Analysis

The Top Tools for Learning 2018 list was compiled by Jane Hart from 2,951 votes from 52 countries in the 12th Annual Digital Learning Tools Survey. She has also categorised the tools into 30 different areas, and produced 3 sub-lists that provide some context to how the tools are being used:

  1. Top 100 Tools for Personal & Professional Learning 2018 (PPL100): the digital tools used by individuals for their own self-improvement, learning and development – both inside and outside the workplace.
  2. Top 100 Tools for Workplace Learning (WPL100): the digital tools used to design, deliver, enable and/or support learning in the workplace.
  3. Top 100 Tools for Education (EDU100): the digital tools used by educators and students in schools, colleges, universities, adult education etc.

Every vote was manually processed in order to get a picture of this year’s contributors (as well as mitigate gaming of the voting). This year’s list is therefore the next episode in this longitudinal study that not just identifies the popularity of tools for learning, but also gives an indication of current learning behaviour.

At first glance you might think there is very little difference in the list from last year (as the usual suspects loom large in it) but there have in fact been some significant movements as well 29 new entrants.

First, a few words about the voters:

  • Only 23% of voters came from the Academic (Primary, Secondary or Tertiary education) sector, so the Top 200 is therefore skewed towards workplace learning, hence educationalists might prefer to focus on the EDU100.
  • Two kinds of voters were observed: (1) those who voted only for mainstream e-learning tools and learning management platforms, and (2) those who voted for a range of modern and innovative tools and platforms both for their personal, professional and workplace use. Consequently the list is a mix of the old and the new – however, a number of identifiable trends are visible for both personal, professional and workplace learning:

10 Trends for Digital Learning in 2018

1 – Web resources still dominate.

YouTube retains its number 1 spot – just! – but the list continues to be peppered with a range of web resources in different formats. Of particular note this year is the resurgence of audio resources, e.g .audio books as well as podcasts) and two tools to listen to podcasts are back on the scene: Overcast and Castro. (If you are still weighing up which one to use, there’s a good comparison of the two here.) Book abstracts are also becoming more and more popular, and getAbstracts has now joined Blinkist on the list.  Meanwhile Slideshare appears to be in terminal decline. But the key thing to note is that video isn’t the only format that people like to use, different formats suit different people and different situations.

2 – Some social networks are up, some down.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps in the light of recent issues, Facebook has dropped out of the Top 10 for the first time since 2011 (although Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Instagram still continue to do well). However, Google+ has slipped right down to 188th place. Twitter, on the other hand, has moved back up one place to 4th place, and it is quite clear that those who do understand how to use it effectively still find it a very valuable tool, and have not been put off by the bad press, although many have modified their activity on it. LinkedIn has also moved up the list and is now in 5th place, and a new entrant in this category is Stack Overflow – the community for IT developers. This seems to concur with recent findings that people now tend to prefer private, industry-specific groups and networks rather than public networks.

3 – Web courses are increasing in popularity.

Although Coursera is still the most popular web course platform, there are, in fact, now 12 web course platforms on the list. New additions this year include Udacity and Highbrow (the latter provides daily micro-lessons). It is clear that people like these platforms because they can chose what they want to study as well as how they want to study, i.e. they can dip in and out if they want to and no-one is going to tell them off – which is unlike most corporate online courses which have a prescribed path through them and their use is heavily monitored. However, some organisations are beginning to see the value of incorporating web courses into their training offering, although currently only Coursera and Lynda/LinkedIn Learning are the ones to appear on the WPL100.

4 – There is a subtle shift from course development to content development.

PowerPoint is is No.1 on the WPL100 list, which shows that content development is still the top priority for most L&D departments. Although e-learning tools still appear in strong positions on the list, and in fact some new ones have also appeared this year’s too, it is asset development tools that are becoming increasingly popular. These are largely dominated by the Adobe Creative Cloud suite, e.g.  Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere, Audition, etc) although other tools do get a look in! But a new category of tools that support interactive content development (in particular interactive video, e.g. H5P and HiHaHo) is emerging. All in all, this does seem to suggest that there is a subtle shift towards resource development (from purely course development) in the workplace.

