Looking for some mostly free tools to aid in the learning process? Whether you’re a student or just learning on your own, there’s a rich variety of Web 2.0 applications that you can use in your quest for knowledge, many of which supplement our list of productivity applications quite nicely. Here are 25 of them.
Ask And Ye Shall Receive
What better way to learn something than have an expert on the subject answer your question? Use of these Web 2.0 applications involves asking a question and having it answered directly by another member of the specific community.
Blinkbits uses the tagline “Discover the wisdom of mankind.” It’s essentially a repository of both knowledge and bits of information found all over the web. They’ve created “Spaces” so that you can track your favorite experts by subscribing to Web feeds.
Got a question? Ask the guru members at Guruza a question and offer a monetary reward for the answer. Questions are answered via instant message text chatting. Pay only if you get a satisfactory answer. (The ratio of successful answers received by a questioner is displayed.)
- Learn Without Limits.
Learn Without Limits, originally called Tutors Without Limits, brings together tutors and students from around the world. Their solution is a hybrid of Web-based infrastructure and the use of the free Skype VoIP software. Tutors can define their tutorial session profiles at the Web site, and students can find suitable, affordable tutors, pay for a session, and get tutelage.
- LinkedIn Answers.
LinkedIn is a hot new professional social network ideal for those looking to make connections in specific industries. The idea itself is based on the concept of Six Degrees of Separation. To utilize the collective knowledge of a growing membership, LinkedIn Answers allows members to ask or answer questions.
Qunu is similar in nature to Guruza. Enter a tag or question, choose an available expert, then chat with the expert right from within the website. No login is required. Therefore, the chats are anonymous. While originally designed for tech support questions, Qunu has grown out of it. The home page shows a tag cloud of topics for which experts are currently online. Experts provide their answers using a Jabber-friendly IM text
chat software (i.e. Psi, Miranda, Gaim, Trillian, etc.).
Fountains of Wisdom
If you don’t feel like asking someone and would rather just find and use information, here are some suitable applications, which include dictionaries, encyclopedias, and information storehouses.
Ninjawords is what it says — a really fast dictionary. And if you enter a fake word such as “ruggle”, it’ll ask you if you meant “wriggle”. It likely uses a Hamming distance algorithm to decide what the closest word to your request is, if you enter a word not part of the database.
Nuvvo is a Web service that hosts a variety of online courses, some free. Students can browse, enroll, and take courses; instructors can set up courses under three individual and three corporate hosting plans. The most basic is free and allows 10 active enrollments.
Tired of going to multiple sites to search? Schoolr is ideal if you want to be able to search for a term amongst several sources, and all from one site. They don’t have a single search field but have combined search capability on one page for Google, Wikipedia, as well as a variety of other searches including dictionary, thesaurus, etc.
Don’t want to open up a word processor program just to check the spelling of a word. Spellify is a simple AJAX-based spellchecker that offers various suggestions, should you give it a word that doesn’t exist. For example, type in “teste” and Spellify will suggest “tester”, “test”, “taste”, etc.
Squidoo is marketing guru Seth Godin’s baby, and its popularity has been growing steadily. It has attracted numerous “lensmasters” who have set up “lenses” (Web pages on a variety of topics, typically something they know well). The idea of a lens is to offer a page with focused content, usually with a wealth of reference links. Thus, a Squidoo lens is an ideal place to start some research, then branch out.
Looking to learn a programming language? Need to find specific coding examples? Tutorialicio.us makes it easy by offering a voting system similar to other social sites like Digg. You can add your own favorites, or view the tutorials currently voted onto the home page, as well as see what was popular 24 hours, 7 days, 30 days, 365 days ago, or for all time.
Learning online is easy, but only if you can find the right information. Trying to find information via a search engine is sometimes a frustrating experience. Instead of finding what you really want, a search engine often gives you too many results. Whonu tries to organize results from multiple search engines by grouping them into categories, sources, and related keyphrases.
There’s been recent debate about the validity of information in Wikipedia, and some public schools and colleges have decided to ban references to the site in student papers. Nevertheless, some information at Wikipedia is written by insiders and experts in a given industry. At the least, most pages there provide outside links so that you can expand your research sources.
Brainstorming is often an ideal way to quickly learn about a topic at a superficial level, then explore it in detail later.
BrainReactions is similar to Guruza and Qunu, discussed earlier, but designed specifically for brainstorming. Ask a question and other members will brainstorm ideas.
Bubbl.us is a simple brainstorming tool based on the mindmapping paradigm. It’s quite basic, but rather easy to use. Maps can consist of one or more root nodes, unlike some mindmapping software.
MindMeister requires a bit more investment in time to use than Bubbl.us, but is also more feature-rich. Its features are more like a standalone mindmapping application, with a variety of icons and a more robust node branching.
Mindomo is yet another Web-based mindmapping tool, but is far more robust than Bubbl.us and Mindmeister. In fact, it has features rivalling standalone mindmapping software. With this level of functionality, it’s ideal for brainstorming or plotting out lesson plans.
Research and News Tracking
As a student, you’ll find out pretty quickly that learning is more than just sitting in class listening to the lecturer. Doing your own research is a significant part of the process.
Bloglines is an ideal research tool, allowing you to subscribe to an unlimited number of Web feeds, thus cutting down visit time to Web sites. Subscriptions can be grouped in folders and feed news items clipped for later use. Bloglines suggests some starting feeds in a number of categories.
- Google Reader.
Google Reader is the same as Bloglines in general functionality, namely feed browsing. Reader, however, can be integrated into the Google Mail client, making it easy to browse both Web feeds and your e-mail newsletters from a one convenient location.
- Google Video.
When Google bought YouTube last year, some people thought it meant Google Video would suffer. It hasn’t, and they even allow user uploaded content now, just like YouTube. If you look in the dropdown menu for the genre list, you find “educational” and “documentary” there, amongst other categories.
- NewsGator Online edition.
NewsGator Online Edition is a solid alternative to Bloglines, with a very similar interface and features. The primary difference is in how Web feed items are handled while you browse them. I.e., items are not marked “read” until you explicitly say so. While there is a paid standalone NewsGator reader, this version is powerful enough for the average feed subscriber, and competitive with Bloglines and Google Reader. Of course, you could create your own feed reader using Teqlo (below).
Geeks rejoice. Postgenomic has taken hundreds of Web feeds from science, math, and technology blogs and collated them into a single website. The value-added here is that not only are there no ads, you can see which sites have linked to the story, in case you want to research a bit more. Note that they only publish snippets of posts, so it’s a great way to start exploring science blogs.
Studies have shown that reading at too slow a speed actually hinders learning. Retention is supposedly better at higher reading rates. Even if you read something over 2-3 times at high speed, that likely takes less time than reading something once at your regular speed.
- Yahoo Pipes.
Yahoo Pipes is a web feed mashup and filtering tool that lets you create custom feeds. Indicate the sources, define the filtering criteria, then combine the feeds into a single resultant feed. This automation reduces research time in finding niche information, leaving more time for learning.
At the time of this writing, Teqlo is still in beta. Like Yahoo Pipes, it’s a mashup tool. Unlike Pipes, Teqlo lets you build complete Web applications with no programming, simply by dropping various predefined widgets onto a blank canvas and selecting interactions between them. Among the nearly three dozen current widgets, a few of them include Google Maps, feed readers, to do lists, bookmarking tools and more — enough to quickly slap together some custom Web feed-based research tools.
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