Low threshold applications (LTAs) have been around for ages, but some learning designers have yet to leverage these gems to their fullest potential. LTAs range from social platforms to media creation tools, site development, games, and learning objects. The beauty of LTAs is that they are readily accessible in the cloud or easy to download, free or cheap, and simple to use. Because most are cloud-based, they can be used alone or integrated easily with other learning platforms or applications. This article looks at five categories of LTAs and how you can use them to personalize the learning experience.
What Are LTAs?
LTAs emerged from the Web 2.0 revolution shortly after the turn of the century. Web 2.0 refers to the shift from static web pages to a more interactive web characterized by dynamic and user-generated content. LTAs quickly gained popularity in educational settings. Teachers and instructors at all levels adopted them because LTAs allowed them to integrate technology into their teaching practices with minimal effort and little or no cost. Educators are often challenged by the demands on their time and budgets, so LTAs made it simple to adopt technology that was easy to learn, cheap, and effective.
As blended learning, mobile learning, and microlearning gain popularity outside education, LTAs are experiencing a renaissance. While any variety of LTAs can be used to enhance instruction, one of the most valuable uses is in personalizing the learning environment. Blended, asynchronous, and self-paced learning are particularly prone to having a sterile and impersonal feel. Using LTAs, designers and facilitators can create learning assets that help personalize such environments. Creating a sense of personalization or presence in a learning environment can help support learner engagement.
Screencasting tools let you capture your desktop activity either live or as a video for later playback. Some popular, but expensive, tools include TechSmith® Camtasia™ and Adobe® Captivate®. Both of these tools have evolved into full-fledged eLearning programs. Sometimes, however, you just need to grab what is on your screen to help your learners understand what to expect.
Several great options exist, such as Screencast-O-Matic™, TechSmith Jing®, and Screencastify, a Chrome extension. Jing is free, while the other two tools have both free and subscription options. The tools require a small download to your device, and then you can start recording almost instantly. The free versions vary in recording length and sharing options. Recording is as simple as selecting a screen area and pressing record.
Screencasting is a great way to create a quick screen capture, tutorial, or demonstration to add to your instruction. You can link the videos from a blog or website, or add them to an elearning module. Screencasts are useful for providing quick answers to learners. In an instructor-facilitated setting, you can use screencasts to provide short lectures or even feedback on assignments.
These tools also work well as options for learner activities. Rather than taking a quiz or writing a paper, learners can capture a video to demonstrate competency with the instructional materials. This provides an interesting and engaging option for learners. The tools are easy to use, so the additional cognitive demand on learners is minimal.
Creating a sense of presence online can help learners better engage with the content. One way to establish a presence is to use avatars. Whether you use an avatar to represent yourself in a facilitated course, or create avatar characters for use in your learning content, tools like Voki™, DoppelMe™, and Avatar Maker™ can help. Some tools offer realistic avatars while others are more character-like. Some tools even allow you to add voice and action, although such features usually come with a paid version of the tool.
You can liven up scenarios or storylines in your elearning with avatar characters. For instructional content aimed at younger learners, consider using animals or cartoon characters (remembering to comply with copyright terms, of course!). In an online classroom, both instructors and learners can create and use an avatar to represent themselves as well. Some learning systems even come with a selection of avatars to use. Using avatars in place of actual photographs can help preserve privacy online while adding a personal touch.
Why use an online presentation tool rather than the presentation tool that comes with your office suite? Although office suites are increasingly cloud-based and shareable, a tool like Prezi™ or emaze™ makes it easy to create and share presentations across devices and platforms. You can create presentations, add effects, and share them quickly and easily.
Similar to screencasting, presentation tools can be used by both instructors and learners. Dynamic presentations let you share your expertise with anyone with the link to your presentation. You can add your personal touch or perspective to a learning topic and invite learners to do the same. Online presentation tools are particularly effective with younger learners, and appropriate for use in schools or non-profit settings where resources are at a premium. They deliver the quality of a commercial presentation tool at little to no cost.
Video and Audio Capture
Video and audio capture are possible with screencasting tools, but sometimes you don’t need all the bells and whistles that go with screen captures. Maybe you just need to create a little video or record an audio clip. Maybe you want to produce a podcast — a digital audio file that learners can listen to online or download to a personal audio device. Whatever your purpose, tools like Animoto™ for video or Vocaroo™ for audio, allow for online capture. A quick search of the internet will also lead you to various browser plug-ins and extensions, and tools that work with your webcam, to capture media and allow you to share it.
Why use an online tool for video and audio creation? Unlike many tools that come with your computer or mobile device, online services allow you to share a media link instantly over a social network or by email or text. You don’t have to wait for an upload and you’re not taking up disk space to store a media file you might not reuse. Use an online tool to create dynamic introductions or overviews to an instructional unit, to quickly add media to an email, to explain a problem, or to answer a question. An online video or audio tool is perfect for when you want to create and share media quickly, and you don’t care about long-term storage.
Wikis and blogs are familiar collaborative spaces. Savvy instructional designers, trainers, and educators use them to deliver lessons, establish their professional presence, and engage their audience. Numerous free blog and wiki platforms exist on the Web. Some popular sites include Blogger™, WordPress™, and Wikidot™. They are easy to establish, and some even offer features such as monetization.
So what’s the difference? A blog is typically hosted by a single person or group that generates content and mediates any comments or discussion. A wiki is more like a website consisting of a collection of pages, usually on the same topic. Wikis are often open to editing by multiple contributors. You can use a blog to share your expertise or perspective on a topic, with the option to allow comments. Wikis can be opened up for group projects. They work very well for building collections of resources. Either blogs or wikis can be use to extend the learning space or to facilitate group projects and team assignments. Furthermore, learners can establish their own blogs or wikis to share.
If you are adventurous, you might try searching the web for media-infused options that make it easy to add images or sound. Timeline creators serve this purpose well. Sutori™ and myHistro™ are just two examples that offer free and subscription options. These tools allow for individuals or groups to create interactive and engaging stories that they can share.
Exploring the Options
LTAs are wonderful options for adding easy, low cost personalization to your instructional materials. Anyone can use them, including instructors or learners. Most LTAs are hosted in the cloud and have a low learning curve (hence, low-threshold). They are super helpful in asynchronous settings where the personal touch is often lacking. LTAs are not limited to the categories discussed here, nor does this article address all the available tools, so explore the web and find the tools that will work best for you and your learning environment. The best part about LTAs is that you have little risk involved so you can experiment all you want. Enjoy!