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Archive for the ‘Distance Education’ Category

Top 100 Tools for Learning 2015

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

top-100-tools-for-learning-2015-1-638NTC staff follow a number of blogs, online forums, listservs, and Twitter feeds related to learning and instruction. Jane Hart is a well-regarded international speaker and writer on modern approaches to workplace learning. Jane is the also the Founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies (C4LPT), one of the world’s most visited learning sites on the Web, where she also compiles the very popular annual Top 100 Tools for Learning list from the votes of learning professionals worldwide.  Her blog, Learning in the Social Workplace, was recently rated top of the 50 most socially shared Learning and Development blogs.

Recently, the blog published the Top 100 Tools for Learning for 2015. For the seventh year running Twitter is the Number 1 tool on the list, although this year it is very closely followed by YouTube, and, once again, the list is dominated by free online tools and services. Jane observes, “I can also see some interesting new trends in the tools that are being used for both personal learning and for creating learning content and experiences for others.”

Some “Big Movers” on the 2015 list – moved up sixteen or more places – including Skype, OneNote, SharePoint, and Kahoot. To read the full blog post, including the complete presentation of the 2015 list, visit:Top 100 Tools for Learning 2015.

Do You Padlet?

Monday, March 16th, 2015

Padlet is a cool tool that can be used for instruction. Basically, it is a blank wall and you can decide what you want to “hang” on it. You can use Padlet to: take notes, solicit feedback, as a discussion board or any other thing where you want some sort of input from others.

I made two Padlets to demonstrate different uses. Here’s a padlet that I used as a forum for people to introduce themselves: Here’s another Padlet I made based on the video in this post. If you don’t like the chaos of letting people write anywhere they want on the wall, you can make columns, as seen here: Here is the 4 minute video that shows you how to make columns in Padlet:

You can find Padlet here: It’s free!

Easy Interactive Tutorials

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Have you ever tried to follow steps for using a website or database, but had to keep switching back-and-forth between the instruction screen or video and site you were trying to use? The University of Arizona libraries developed an open-source tool called Guide on the Side for creating interactive tutorials that helps alleviate this problem for users. The left frame of the screen contains instructions and can also have quizzes or links to other information, and the larger, right side has the live website to interact with, without losing your place in the tutorial.

Guide on the Side is an open source PHP and MySQL program and needs to be installed on a server. The program requires a handful of common PHP packages enabled. The full requirements can be found at Once installed, it is very easy for someone without programming experience to create interactive tutorials. One of my favorite aspects is that it can be very easily updated if the interface of the database or other web resource your teaching about changes — no re-recording of audio-visual tutorials!

You can see examples of our Guide on the Side tutorials or those from McGoogan Medical Library at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (thanks to Heather Brown for sharing).

Welcome to the (Virtual) Class

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Welcome Door Mat

Are you adding virtual classes to your teaching repertoire? When starting to teach online, you might miss some of the face-to-face interaction that you’ve previously enjoyed with your students. Building rapport in the online classroom doesn’t have to be all that different than traditional instruction. Here a few things you can do to create a friendly environment online, even if you might not be able to share your warm smile with your class participants.

  • Welcome students as they enter the room, by name if possible.
  • Conduct a brief warm-up activity. The warm-up can familiarize students with the conferencing software, draw on pre-course readings, or help participants get to know each other.
  • Show enthusiasm and excitement for the class using your voice or feedback icons.

For additional tips, see this short checklist from Langevin Learning Services.

NIH Videos

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Did you know you can watch thousands of recorded videocasts from the NIH? The videocasts are recorded lectures on a wide variety of topics that you can stream or download. You can tune in to watch lectures on bioethics, health disparities, neuroscience, science education, and more. You can also watch Clinical Center Grand Rounds, lectures from Distinguished Women Scientists, seminars from the NIH Director, or a series on Medicine for the Public. You can  search the archive of recorded events for particular topics or find a list of upcoming events.

Here’s a sample of what you might see looking under the topic Bioethics:

Three descriptions of videocasts with thumbnails


This could be a great source to share with researchers you work with or for your own learning!

Writing for the Ear

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Recently, I downloaded a copy of No More Spilled Ink: Writing for Instructional Design by Connie Malamed. I recommend the free resource as a great guide if you’re writing content for any kind of online learning.

One section of the guide addresses writing audio scripts, and I thought I’d share a few of Malamed’s tips here, and use them to evaluate an audio script that I recently wrote for a short tutorial.

  • Tip 1: Write like you speak. This means using short sentences, everyday words, and contractions.
  • Tip 2: Keep it brief. Consider how much your audience can process at once and avoid overloading them.
  • Tip 3: Repeat key points. Use emphasis or new wording to help the learner understand.
  • Tip 4: Notate silence. A pause give learners processing time and keeps you from rushing.

