Analysis 2020

The Top 200 Tools for Learning 2020 was compiled by Jane Hart from 2,369 votes from 45 countries in the 14th annual survey and was published on 1 September 2020. 59% of respondents came from companies, businesses and non-profit making organisations whilst 41% worked in education (although only 6% taught in K12 schools so the tools predominately reflect the situation in higher and adult education).

The survey took place at an unprecedented time following a period of lockdown where remote working and remote education was the norm, so the list(s) provide a unique look into how learning is being enabled and supported in these times. Here are my observations on this year’s list(s) together with some infographics that visualise the state of play as well as some thoughts on what this means for the “new normal” for personal learning, workplace learning and education.

Here are 10 general observations on the Top 200 Tools ranking

  1. YouTube retains the #1 position that it is has held for the 5th year running. It is still an easy-to-use resource of videos for learning – both for individuals and teachers/trainers.
  2. Zoom has zoomed up the list into the #2 spot this year. It is clear that video meetings are not just important for remote work, but to keep in touch with family and friends throughout lockdown – and of course for virtual training and virtual education too. It has allowed life to go on as much as possible, so for this reason, I’ll name Zoom as the TOOL OF THE YEAR 2020.
    • Microsoft  Teams has also jumped up into the #5 spot – but has not quite caught up with Zoom, as Teams is focussed more on collaborative work than consumer use.
    • Other chat and video meeting tools have attained strong positions on the list this year. For example, Google Meet is up 77 places to #16 primarily because it has become free to use, WhatsApp moves up to #10, Flipgrid is up 34 places to #38 and Whereby is up 79 places to #45Jitsi Meet is one of a number of new video meeting tools to appear on the list
  3. Collaboration platforms do very well this year. Although Slack (MS Teams’s big competitor) drops back 5 places and Workplace by Facebook is down 43 places to 103) Trello is up 8 places, Asana is back on the list, and new platforms like ClickUp have appeared/
    • Online whiteboards for visual collaboration are a striking new category. Three new tools –  Mural, Miro and MS Whiteboard – have joined Jamboard. They all take mind mapping to a new level.
  4. There has actually been a resurgence in email tools this year; the “zero inbox” concept seems to have all but disappeared!
  5. Google Classroom soars into the Top 20 at #15. Up a whopping 121 places this year, it is the highest mover up the list, and becomes the top learning platform. Many other learning platforms have also moved up the lists (both for the workplace and education). For example, Moodle is up to #36, aNewspring is up to #64 and Totara is up to #92). 
  6. Live engagement tools have come into their own this year. Most have rebranded from being purely classroom or event engagement tools to support engagement within remote meetings and for remote teaching. Kahoot is at the top of the list at #24 (even though it has been pushed down a few places), but other tools have moved significantly up the list – Mentimeter (up 15) Quizizz (up 115), Socrative (up 31), etc.
  7. LinkedIn edges ahead of Twitter for the first time as the top social networking platform – although both platforms have actually dropped down the list a few places this year.
  8. LinkedIn Learning remains the most popular online course platforms although it has also dropped down the list a number of places as have nearly all the big online course platforms on the list (e.g. Udemy, Coursera, Udacity, FutureLearn, etc)
  9. Articulate is still the top course authoring, but like the other course authoring tools and most of the major content development tools, it has also moved down the list.
  10. There are 32 new tools on the list. The most interesting for me? Google Lens (image recognition app) and Otter (for live transcriptions) both of which make use of AI, as well as Google Arts & Culture (for virtual visits).

Here is an infographic that shows the top 200 tools displayed in a number of overlapping categories


So how are these tools being used for personal and workplace learning as well as for education? The 3 sub-lists PL100 | WL100 | Ed100 show their rankings. So what are the opportunities, challenges and the way forward?

Personal Learning in 2020

Following last year’s survey I showed that people were using digital tools to learn in 4 main ways that I called the 4 D’s of Learning (Didactics, Discovery, Discourse and Doing): So what does it look like when we map this year’s tools onto that model? Here’s an infographic that visualises this.

It still shows that individuals learn in all these 4 ways. DIY learning is still very important., but an analysis of the rankings shows that despite a couple of new online course platforms being added to the list, all the other platforms have dropped down a number of places down the list. In fact, the same goes for many web resources (particularly podcasts and players) although as has been seen YouTube is still pretty strong, Vimeo is up and Netflix (for documentaries) is new on the list together with Google Arts & Culture (for virtual visits).

It would appear that WFH has meant that most people’s personal learning has taken a bit of a back seat (in terms of DISCOVERY and DIDACTICS). Maybe they have less time or interest for doing something for themselves online. (In fact when Helen Blunden and I set up Discover2Learn to provide some interesting new resources to support people during lockdown, some said they simply didn’t having any time for it, as WFH ate into their spare time)  Possibly WFH has also meant people just want to switch off in their non-work time.

The emphasis of personal learning has certainly moved this year FROM CONTENT TO COMMUNICATION – whether it be through video meetings or chat apps. Keeping it touch with others has been key as the comment shows.

“WhatsApp makes it fun to informally keep in touch with my colleagues around the world. It helps keep our relationships strong.” Training Manager, Switzerland, 2020

When it comes to social networking, as we have seen above LinkedIn has overtaken Twitter for the first time. There seem to be a number of reasons for this if these two comments are representative of people’s views on Twitter.

