Essential Tools For Learning Professionals: Insights From Jane Hart’s Annual Survey


To understand how far the internet has shaped learning you need to look no further than Jane Hart’s top tools for learning. For 13 years Jane has conducted an annual survey of learning professionals to identify their top tools for learning. As Jane comments, the survey is a valuable longitudinal study “not just into the popularity of tools for learning but into learning behaviour itself”.

Modern Learning: Now in Four Flavours

From reviewing Jane’s annual surveys we can see that internet tools have developed to support learning in four broad areas, namely:

  • Seeking knowledge 
  • Staying updated
  • Communication and sharing
  • Content creation 

Below we look at each category and the popular tools as reported by Jane’s survey.

Seeking Knowledge on Demand

The top knowledge tools on Jane’s list are Google and YouTube (numbers two and three on the top 100 list) and Wikipedia (number 11 on the list). The instant access to information has made it easier for anyone to become knowledgeable about a topic, although it does require skills in navigating and assessing the quality and reliability of the content.  YouTube is the second most used search engine after Google and people regularly use YouTube videos as a form of ‘just in time’ learning support. Videos enable users to actually complete tasks rather than just access information and represents a shift from just in case training to just in time training. For example, how to reset the timer on your boiler (admit it, you have forgotten) or how to make a chocolate mousse cake (one such video has been watched over 30 million times. That’s a lot more mousse in the world – though it is possible some viewers maybe didn’t make one). 

It is clear that people look beyond what we might consider learning content libraries or formal learning content for a lot of their knowledge. The internet enables people to explore and to search a diverse range of content sources. One of the challenges for learners is deciding on the best search engines for their purpose and evaluating the validity of content.

Staying Up to Speed 

In addition to knowledge tools the internet has seen the development of a specific group of tools that keep people updated on changes in their industry or sector.  As we know technologies, products, and legislation changes constantly. Some companies exploit these changes successfully and others fail to keep pace, the result is that markets continue to change as some companies die while others grow or new companies demerge. Customer requirements and expectations also change. Staying updated is a key task for knowledge based workers and it is not surprise that tools for staying updated are rated very highly in Jane’s personal top ten tools list. Such tools include Twitter, Feedly and Anders Pink. For example Jane uses Tweetdeck to manage information from Twitter such as mentions, hashtags and ideas about workplace learning. Jane also uses Feedly for aggregating news feeds and Anders Pink which Jane describes as a smart curation platform. Using Anders Pink Jane has a briefing set up for “Lifelong Learning” where the latest content goes straight into Slack each day. I have created a similar lifelong learning briefing here, so you can be instantly updated about any new articles published on lifelong learning. Many people also use LinkedIn (number 15 on Jane’s list) to keep an eye on industry news from peers and experts.

Communication and Sharing 

The third group of internet tools is all about communication. These tools support learning through discussion, collaboration and social interaction such as sharing. The top tools in this category include Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype, WhatsApp  and Zoom. These tools can be used in a wide variety of ways for learning including online workshops, one to one discussions and the sharing of content and information. Knowledge sharing has always been important but with the internet sharing has become increasingly powerful. Content and information shared by industry peers is now a key part of learning and is linked to the development of personal learning networks. These communication tools go beyond say sharing articles publicly on Twitter. They allow sharing with specific groups on platforms such as Slack and are designed to allow group discussions . They also support synchronous discussions or workshops which can take the form of text, audio or video.

Creating Something Useful 

The final category is content creation tools that learning professionals use to create learning content. The big ones include the Google Docs suite and Microsoft Office tools such as Word, Powerpoint and Excel. Content creation tools also include web publishing tools such as WordPress and specific elearning content creation tools such as Articulate and Camtasia. Content creation has got much easier allowing many subject matter experts to create content such as videos, blog posts and slides. This boom in content creation has fuelled the mass development of niche content which can be accessed via search engines such as Google and YouTube. Thus you can find videos on everything from ‘how to draw Manga eyes’ to ‘how to manage Brexit anxiety’.

Over thirteen years Jane’s annual survey reveals how internet tools have been developed to support learning and how for categories of tools have emerged namely knowledge, updates, communication and content creation. Which tools are your go to favourites in each of these four categories?


Photo Credit: Kon Karampelas on Unsplash