Whether it’s for online classes or pandemic-induced virtual classrooms, educational software has become a lifesaver for teachers, college professors, and training professionals.
Here, we dig into the different categories of today’s educational software for online learning, and we highlight some digital learning platforms that stand out in a crowded field.
What is educational software?
First, a definition. When we say “educational software” we’re referring to any application or platform that enhances the digital or online learning experience. Such tools can also be referred to as academic software, educator software, or e-learning software. In most cases, this refers to software for online learning which requires an internet connection and a computer of some sort. Some digital learning tools, such as digital flashcards, do not require an internet connection and can often be used on a phone or tablet.
Categories of educational software include:
- Classroom management software: This broad software category may include student information databases, attendance rolls, online bulletin boards, and assignment submission portals.
- Lesson plan software: Teachers use lesson plan software to organize their curricula, find resources like worksheets and quizzes, and plan an entire semester or school year in advance.
- Online meeting software: Online meeting software allows classes to take place remotely, with students and teachers in different locations. Students use their computers and webcams to connect with their teacher and the rest of the class to learn in a similar way that they might in a physical classroom. Teachers can present their lesson through these platforms and students can listen, interact in the chat, or present something themselves with the rest of the class (most also allow private chats among students, which eliminates the risk that the teacher will intercept those passed notes). Online meeting software was crucial to keeping schools functioning during coronavirus-related lockdowns.
- Presentation software: Presentation software helps teachers share multimedia content, both in-person and online.
- Screen recording software: Educators use screen recording software to share information on their own computer screen. This can be useful for sharing content with a classroom of students, or for sharing past lessons with students who may have missed a class. Frequently, this type of software is integrated into other software, like those that facilitate online meetings.
- Instructional software: This type of software can play the role of an instructor as it introduces new concepts and provides immediate follow-up exercises and quizzes. Some of these software applications provide educational games, which can be particularly effective for teaching younger children.
- Language learning software: Language learning software is similar to instructional software, but it specifically focuses on the teaching of a second language.
- Video editing software: Tech-savvy educators may use video editing software, like Descript, to create multimedia content for both in-person and online educational purposes.
What are the benefits of educational software?
Educational software plays a critical role in today’s learning environments. Among the many benefits, educational software offers include:
- Tracking student progress: The high-quality database functionality of some educational software programs makes it easier than ever to keep track of student attendance, assignments, and grades.
- Improved efficiency: When multiple instructors use the same educational software, administrators can affirm that different classrooms of students have been taught the same information in a consistent manner. This can lead to more efficient instruction and more equitable outcomes over time.
- More engaging content: Students learn and retain information in a variety of ways, so the one-size-fits-all approach does not work in online education. Students need to be provided with engaging learning content in a variety of formats, to accommodate auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners alike.
- Essential for remote learning: When classroom learning goes remote, as it did in light of the coronavirus pandemic, educational software was often the difference between substantive learning or nothing at all. Even in non-pandemic scenarios, educators need backup plans when in-person learning is impractical or impossible.
15 common educational software programs
Today’s classroom landscape abounds with educational software programs that were built specifically for or have proved highly useful in online learning. Here are some of the most effective options.
- Moodle: Moodle stands out as a free, open-source LMS (learning management system), which educators can use to build their own learning platforms. As a building template, it is platform-agnostic, which means educators can use it on MacOS, Windows, Unix, and Linux, among other systems. In addition to K-12 curricula, Moodle often serves as the building block for digital corporate training platforms.
- Articulate Storyline 360: A popular authoring tool, Articulate Storyline 360 makes it easy to create interactive online courses and publish them to any devices students use—mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and so on. Its sister product Articulate Rise 360 specializes in mobile content, which is valuable for students who may not have consistent laptop access.
- Descript: Descript enables multimedia learning through its platform’s comprehensive audio/video editing capabilities. This helps educators reach students through video lessons—a critical part of today’s learning environment. Educators can record a lesson, upload it to Descript, and using an automatic transcript, edit the lesson just as they would edit text. Descript also allows teachers to integrate multimedia content into existing lesson plans.
- iSpring: The iSpring authoring tool specializes in converting PowerPoint presentations to eLearning courses that seamlessly integrate with learning management software. This comes in handy when you want to avoid creating course material from scratch. Note that iSpring is currently a Windows-only platform, although it can run on Mac computers that boot up with Windows.
- Google Classroom: Google Classroom is the educational equivalent of Google Workspace and features apps like Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Slides, and Google Sheets. It also integrates with YouTube (another Google product) for video content. This allows teachers to create “one-stop shopping” for all online interactions with students.
- Canvas: Canvas bills itself as an LMS (learning management system) where educators can create courses, write up tests, and grade assignments. It powers multiple states’ digital learning platforms. Specifically, it served as the digital backbone for remote learning in 13 U.S. states during the nationwide coronavirus pandemic. This makes Canvas a popular option for broad-scale LMS.
- Blackboard Learn: Blackboard Learn is both a learning management system (LMS) and assessment software. It competes in a marketplace with Google Classroom, Canvas, and Schoology, among others. It primarily serves in two capacities: adding online supplements to courses that are mostly taught in person, and serving as the hub of classes taught entirely online.
- Schoology: Another LMS in the league of Google Classroom, Blackboard Learn, and Canvas, Schoology models its layout off of a social media site. It also incorporates tools offered by several of its competitors, which means that Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Khan Academy can all be part of a Schoology class plan.
- Proprofs: Proprofs is used by both schools and workplaces to implement wide-scale online courses, featuring a mixture of video and interactive assignments. It can track course participation, course completion rates, student engagement levels, and knowledge gaps. These functions apply to both academic classes and online workforce training.
- Education.com: Education.com is a service that provides lesson plans, worksheets, games, activities, and in-class exercises to working K–8 teachers.
- Khan Academy: Built up over many years by founder Sal Khan, the Khan Academy is a comprehensive library of short lessons in the form of videos. Students can take an entire course on Khan Academy, or they can use its videos to supplement material taught in the classroom. This material is free, as Khan Academy is a nonprofit institution.
- ClassDojo: ClassDojo software focuses on integrating parents into the classroom experience. While many LMS platforms focus on student-teacher communication, ClassDojo lets teachers create portfolios that give parents a summary of their child’s performance. While some high schools use ClassDojo, it is most commonly used in K–8 schooling.
- Gradelink: Gradelink is another competitor in the “one-stop shopping” space. Within the Gradelink platform, teachers, students, and parents can access schedules, assignments, grades, administrative reports, discipline records, medical records, IT support, tuition and billing, and communication portals. It can also integrate competing products like Google Classroom and Schoology.
- Wisenet: Wisenet is student information software that can track attendance records, grades, special learning needs, and other parts of a student’s transcript. It offers services that track students from the pre-application phase all the way through graduation, keeping records in one central location.
- Zoom: Zoom is one of many applications used to host large-scale video conferences. Along with similarly equipped competitors like Google Meet and Skype, it allows real-time video meetings, breakout rooms, screen sharing, and app-based chat. Video meeting spaces like Zoom have become critical hubs for remote work and remote classroom learning.
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