“[Twitter] was on the top of my list for 4 years. Not anymore. The conversation just isn’t growing. People are moving on. The professional conversation [on LinkedIn] is now better than Twitter.”” JD, LearnGeek, Canada

“Twitter is still my social network of choice but during COVID I began to have a love-hate relationship with it.  I noticed my feeds filled with hate, fear mongering and nastiness.  Also people from my Personal Learning Network had since left Twitter, stopped using social media or stopped blogging, or sharing references that were interesting.  To be fair, I did the same.  The whole world was immersed into worry and anxiety.” Helen Blunden, Community Manager, Australia, 2020

Looking forward: People will need to reset their personal learning strategies. This is still a very volatile time, but everyone needs to think forward. Continuous professional development through both formal, informal and social means is imperative.

Workplace Learning in 2020

So what does the mapping look like (on the 4 D’s of Learning model) for the tools used in workplace learning? Here’s an infographic that visualises it.

This clearly shows the dominance of collaboration platforms and video meeting platforms (as reported above). But the significant thing is that these platforms are now being used for both formal and informal (social) learning at work, so, finally, we are beginning to see the integration of work and learning on the same platform.

“During this time of pandemic and working remotely, Teams saved us! From video chats to file storage for project team documents it is a very powerful tool” Susan Manos, Global Learning & Development Director, USA, 2020

Collaboration has been extended in a number of a new ways – for example, through online whiteboards (that have evolved from mindmapping and brainstorming tools) and which have become particularly important in remote working and training, as this comment on Microsoft Whiteboard shows

“Been brilliant for training remotely without having a flip chart in the room this has been my flip chart. The app is better than the online version which lacks some functionality.”

The Microsoft ecosystem is clearly take hold in the workplace to power all work and underpin learning at work. Full list of Microsoft tools in use can be seen on the categories page.

As I reported in an earlier article, due to lockdown, organisations pretty much overnight had to digitise their training activities, so this is the reason why they took to video meeting tools (particularly Zoom) to deliver live training events. Live virtual training is taking up a lot of people’s time,  as this comment (on Adobe Connect) shows.

“Mostly great for virtual training, which we do a lot of for 6-7 hours at a time.” Elaine Carr, Instructional Design Manager, USA, 2020

However, this has resulted in “Zoom fatigue” as remote worker moved constantly between work meetings and live training! Whilst many have used engagement tools (like Mentimeter and Kahoot) to offer more interactivity during these sessions, new tools like Otter (which offer a live transcription service for Zoom and other meetings) might help to relieve the need to concentrate quite so hard in a Zoom meeting!

Whilst collaboration platforms have become the hub for all things learning in the organisation, learning platforms have enjoyed a bit of a renaissance this year. Although Moodle, aNewSpring and Totara head the list, as mentioned above, Google Classroom is also making its mark in the workplace.

As noted above, course authoring tools and major content development tools have (pretty much all) moved down the list, which seems to suggest that people are creating less stuff, and that this year there has been a move FROM CONTENT DEVELOPMENT TO LIVE TRAINING. This has undoubtedly been the way they have been able to train people quickly online – since converting classroom training to e-learning would take far too long. Having said that, some tools like the major office tools (PowerPoint, Word) to create quick and dirty, basic resources without the “bells and whistles” and have held their own. It does seem to be back to basics!

Finally, when it comes to supporting self-learning activities – through providing access to online course platforms as well as curation of relevant resources – this doesn’t not seem to have been a priority this year – and once again appears to have been left to individuals to do for themselves.

Looking forward: Although in the months to come business expect 40-50% of staff to return to the office, it is likely that collaboration platforms and video meeting platforms will still have a place – particularly as workers will be asked to avoid group meetings and limit face-to-face social interaction But live training – ie talking at people (which is the least enjoyable form of learning) needs to be used sparingly. So other learning flexible and responsive options need to be considered, particularly as autonomy has been a key feature of WFH. In fact, now is the time to consider a move towards a strategy focused around self-directed learning with appropriate support from L&D.

Read a more detailed analysis of what this means for L&D in: Back to Basics: 10 lessons for virtual L&D for 2021

Education in 2020

What does the Top Tools for Education 2020 tell us about the state of learning in further, higher and adult education? Here is a visualisation of the popular tools.

Just like workplace learning, video meeting and collaboration platforms dominate the list as education became a remote activity and there was a need to offer virtual classrooms.

  • Zoom appears at no 3 on the Education list, whilst Google Meet moves up to No 9, and the new open source platform, Jitsi Meet makes a strong appearance
  • Interestingly, MS Teams (and even Slack) are becoming popular in colleges and universities too, as this comment shows

“Teams has risen to the top for my learning and for learning at my college. The sharing/collaboration among writing, spreadsheets and other documents as well as ease of communication in different modes makes it invaluable now and I foresee it remaining that way even without a pandemic requiring more remote ways of working.” Audrey J Williams, Vice President, IT/CIO, USA, 2020

  • Additionally, classroom engagement tools have been re-purposed to support remote teaching – with Kahoot and Socrative being particularly popular.

Of course, course management systems, are still very important in education, but has been noted above, Google Classroom has taken over from Moodle as the top educational learning platform. Google Classroom is a free tool within the G Suite for Education suite, and as Google products abound in education, it is an obvious choice – but is also seen as a “game changer” as this comment shows.

“This has been a game changer in the world of education. It makes collecting assignments and grading papers much more efficient, especially writing and language assignments. Instead of having 60 assignments floating around in my email, they are all in the right place and I can see who has turned things in and the live progress they have made on the assignment. I love how I can push out links to websites and articles quickly and easily, and feedback among students is a great feature to have available too.” Librarian, 2020

As for course, lesson and content development tools, just as with workplace learning these continue to be popular although it seems they  have become less important this year.

Looking forward: Although a return to the classroom is likely for many students, some teaching is likely to continue remotely, so the need to provide flexible ways of learning, as well as interactive and engaging lessons remains paramount.

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