The Must-Have Tools for Online Learners

Online education gives students access to courses that may not be available locally, but they must have the right tools to take full advantage of these classes.

Online learning has become very popular. Many students take online classes that aren’t offered at their local university, and some high school students even take their entire course load from home now. Some professionals and retired individuals looking to keep up with advancements in their field, or to learn something new, routinely learn from online sources. While you might take an online class with nothing more than a web browser, there are some tools that make online learning easier for both students and teachers.

A Webcam

This is a fairly basic tool, and many laptops now have webcams built in. However, if you don’t have a webcam, you may find yourself fairly limited in what you can do as far as interaction is concerned. For teachers, it’s almost an absolute must-have. It helps greatly if your students can see and hear you. Visual conference calls for group discussions are so much better if students can simply speak instead of typing out everything they want to say. Being able to see the other people in the class also helps build more of a connection between students which, in turn, makes for better interaction and discussion. Most webcams have built-in microphones, but some students prefer to purchase a separate, higher quality microphone.

A Headset

A headset is another basic online educational tool, and it can make a huge difference in the quality of sound. Many people find it much easier to hear and focus on online videos and discussions if they have a headset. For students who may be in a public area or who have a lot of background noise, headsets are vital. Many also have microphones built into them.

A Blog

When used in online education, blogs function like journals or short essays. Students keep a blog on a free platform like Blogger or Kidblog or they make notes on Facebook. Teachers can easily read and evaluate these blogs at any time, and they can even leave comments like they might on a traditional pen and paper essay. Students may even read each other’s works and leave feedback. This is a great tool for those courses that require a lot of teacher and peer feedback, such as writing courses.

A Conference Program

While some online courses don’t require students to be online at the same time, it can be very helpful to host an online web conference several times throughout the course. Seeing each other and the instructor face to face can be very helpful. To do so, you need a program like UberConference that allows you to create an easy to use web conference. These conferences allow users to not only see and speak to each other, but also control who can speak, send text messages, and more. This is a great tool for distance learning (courses that are taught entirely online).

Social Media

Even when you’re not using a conferencing program or some other more formal educational tool, you want your students to be connected. That’s where social media comes in. Many social media sites, like Facebook, allow you to create private groups where your students can discuss the lessons or just get to know each other better. These groups also make it very easy to share photos, videos, and websites with each other. The informal setting often makes it easier to focus more on learning and less on figuring out the platform, especially if it’s a form of social media with which students are familiar.

Software to Use for Note-Taking

Many students use a notepad or a word processing program like Microsoft Word to take notes, but there are specific programs designed for note-taking in which online students might be interested. Microsoft OneNote and Evernote are just two of them. These programs do more than just help students take notes and organize them. They also make it easy to share these notes and compile notes from different sources, including text, emails, documents, and online resources.

Educational Software

Some software is designed, specifically, for online learning. One such tool is called Edmodo, which allows teachers to create a virtual classroom. Students can chat with each other and the teacher, but Edmodo does more than that. Teachers can send out announcements to all students, share documents and slideshows, and even send out assignments and see who has done them. This software also lets teachers create quizzes, has an online grade book tool, and a poll feature that gives teachers feedback.

The Right Tools

Having the right tools is very important to successful online classes. Teachers need the right programs to allow them to effectively teach, while students must have everything they need to engage with other students and view all the materials. The tools listed are just a few of the must-haves to make an online course a success.


  1. kerrywatson

    January 9, 2014 at 7:57 am

    This is a very good and informative article Peter. It will be very helpful to all the online learners. These are some of those essential basics that must be kept in mind before taking up online learning in any way.

  2. Maureen Greenbaum

    January 17, 2014 at 10:21 am

    Great list of tools, but many online students don’t invest in hardware like a webcam.
    More unfortunately many online faulty do not make their online courses any more than read the book, take multiple choice quizzes, and make comments on a discussion forum.
    Tools like VoiceThread and interactive synchronous tools like GoToMeeting, both increase engagement and learning. They charge but no where near then $100+ textbooks, which have a diminishing role in an online world. To make course relevant faculty MUST intergrate the many OERs, open educational Resources (GCF Learn Free for computer topics is a favorite of mine) and have students develope PLNs (peronal Learning Network) such as Twitter, LinkedIn etc tools which gradualtes will need to use in their very different futures.

  3. Ilyasali

    January 18, 2014 at 5:19 am

    This is good work to online lerning. When a student online lern his knowledge is more more and more so this is good work

  4. Felipe

    January 24, 2014 at 1:52 am

    You forgot to mention the most important of all for online learning: broadband connection: DSL, cable, satellite or best fiber optic. With out high quality broadband that webcam is useless. As someone who has taught online I always tell students your internet connection will determine your online participation and lead to your online success.

  5. Rahul

    February 5, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Great article on the tools. Having the right tool is very important to successful online learning.

  6. J Alva

    February 22, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    I’m a CTE (Career Technical Education) adult school teacher, I teach Intro to computers in the San Diego CA area.
    I enjoyed the article and the replies from your readers please keep me in mind on this topic.

    Thank you