So how does my script measure up?

I think my script sounds pretty close to my natural language. I’ve used contractions, such as “let’s” and “don’t”, my sentences are relatively short and straightforward. I have incorporated a few words of jargon, so I’ll review to make sure that they make sense to my intended audience. The script is brief (about 2 minutes) because I narrowed the topic ahead of time. I was tempted to explain a much larger concept, but decided to keep it tightly focused. However, I did not use any of my time to repeat key points. As I revise, I’ll consider adding a sentence that summarizes the take-home message. Finally, notating silence. I’ve never done this before, but I think it’s a great tip because I often find myself speaking more quickly than I would with a face-to-face audience. I seem to forget to pause and breathe, so I think putting the breaks in the script will help me find a more relaxed rhythm.

Check out the full version of the guide for more great tips!

Engaging the Unengaged: Part 2

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014


Four stones stacked

Last week I gave a few tips for engaging your learners, based on this e-book from Shift eLearning.  The final tip was to use good course design. But what does that mean?

According to Shift eLearning, “Well-designed courses help your learners to understand what they are seeing. When every element on screen has a deliberate function, and is in the right place, everything seems more clear.” While this is focused on the online learning environment, I think it’s true for traditional classes as well. Here are six key principles for good design.

1. Don’t unnecessarily complicate things. Keep the course simple with usable navigation and readable fonts. Focus on communicating with the user and making it easy to accomplish what they want to do.

2. Allow for inquiry and exploration. Isn’t it more engaging when you discover information on your own? Giving choices or trying scenarios can bring curiosity to the content.

3. Keep the content to a minimum. Focus on what they truly need to know and avoid extra information that can clutter the experience and get in the way of the main goals.

4. Pay attention to the visual elements. Check that your typography, color, texture, icons, symbols, pictures and animations or videos add to the experience and do not detract from it.

5. Less is more. This is a variation of keeping it simple. Make sure that it can load quickly and takes as few steps as possible to get to the content they should learn.

6. Mix it up. A variety of activities or formats can challenge the learners to think in new ways. Will a case study, game, or animation best help the students to learn?

Find several other tips for engaging your learners in the downloadable e-book!

Engaging the Unengaged: Part 1

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Metal ladder against red barn wall
I recently picked up a free e-book from Shift eLearning, called Engage the Unengaged: How to Create More Engaging eLearning Courses. You can download your own copy, too, if you’d like. I’ll share a few of their ideas in blog posts this week and next week. The focus of the e-book is on eLearning, but there are lessons here for the face-to-face classroom as well.

What is engagement? Shift eLearning uses “the level of participation and intrinsic motivation student displays in a learning environment” as their definition. It includes both behaviors (such as attention or effort) and attitudes (motivation or interest). An engaged learner is active and collaborative, seeks out help, and exerts his or her best effort in response to a challenge. Disengaged learners may do only the minimum work, delay completion of tasks, avoid challenges and may not participate. I’m sure you’ve met both in your classes.

There are a few things you can do to increase engagement, and even convert the disengaged to engaged. Here are a few strategies to try:

1. Acknowledge the prior knowledge of your students, and show them how the class will build on it.

2. Tell them what’s in it for them right away – don’t assume that they’ll know why the class is important. Why does this information matter and how is it relevant to their work or life?

3. Build in some immediate rewards. I don’t mean candy (though that works for some audiences). Can you reward them with affirmation or encouragement? Can you demonstrate to them how they are already doing something better or faster or more easily as a result of the class? Again, don’t just assume they’ll notice – point it out.

4. Take time for reflection. We’re often tempted to use every possible minute for dispensing information, but allowing time for reflective processing can help students to better retain the content. Ask students to stop, think, and apply what they have just learned or take a minute to consider how what they heard relates to their work.

5. Use good design and quality images. While this probably can’t sustain engagement, it may help to initiate it. In next week’s post, we’ll look at a few principles of attractive design.


Universal Design for Learning

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Have you heard of Universal Design for Learning? At the Annual Conference for Distance Teaching and Learning, I attended a few session with a focus on this principle. Here’s a primer video on Universal Design for Learning that will help you become acquainted. If you want to learn more, check out

Conference Time!

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

This week the NTC trainers are attending the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference in Madison, Wisconsin. We’re looking forward to learning more about teaching strategies, engagement, social learning, instructional design and other topics. We’ll be sure to share our new knowledge with you as well.

Dome of the Wisconsin State Capitol viewed from the street.

Here are few other conferences you might find useful for learning about distance learning or instruction.

Each has a different focus and audience, and it may be worth checking for some free online conference materials.