5 – Learning at work is becoming personal and continuous.

The most significant feature of the list this year is the huge leap up the list that Degreed has made – up 86 places to 47th place – the biggest increase by any tool this year. Degreed is a lifelong learning platform and provides the opportunity for individuals to own their expertise and development through a continuous learning approach. And, interestingly, Degreed appears both on the PPL100 (at  30) and WPL100 (at 52). This suggests that some organisations are beginning to see the importance of personal, continuous learning at work, too. Indeed, another platform that underpins this, has also moved up the list significantly this year too. Anders Pink is a smart curation platform available for both individuals and teams which delivers daily curated resources on specified topics. Non-traditional learning platforms are therefore coming to the forefront, as the next point further shows.

6 – Team collaboration tools support the real social learning at work.

Another key feature of this list is that the team collaboration tool, Slack, moves into the Top 10. This is the highest position ever attained by a corporate platform in the 12 year history of the list. And hot on its heels is Microsoft Teams (up 42 places to 27th position this year). But it’s not completely a two-horse race, other team tools also appear on the list, albeit much lower down, e.g. Confluence, AsanaSmartsheet and PodioAll this appears to be at the expense of enterprise social networks, like Yammer which has dropped 25 places down the list. In fact, recent reports show that some organisations just couldn’t get the fact that enterprise social is a culture not a tool, and that they much prefer to have platforms that are more aligned to the work environment. Furthermore, since these team collaboration platforms are very versatile and flexible and, instead of trying to provide all functionality in one platform, integrate many other 3rd-party tools, it is easy to see how they can be used to create a seamless working and learning environment, and ensure that work is learning and learning is the work.

7 – The Microsoft ecosystem is regaining its power.

At one point, interest in Microsoft products seemed to be waning, particularly as Google Docs/Drive began to dominate the Office space, but this year PowerPoint, Word and OneDrive have all moved up the list. OneNote is another Microsoft tool that is surging ahead (see next point). And, as mentioned above, Microsoft Teams is catching up with Slack. In fact some believe that the power of the whole Microsoft ecosystem is so strong that it will mean that Teams will win the collaboration wars. Watch this space for more on that one.

8 – OneNote is winning the digital notebook battle. 

For many years Evernote has been the leading digital notebook – a tool that many people use to keep track of web clippings, notes, ideas – even their professional development goals and achievements – which they can also share with work teams and others. But this year Evernote has dropped back 23 places amid claims it is in a “death spiral”, as OneNote surges ahead. But note, Google Keep is catching up; it has moved up 45 places this year. Another one to watch!

9 – Video conferencing eclipses conference calls.

Another big feature of the list is that Zoom has zoomed up the list this year and is now in the Top 10 – leaving the traditional web conferencing and webinar platforms behind. And, it has achieved this meteoric rise in just 2 years. The article, Stop scheduling conference calls and finally commit to videoconferencing, points to the many advantages of using a platform like Zoom for a more effective live, online meeting (even training) experience.

10 – Audience engagement has become a big thing.

Tools for engaging audiences in conferences and other events (through polls, quizzes, etc) have been around for a while – firstly, in the form of specialised clickers and software, but nowadays you need no more than a smartphone to participate, and this is a growing area. There are now 8 audience response tools on the list (with 4 new ones this year). Kahoot heads the list (for educational/training use) followed by Poll Everywhere, which is a more generic engagement tool. But it’s clear that the technology is being used not just to provide a new online experience, but also to support a more interactive, participate and social live experience.

Conclusion: There are some significant new trends in this year’s list. Could this be the tipping point for some real change in how (workplace) learning is perceived and supported?