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10 Best Distance Learning Tools For Teachers
Linsey Knerl & Julie Hayes
March 18, 2020
Distance learning tools are software products that teachers use in a digital classroom. This includes audio, video, or digital text. These tools allow learning to happen anytime, anywhere via an internet connection.
In our list, we’ll explore the differences in some available distance learning technology tools for teachers. Several offer delivery, hosting, and collaboration for your existing curricula. Others come with all the curricula already programmed and ready for use by your students.
Top 10 distance learning tools for teachers
Each instructor may have to use their school’s preferred tool. However, in times of crisis, you may be able to choose one for your individual classroom. If the choice is up to you, the distance learning collaboration tools on our list receive consistently high marks from educators across a range of grades and subjects.
1. Google Classroom
As one of the most robust free tools, Google Classroom has a ton of versatile features for K-12 educators. It’s built on the same technology that Google offers in its paperless office suite for consumers and businesses. In fact, this may be the eLearning platform that many school districts already use for in-class assignments.
You can share files easily between you and your students using the integrated tech of tools like Gmail, Google Slides, and Google Docs, among others. When it’s time to incorporate more features, you can easily integrate your favorite app (like Pear, which we talk about next in our list).
Google Classroom lets teachers invite students to a private classroom via a code, and they can then attach and submit assignments for easy grading, feedback, and assessment. It’s a mobile-friendly solution, too, thanks to compatible iOS and Android apps.
If you’re already familiar with the Google family of tools, Google Classroom may be the easiest and most affordable way to launch your online learning experience and it goes well with the popular classroom model of HP Chromebook.
Cost of Google Classroom:
2. Pear Deck
Educators looking for a more interactive component will find Pear Deck to be a real treat. In addition to hosting your slide presentations, this program allows for assessment on any number of your slides.
Your students can draw directly on the presentation, enter their own notes, add numbers, drag and drop symbols, or answer multiple-choice questions. It has a friendly integration with Google Slides, too, so you can even let your students explore the web directly from your lecture.
If you’re short on content, it can help with that, too. Pear Deck partnered with Newsela to create interactive daily learning topics straight from the headlines. Other partnerships include Encyclopedia Britannica and Google’s Be Internet Awesome program. Pear Deck offers a simple way to boost your curriculum without starting from scratch.
Cost of Pear Deck:
- Basic: Always free
- Premium: Currently free for teachers and schools
If an open-source K-12 solution is your goal, Blackboard may be your best option. Already a leader in providing assignment and grading tools for the college educator community, Blackboard continues to expand to meet the need for increasing digital elementary and high school student education.
By signing up to try the Blackboard's CourseSites open community, you can try out the Learn, Collaborate, SafeAssign, and Ally features. The streamlined delivery helps make this a top choice for teachers who want to learn within a supportive community before they go on to a paid learning management system (LMS).
Cost of Blackboard:
- 30-day trial: Free
- Ongoing account: Contact Blackboard for a quote
For high school students and college-ready learners who want to challenge themselves, there’s nothing like Coursera. This platform is a notable provider of massive open online courses (MOOC), and it even offers degrees and certificates in some cases.
Stream a variety of on-demand lectures in a wide range of courses, including professors at Yale and company leaders at IBM and Google. This growing platform provides a new way to consume course material on some of the most challenging topics.
Cost of Coursea:
- Free to colleges until July 2020
- Contact Coursera for details regarding high schools
Canvas is a learning management platform that’s used by over 30% of higher ed communities. It’s becoming a top provider for K-12 learning, too. It’s also an open-source option, with several different built-in tools that handle the needs of remote students, teachers, and parents.
This app-friendly system allows parents to see what assignments their kids need to do, and it provides data metrics for administrators to use for performance improvements.
Cost of Canvas:
- Basic account: Free to students and teachers
- Full account: Schools and districts should contact Canvas for a quote
Edpuzzle helps teachers “make any video a lesson." Use your own videos or source from a variety of websites, including YouTube and Khan Academy. Then, add commentary and comprehension questions to personalize it for your students.
Students are assigned videos to watch, but there’s accountability and assessment integrity included, too. See who is viewing the videos along with their interaction with it.
Then you can use that data to see who may need a little extra help. This service is free for teachers and students and is a solid self-paced option for students who can't attend "live" sessions.
