Even the seasoned mathematicians at MIT carry calculators in their back pockets. Famous authors keep thesauruses on their writing desks. Professional project managers for multi-national corporations still defer to a humble time management tool from time to time. And – though there’s no way of knowing for sure – we’re reasonably certain some high-level chefs still consult YouTube cooking videos occasionally.
This is all to say, our brains can’t do everything. It’s okay to cede some computing power to an external tool, whether it’s an app, a machine, a book or a video. Not only can it help expedite the learning process, but it may also teach us a valuable lesson in education: namely, that it’s perfectly fine to reach out for help.
If you’re a student at our online school in Ontario, you have several learning tools at your disposal. Chiefly, you have your instructors – wellsprings of knowledge and advice who are there for you whenever you have questions. Secondly, you have access to 24/7 tutoring, for those late-night study sessions when you can’t wrap your head around polynomial functions.
Finally, students are encouraged to use whatever external learning tools they wish (provided the tool doesn’t aid in cheating or plagiarizing). And that’s our topic of conversation today: the online learning tools that every student should know.
Below, we’ve categorized our favourite online learning tools according to function. You’ll find Time Management Tools, Document Management Tools, Writing & Communication Tools, and Extracurricular Engagement.
Time Management Tools
Here’s a little thought experiment. Let’s say you were building a house and had to transport all the materials to the job site in a single truck to begin construction. Would you a) try to carry all the materials in one load at the last minute, then frantically piece everything together, or b) transport the materials piece by piece over time, constructing the house as you went along?
Any construction foreman will tell you to pick “b.” Likewise, any teacher will tell you that it’s far preferable to study for an exam over time than to try and cram everything last-minute. To help you manage your time effectively, here are a few of our favourite tools.
A Pomodoro App
A “Pomodoro app” simply refers to any application that facilitates the popular “Pomodoro technique.” For the uninitiated, the Pomodoro technique is a time management scheme developed by a university student named Francesco Cirillo in the late 80s. The technique involves setting a timer for 25-minute intervals, between which you rest for a couple of minutes. Twenty-five minutes of work, three minutes rest, 25 minutes work, etc.
According to psychologists, the Pomodoro technique’s effectiveness lies in its ability to reduce distractions. By compartmentalizing your work into short 25-minute bursts, you trick your brain into staying on task. “It’s just 25 minutes,” you tell yourself. But by the time the timer dings for the fifth time, signalling three rounds of dedicated work, you realize just how much you’ve accomplished.
There are several Pomodoro apps to choose from, but the most popular are Pomodoro, Marinara Timer and Be Focused.
A Good Old-Fashioned Timer and Agenda
Not interested in the highly structured system of a Pomodoro technique? That’s okay – everyone’s brain works differently. One of the benefits of online courses is that you can personalize almost every aspect, including how your divide your time. That said, if you prefer a more freewheeling, customizable approach to time management, may we suggest going “old school”?
All you really need to manage your time effectively are a timer and an agenda. The agenda forecasts your long-term goals and obligations, while the timer presides over of-the-minute tasks.
Make note of upcoming tests, projects and assignments in your agenda, then work retroactively to allot time for their completion. For instance, if you plan to complete an exam on October 8th, make room in your agenda the week prior to study for said exam. When that study period rolls around, break out your trusty timer to create dedicated “study blocks” free of distraction.
A Website Blocker
Finally, here’s an online learning tool that can prove indispensable. There’s no greater threat to time management and productivity than the bright, enchanting lights of a social media site. When you’re working primarily from your computer, that temptation is all the more present, lingering just a couple of tabs away on your browser.
A website blocking app allows students to remove the potential temptation of a website for a set period of time. For instance, if you know you have to study for your e-learning courses between the hours of 3 pm and 5:30 pm, and you also know that your attention drifts to Tik Tok absurdly easily, consider deploying a website blocker. Program the app to restrict access to Tik Tok between 3 and 5:30 pm to stay on course.
Popular website blocking apps include Focus, Mindful Browsing and (the somewhat cynically named) Zero Willpower.
Document Management Tools
In at least one way, teens these days are lucky. They don’t have to expend precious energy rifling through binders, Duo-Tangs and folders to find an assignment. It’s all (hopefully) collated in a few convenient desktop or cloud folders.
Still, document management can be challenging. Without a logical, user-intuitive system in place, you can easily clutter up your files, making it hard to stay on track with your studies. Let’s see if we can’t help with that.
While there are several free document management tools, here are a couple of our top choices.
Of all the productivity tools available online, Evernote ranks among the most popular. It’s a note-taking app, task management app, drawing app, and document management app rolled into one.
Its premise is pretty straightforward: the app allows you to write notes, draw notes and save documents in various tagged and annotated folders. For instance, you could create a folder called MCV4U in which you collate all of your grade 12 calculus and vectors notes, assignments and slides. Then, you can make sub-folders organized according to chapter or section.
