My ideal learning software application

Jon Mott recently asked readers to consider what a learning software application would look like if it were developed with the learner in mind.  Jon was contrasting this ideal with current course management software, like Blackboard, which is often focused on institutional needs.  I’ve spent most of my week building the framework for a wiki project that will help my students explore some of the free tools for teaching with technology and Jon’s question has been rolling around in the back of my mind.

My list of tools is a hodge-podge of downloadable applications and web-based services.  The list is far from exhaustive, since it doesn’t even include all of the technologies tools of which I am aware.  Many of the applications weren’t created with teaching in mind, let alone learning.    Still, thinking about what these technologies allow me to do and what I still wish I could do (or do more easily), helps me to think about what my ideal learning software application looks like.

The closest thing that I currently have to an ideal learning software application is my Firefox browser.  To be honest, any browser would put pretty much the same vast stores of information at my fingertips, but the beauty of Firefox is its customizability.  Using Firefox, I can make it much easier to get to the information I want.  I use a number of Mozilla add-ons including, but not limited to:

I’ve even customized the search engine toolbar.  Each change I make is calculated to keep the tools I use and information I need close at hand.  My favorite addition is probably my Diigo sidebar.  When I was a Delicious user, my links languished, almost forgotten on my Delicious page, but now, with a quick click, I can easily search all of my bookmarks by tags I’ve given–without interrupting my work on other pages.  A Diigo list shared amongst class members would be a great way to distribute digital resources to students.

Tabs are another important feature of my ideal learning application.  This is largely because browser tabs give me almost constant access to the information on my iGoogle homepage.  iGoogle integrates well with my To Do list in Remember the Milk, as well as with Google Calendar and Gmail (both of which I’ve also integrated with RTM–I try hard not to forget things).  iGoogle itself is tabbed.  My home tab contains the information that I need to manage my time and tasks throughout the day.  I’ve even found a widget to track my time as I clock in and out of my work on projects.  I also have a Tools tab full of widgets (most of which are redundant with applications on my own computer) that have trouble finding when using a borrowed machine.   With the right widgets, a shared iGoogle tab could be set up to provide course information to students.

I access RSS feeds using Google Reader through the GUtil! add-on in my browser.  I often wish more of my contacts were using Google Reader because I like how easy it is to share blog posts within Google Reader.  I also enjoy organizing blogs by folders and posts by tags and stars.

Obviously, I use a blog to reflect on my learning.  I get to my blog by clicking on the favicon on my Smart Bookmarks toolbar.  While Diigo organizes the things I might find useful someday, the Smart Bookmarks toolbar holds the things I use everyday; Diigo is a closet, while Smart Bookmarks is a pocket.  Shelfari also makes the SB cut.  I use Shelfari to keep track of book recommendations that come my way. Additionally, I use Zotero to manage citations for research.  I absolutely 100% love that Zotero can recognize bibliographical information from a library website or from Amazon and collect it for me with a single click.  I am now, however, slightly annoyed at the professor who required me to pay good money for EndNote for his class three years ago.

I used to use meebo for instant messaging, but got frustrated with reliability in the past month and recently switched to Digsby.  I love the functionality of Digsby, but wish it could be integrated within my browser, perhaps through a sidebar.  I’m also hoping that some of my previous favorite add-ons like coComment to release updates for Firefox 3.0.

Basically, my ideal learning software application is a customizable portal to web-based information and services that allows me to manage time, tasks and information.  I want to be able to integrate as many of the tools that I use as possible into one convenient location.  I need quick access to my RSS feeds and my bookmarked resources.  When I am doing research, I want a citation manager close at hand.  I want to be able to instant message colleagues with minimal interruption to my work flow.  I also want to easily track of the conversations that I am having across the web.  I suppose that in a truly ideal world, this learning application of mine would function on a mobile device and allow me to comfortably read electronic documents.

What would your ideal learning software application look like?


About Kimberly McCollum

I'm a former middle and high school science teacher and current stay at home mom.
This entry was posted in Technology, Tools and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to My ideal learning software application

  1. Jon Mott says:


    This is great! I love the idea of “a customizable portal to web-based information and services that allows me to manage time, tasks and information.”

    I also love your collection of tools. The “missing link,” as it were, seems to be some sort of aggregation tool (the “portal” you refer to) that would pull all of these things together in a single location.

    I look forward to following your continuing thoughts and ideas . . .


  2. Steve Hulme says:

    Kimberly, I love your collection of tools, that’s so well put together. My list is just getting too big to manage, but I like the idea of putting it in a wiki.

  3. inpi says:

    Hi Kim,
    I loved your wiki and your ideal portal. Thank you for some great ideas to customize my firefox.
    As for my ideal learning software application I would follow you in what concerns a well customised browser.
    I would certainly keep some add-ons that seem to be useful to me like Zemanta, Yoono, Technorati, Google note book, Piclens, Cooliris and Twine.
    The most useful must be G.Note Book because I learn better if I’m taking notes at the same time; Zemanta keeps looking for things similar to those I choose, so it became a natural ally; Piclens enables us to see pictures beautified; Cooliris shows us what will be disclosed by clicking in a link even before we click; Technorati was useful during the comment challenge so I keep pinging my posts there; Twine is a semantic social bookmarking tool, in beta version, to which I got an invitation; its purpose is bringing people together on the basis of common interests, in the assumption that these will enable great conversations thus strengthening the ties between users. Finally Yoono, in a tiny side bar, keeps the connection with your e-mail friends, twitter,, Flickr, you tube, and enables you to bookmark, annotate and share your notes on the move. It’s funny, and a device my young students would love if they were allowed to use it.
    Thank you for sharing, Kim. I’ll keep an eye on Co comment to not loose you of sight again.
    i don’t know how to track these comments, so I will tag it “web2.0wednesday”.

  4. @Jon – thanks for reading, I really appreciate your feedback.

    @Steve – Some of the applications on my wiki came from your lists. I tried to combine all of the resources we’ve found for 286 into one list, but fell a little short of my goal. When I get my second wind, I’m going to add an index of content area resources. We also have a bunch of tools that aren’t directly education related. . . I’m not sure what to call them . . . maybe utilities? Eventually, I’ll try to organize them as well.

    @Ines – Thanks for sharing your favorite tools. I hadn’t heard of Zemanta or Yoono before. Maybe I’ll give them a try. How is Twine working for you? I’d love to hear more about it; It sounds really interesting.

  5. Pingback: What it would take to make me say a definitive “I like Flock”? « (No Longer) Alone in a Library

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s