The range of technology tools you can use to support and enhance your learning is truly amazing. The following list covers some of my favorites along with brief notes on how I use them. Nearly all of these are available across multiple platforms – i.e., PC/Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android, etc.
1. RSS Reader
The free Google reader (http://www.google.com/reader) is probably the most important tool in my learning mix. I use it to subscribe to and organize information from a wide variety of blogs and Twitter feeds, with a heavy emphasis on tracking the writings of “curators.”
I read a lot of blogs, but I also consider writing blog posts on a regular basis to be a key part of my lifelong learning. To write about something, you have to understand it well enough to put it into your own words – a sure fire way to learn. I use free (and amazing!) WordPress software (http://wordpress.org) for most of my blogging, but a much more streamlined option I have also used lately is Tumblr (http://tumblr.com).
While some people think of Twitter as “noise,” I see it as valuable stream of real-time information and links to valuable resources. It’s also a great tool for building your learning network. Free tools like Hootsuite (http://hootsuite.com) and Tweetdeck (http://tweetdeck.com) can help you better organize the people you follow into groups, track hashtags (keywords that begin with a “#” symbol).
I’m a podcast junkie, and I find iTunes to be the easiest place to find and subscribe to podcasts. Also, Apple offers the amazing iTunes University, where you can find great free content on nearly any topic from top flight universities. Finally, if you create podcasts – which I also do as part of my learning activities – you can easily publish them to iTunes. (See my free Podcasting Guide for more information on how to create podcasts.)
The Delicious (http://delicious.com) social bookmarking service enables you to save links so that they are accessible through any Web browser and can be shared with others. It’s a great place to keep track of resources you find on the Web and also to find resources that others have saved and tagged. You can find mine at http://delicious.com/jcobbm2l/
Evernote (http://www.evernote.com) provides digital note-taking software in both a free and a premium version. It makes it easy to capture, save, and share notes – both written and audio – and, most important for me, to sync them across multiple devices.
I use search and the Groups functionality on LinkedIn a great deal when I am trying to find expertise in specific areas related to my work. You can use Facebook in a similar way, I just happen to find LinkedIn more useful in my line of work. For a fuller discussion of how LinkedIn can be used for learning, see 7 LinkedIn Tactics for Lifelong Learning.
Zite (http://www.zite.com) is an iPad application that leverages your Google Reader and Twitter accounts to create a personalized “magazine.” The magazine becomes even more personalized over time as you indicate whether or not you like the articles it serves up. I’ve found it to be a great tool for continually narrowing in on the best sources for a small set of topics of most interest to me. Every time I launch Zite, the range of resources it presents becomes more and more relevant.
Often when I am reading through blog posts or Web pages I come across great resources that are too lengthy to read right way. Instapaper (http://www.instapaper.com) gives me a great way to save them for later, when I have more time. Another option is the appropriately named Read It Later.
Often the people who speak at meetings, seminars, and other events are a great source for information about particular topics. More and more, these people post their PowerPoint slides to SlideShare (http://slideshare.net), a site where you can easily upload, share, search, and comment on slides.
YouTube (http://www.youtube.com) is now the second largest search engine behind Google (which owns it), and for good reason – it is home not only to many highly entertaining but also many highly educational videos. Sifting through them to find the gems can be a bit daunting, but if you want a great starting point, check out Open Culture’s Smart YouTube Channels and Intelligent Video collections.
I don’t actually own a Kindle (yet), but I am nonetheless an avid user of Kindle software on my iPad. The ability to carry around and reference an entire library of books in a single, small device is of inestimable value to me. My hope is that over time Amazon improves up the already helpful capabilities for highlighting, taking notes, and sharing. If these become more flexible, Kindle has the potential for being a truly revolutionary learning platform.
So what are your favorite tools and how do you use them?
I am an avid lifelong learner who writes and speaks frequently on the critical role of learning in our fast-changing world.