, bear in mind the advice on pros and cons of web-based applications. We have also found it can slow your computer down. Wink is a free application you install on your computer. It tends to work well and avoid the issue of storing your recordings on a third-party service. Find out more here: http://www.debugmode.com/wink/ and http://www.screenr.com/
Windows MovieMaker is not free, but comes with Microsoft Windows XP and later. It is a straightforward tool that allows you to capture, edit and distribute your video footage. Its functions are limited, but it has everything you need to do basic video editing.
If you have MS Windows or later, you should find Movie Maker in your Programs list
The Microsoft guide to MovieMaker is pretty good. Here it is: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/moviemaker/default.mspx
Xerte is an e-learning development tool that produces its outputs in Macromedia Flash format. It allows you to produce page-turning style e-learning content and add images, video and sound. One of its main strengths is that it produces highly "accessible" results, with text size and colour scheme options. To make using Xerte easier, the developer has provided some templates. The JISC TechDis template can be downloaded through the link below.
Xerte is a work in progress, from the University of Nottingham, but is certainly worth considering
You can download Xerte here: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/xerte/ The Xerte user guide is available from the same page.
JISC TechDis have a guide to using their template with Xerte. Details of this, together with a simple guide to using it are here: http://www.techdis.ac.uk/getxerte
This is a set of free-to-use applications gathered together by our colleagues at RSC Scotland North and East that can be run from a USB memory stick. This means people with accessbility needs can carry helpful tools with them and run them on whichever PC they find themselves using. You can find out more about access apps and download the software here: http://eduapps.org/?page_id=52
This is another extremely popular set of tools from our colleagues at RSC Scotland North and East. It brings together a smaller number of free software tools which can help users who have difficulties with reading, writing or studying more generally. The tools are built into a convenient and easy to use tool bar and, as with Access Apps, can be carried with you on a USB stick. Find out more here: http://eduapps.org/?page_id=7
Dropbox is not an application. Instead it is a very convenient online content hosting service. In effect it is like having and additional "drive" on your computer, but stored online. This means you can save files to it then access them on any computer with internet access. The basic service is free and provides 2 Gb sotrage space. You can then upgrade for a small monthly fee. Dropboox has been proving a very useful tool for busy and mobile people. Details here: http://www.dropbox.com/
Lots more free software
There is an increasing amount of free software available for producing materials suitable for teaching and learning. The list below provides links to many of these and to other lists of the latest free software. Some of these lists include descriptions and comments on the software.
Bear in mind the "Rapid e-learning Authoring" guidelines when deciding which applications to use.
Case study examples
There are various case studies on the Excellence Gateway website that may be of help. You can search these case studies via a set of Delicious bookmarks. Some of the tools in this section are free, some are not.
JISC RSC East Midlands
The JISC Regional Support Centre for the East Midlands is one of 12 RSCs covering the UK. It's our job to support the development of e-learning and Information Learning Technology in FE, Sixth Form and Specialist Colleges, Adult and Community Learning, Work Based Learning and aspects of Higher Education. We cover teaching and learning, management, staff development, technical IT and business support.
This course was devised by the RSC East Midlands.
All JISC RSC East Midlands content in this course is available under the Creative Commons licence below.
Material which is linked to from this course, or where the copyright is held by other bodies, is not covered by this licence.
Creating Learning Resources with Free Tools Course by JISC RSC East Midlands is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.