Learning using a wide range of technological tools has paved the way for an affordable way of getting educated, which used to be a privilege for only those who can afford. Today, with more and more gadgets, software applications and other advancements in technology, anyone can learn almost any available subject on their own. This article will guide you through some of the most popular technologies available for modern learning.
The Internet: Online Courses, Webinars, Applications & Self-Learning
The Internet has been available to the public since the 1980s. 20 years has passed and various tools are developed every day to make information available to everyone. Learning through the Internet may seem like an unreliable option compared to traditional textbook and face-to-face courses, but for those who cannot afford to go to school, or pay for increasing tuition fees, the Internet provides a very good alternative for never-ending learning.
- Online Courses – Similar to a traditional course at school, online courses come in various subjects, specializations and levels. The best thing about completing online courses is that you can choose to take one course at a time. For instance, if you’re taking up a course in digital photography, the first course teaches you the basics of photography, from operating the camera, to understanding light and shadows. Once you have the time and money to go to level 2, then you can pay for another course and learn more complicated photography techniques. Most online courses provide certification after completion, but make sure that the website or school offering these courses are accredited. Microsoft.com has a special “Learning” corner with over 1,000 courses. Example free online courses can be found at Docmail, mit.edu.
- Webinars – Derived from the words “web” and “seminar,” webinars are all the rage these days because it provides an easy way to gain valuable information from industry experts, teachers, authors and all types of people who want to share what they know to the rest of the world. Since webinars are held online, in a specified time, you can attend it in the comfort of your home or office. Most webinars are free with just a registration required, while some come with a small fee. If you prefer self-learning, webinars are for you because they do not require a final exam. Some webinars encourage debate, discussions or questions by typing your comments, while others involve only a lot of reading from the instructor. Either way, webinars are cheap and serve a good alternative to spending for accommodation and travel expenses just to attend out-of-town conferences. Great webinars and free learning resources at eLearning Portal
- Computer Programs – Depending on the type of subject you want to learn, the availability of online-based programs developed for learning has doubled through the years. For example, L-lingo.com specializes in teaching Asian language (such as Japanese, Arabic, Tagalog, Burmese, Korean, Malay, Thai, Vietnamese) directly on your web browser free of charge. It teaches the basics, such as buying, asking for directions, and simple conversations. If you are satisfied with your progress and wish to learn more, you need to pay a fee. Most web-based applications for learning are designed this way.
- Self-learning – The internet offers a plethora of information regarding any subject under the sun. Whether you are trying to learn how to speak Chinese, or developing a new skill in computer programming, one quick web search and you’ll be faced with hundreds of websites offering information without charge. The best thing about self-learning is you finish an activity or lesson at your own pace. Technology encourages independent inquiry, but it does have its drawbacks, such as a person teaching wrong techniques, or information overload (too much information). Self-learning also requires a lot of time and patience.
Gadgets: Audio books, eBooks, Portable Media Players, and PC-based Gadgets
Gadgets are developed not only for fun and games, but also for learning. The same iPod touch you use for playing music anywhere can also be used to learn a wide array of subjects. The same computer you use for work can help you learn to play guitar, master speed typing, and develop various skills with the use of a specialized gadget or just your keyboard and mouse.
- Audio Books – Audio books are computer-generated or human-read recordings of book contents on CDs and other digital formats such as MP3 or WMA. Audio books are mostly used by people with sight problems and other disabilities, children and people on the go who don’t have time to sit back, relax and read a traditional book page by page. Volunteers or paid voice-over talents read the human-read audio book versions, so the books would have a personalized touch and a more dramatized reading style. However, the computer-generated books feature voices similar to automated systems on customer support hotlines and those systems used by blind people.
Novels, fictional books, educational books and other types of books are available in audio book versions. These audio books can be listened to using a computer or advanced portable music players like the Apple iPod. These audio books are available for rent or purchased via download or CDs. Nowadays, hundreds of specialized websites, such as audiobooks.org, provide an extensive library of digital audio books. The main advantage of using audio books to learn a particular subject is that they are designed for multi-taskers, allowing people to perform other tasks, such as driving, working or exercising as they learn.
- eBooks and eBook Readers – An eBook (e-book, electronic book or digital book) is an image and text-based book in digital form, which are readable on computers and digital devices such as media players and specialized eBook readers. Many people believe that “print books are dying fast.” This is because eBooks offer several advantages over traditional books, such as lower prices (due to low production and distribution costs) and the ability to read literary anytime and anywhere. If you use eBooks on a computer or any WiFi-enabled device, you can download digital books when you please. You will also be able to save time while learning, since you can do a quick search online if you need help understanding a word, or prefer to read more information about a topic you read on the eBook.
Aside from reading eBooks on your computer, they are made available to any tablets and smartphones with eBook reader apps available for Apple’s iPad and iPod Touch, Android devices, and Blackberry devices. There are also gadgets designed for reading eBooks alone, such as the Barnes & Noble Nook, Amazon Kindle, the iPad and Sony’s PRS series, among others. As of 2011, the Kindle 3G and its WiFi version is leading the pack of eBook readers due to its extensive 750,000 eBook library. Amazon’s Kindle also offers the WiFi without charge. If you want the eBook reader to do more, the Kindle is not for you. The next best alternative is Apple’s iPad (WiFi or 3G versions), which also features built-in dictionaries, highlighting tools, and other features perfect for those who wish to use eBooks in learning.
- Portable Media Players and Advanced Smartphones – Portable media players and advanced phones are great for learning because they allow you to learn while mobile. You can be anywhere in the world and still be able to catch up on your Spanish-learning lessons, or other courses you are currently completing. With more and more educational applications being developed for media players and phones, people are beginning to use these gadgets as a phone-computer-eBook-reader-in-one. In Apple’s iPod Touch and iPhone alone, hundreds of apps out of 100,000 applications are available to help you with your learning. Apple Apps like the Evernote (for note taking,) language assistance applications (such as iLingQ, SpanishPod, ChinesePod and so on), mobile Skype (which you can use in calling tutors from anywhere in the world) are very useful to students.
- Computer-based Gadgets for Learning – Numerous computer add-on devices are being designed to help learning more enjoyable and realistic, even if you’re studying on the comfort of your own home. For instance, kids who wish to learn how to play the piano can take advantage of USB pianos, which works similarly like a real piano, but are plugged into the computer while you are taught using a CD or downloaded piano lesson. There are also gadgets available for those who wish to play the guitar (such as the Fretlight Guitar, $1000), which is connected to the PC via USB and offers an interactive guitar learning system, regardless of whatever level of guitar player you are. These computer-based gadgets are useful for lessons that require an instrument, drawing board, and other devices needed in hands-on learning.
Technological advancements allow people to learn information from industry experts, develop a skill, master various subjects and techniques, learn a new language, and get education in the comfort of their homes or anywhere in the world. The Internet, webinars, audio books and eBooks, computer programs, applications for the PC, phones and media players, and a wide range of gadgets are designed to make learning a cost-effective, time efficient, and flexible to people of all ages. If you haven’t taken advantage of these gadgets and learning tools, it’s never too late. Check them out and give your education a kick to the next level.