Google Drive is a classic document management tool for a reason. It does everything you need it to do, and it’s free to boot.
The app lets students create, edit and share documents in one fairly user-friendly location. It’s easy to navigate, and creating folders and subfolders for your various online courses is a cinch.
The file storage system is a default inclusion in the Google Suite, so if you have a G-Mail account, chances are you already have Drive.
Writing and Communication Tools
Writing and communication are cornerstones of online education – any education, really. Students must demonstrate effective writing and craft group projects. They may also want to form study groups or practice their creative writing in their free time.
Luckily, you can find tools for online learning that help you write, edit and stay connected with others. Here are a few of our top choices for writing and communication tools.
Social Media Chats
Most high school students need no introduction to the world of social media chats. Still, social chats remain one of the most effective (albeit occasionally distracting) tools for online learning.
They’re effective for a couple of reasons. For starters, most teens already have access to an assemblage of chat platforms. Secondly, they facilitate ongoing dialogue in a way that’s easy to see and track. On most platforms now, you can respond directly to particular group messages, “like” specific messages and rope in various multimedia elements – ideal for coordinating a group project.
Of the many available, we think the best options for chat platforms are the ones streamlined explicitly for chatting: WhatsApp and Discord come to mind. The chat functions on popular social media sites like Instagram or Tik Tok aren’t ideal for online learning because they are couched in a world of distractions. And one of our top tips for online learning has always been to try and avoid social media during designated learning time.
Grammarly is an online editor that reads through your work and offers spelling and grammar suggestions. It isn’t unlike the spelling & grammar check in popular word processors; the difference being that Grammarly makes concrete recommendations rather than simply pointing out errors.
Grammarly shouldn’t be a replacement for personal editing skills. Learning to critically and technically evaluate your own work is an essential skill that no online tool can replace. (For instance, the program often dismisses academic words and complex sentence structures in favour of straightforward technical
language.) Nevertheless, it may help students who want to catch comma splices and run-on sentences before sending out their work.
As a short exercise in editing, see if you can spot the split infinitive and misused punctuation in the paragraphs above!
For students looking to hone their creative writing skills away from the classroom, we recommend giving NaNoWriMo a try. The mouthful of an abbreviation stands for National Novel Writing Month, an annual event coordinated by a non-profit organization of the same name.
Each November, writers from around the globe attempt to finish 50,000 words of a novel. Those who manage to pull off the gargantuan feat are rewarded twofold: they receive prizes (like a printed, bound copy of their manuscript), and they have a fresh, sellable novel to call their own. Along the way, the organization provides access to supportive forums of other writers, in which you can bounce around your ideas and seek guidance from others.
We understand that NaNoWriMo might be a significant undertaking for a student with a full plate of online courses. But it can be a valuable learning experience for aspiring young creative writers (or those who just really want to get their Marvel fanfic out in the world!).
Lastly, we have “extracurricular engagement” tools. These aren’t so much part of your online education as they are education-adjacent. They help you hone your skills, sharpen your mind and expand your educational palate away from study hours.
While extracurricular learning doesn’t directly impact your grades, it can have an indirect influence on them. After all, the more you commit yourself to learning, the further you can go in your studies.
There are numerous resources for extracurricular learning, some of which you may have encountered if you started online learning in the pandemic and needed an enriching pastime while at home. Here, we have chosen three of our favourites.
Who says games can’t be educational? This online trivia site, complete with thousands of user-submitted quizzes, proves that online diversions can be both entertaining and academically enriching.
Put your geography knowledge to the test with Sporcle quizzes like “Capitals of the World” or “Country Trivia Logic Puzzle.” Brush up on history by naming the “Monarchs of England” or flex your love of literature by correctly identifying the “Novel by Opening Line.” The site also has science, language and music categories, as well as pop culture trivia.
When TED Talks first launched in 1984, its scope was relatively narrow, focusing on technology, entertainment and design (subjects that, together, create the initialism TED). Since then, the organization has expanded in a thousand different directions. Now, their site hosts informative discussions on everything from online education (a topic dear to our hearts) to bioethics, quantum mechanics, feminism and much more.
Students may find the Ted-Ed section of the website particularly interesting: It contains several videos geared toward high-schoolers.
ACS’s Virtual Chemistry Lab
The internet is a remarkable place. From the comfort of your home computer, you can shop for shoes, get a quality education at an online school (of course!), chat with friends, sort through millions of cat gifs, Livestream the Olympic Games and – for the science lovers among us – conduct virtual chemistry experiments too.
The American Chemical Society’s virtual chemistry lab is a fantastic spot for extracurricular engagement. They list several scientific sites where you can interactively conduct, simulate and analyze chemistry experiments. Prepare solutions, investigate the half-life of unstable atoms and simulate basic chemical reactions through assorted, scientifically-backed online tools.
What online learning tools do you use? We’d love to hear from you. If you have suggestions, or simply want to inquire about our online courses, get in touch with us at the link provided.