Cost of Edpuzzle:
- Basic account: Free to students and teachers
- Premium account: Schools and districts should contact Edpuzzle for a quote
7. Khan Academy
This popular free learning destination is a hit among parents and educators. Get access to world-class courses with instructional videos in everything from 1st grade math to high school economics. Khan Academy even provides PSAT and SAT prep with standards that align with top colleges and universities.
The video-based courses include practice questions and quizzes, along with guided placement to help struggling learners find the right course for them. Teachers can access the entire course catalog, then set up classrooms where they invite students. Grading is automatic, but teachers can create and customize assignment dates and learning objectives to meet changing classroom needs.
Cost of Khan Academy:
- Free non-profit
- Donations accepted
Edmodo is a mobile-friendly platform that ties together many of the cumbersome duties that teachers deal with today. Sending messages, sharing assignments, tracking grades, and even creating quizzes can now take place in one pleasant-looking platform.
Plus, parents get their own login to see what their student has been up to and to address any learning gaps.
There is a nice community component to Edmodo, as well. Teachers often share lessons within the platform using hashtags that other educators can search for classroom inspiration. It integrates with many popular external apps, as well.
Cost of Edmodo:
How can you know that your student truly understands what you teach? Student feedback is the only way, and Socrative has simplified the process of asking for that feedback.
Whether you want immediate evaluations or check-ins after some time, this tool lets you monitor classroom work to see that no one falls through the gaps.
Socrative is a fun and engaging assessment tool that it works on a variety of devices and lets you know how your students are really doing. You can also create quizzes and polls for your classroom at a moment's notice. Plus, it's always free for students.
Cost of Socrative:
- Basic package: Free
- Pro package: $60/year
Looking for a really simple app that can do screen captures and regular classroom presentations? Loom is a fuss-free way to record, narrate, and share lectures with an easier way to communicate than text. You can display your lecture with your talking head in the bottom corner, too.
Loom lets you see who watched your video, and you can even incorporate it into common Google apps, such as Gmail. The pro plan, which is now free for teachers and students, offers even more cool features. They include “do not disturb” mode, custom thumbnail creation, HD quality recording, drawing tools, mouse-click highlights, and custom access security.
Cost of Loom:
- Pro plan: Free to teachers and students...forever
Assessing and measuring performance
Whichever program you use, an important feature to keep in mind is the ability to assess and measure each student’s performance. You’ll need to ensure that students are keeping up with lesson plans so that they won’t get behind. It’s also crucial that the student is the one doing the work, and not an older sibling or parent.
Today’s responsive assessment tools allow teachers to check in with students at any point in the curriculum, not just at the end of a lesson or unit. This can help them get a more “real-time” view of student needs. It can make up for the lack of an in-person presence that some students rely on to stay on track.
Special considerations for online learning
Even state-of-the-art teaching tools won't work in certain situations, and the priority should be on making distance learning accessible rather than cutting-edge. Not every student will have the most up-to-date PC or steady high-speed internet service to support certain video modules or live streaming.
Help for younger children
You should also consider the ability of younger children to master new platforms. In some cases, they won't have the support of an adult to walk them through it. Any learning tools you use should be easy to understand and get started with from day one, with minimum tech troubleshooting that could distract from learning.
What about high-risk or disadvantaged students?
Another challenge for remote teaching is maintaining IEPs and keeping students with disabilities on track. While some programs offer varying accommodations, teachers may have to look beyond the standard offerings for certain higher-risk students.
Parents of disadvantaged learners can be a resource for teachers in these cases, since they have ongoing interaction with their student on the home front.
Tech or timing challenges
Finally, consider that there may be more than one student in the home, which can make sharing a family PC a logistical concern. Older students may also hold jobs or have family commitments that could make live learning a challenge.
When possible, consider offline, downloadable learning options that can be completed and submitted later. Make every effort to ensure distance learning is helpful for the student - and not another obstacle to learn or prioritize.
Whether you’ve been using digital tools for years or you’re starting to embrace the trend because of a crisis, you’ll find that there are more solutions available than ever before.
Fortunately, the programs on our list are all designed with the busy educator in mind to offer you online support. They will help you get up to speed quickly and get your students learning. With education changing daily, the time to embrace distance learning tools is now.
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About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.
Julie Hayes has been a middle school educator for sixteen years. She has a BS in Industrial Engineering and both a multi-subject and a single-subject Physics/Biology teaching credential. She worked as a systems engineer for Teradata and a process engineer for US Polymeric.