I get a lot of questions from blog readers who are on a limited budget. They want to know about free tools that they can use to build their elearning courses. In this economy, the question probably means more than it did a couple of years ago.
I’m a junky for all of the free stuff online. If there’s a beta program or new software application, I’m quick to sign up and play around with it. However, just because an application is free or can do something cool doesn’t mean that it’s really practical. There are many free applications or services that I only end up using a few times. For one reason or another they just don’t work for me. So I don’t want to present a list of tools that might not offer any real value to you.
In today’s post, I’ll share with your some of the free tools that I use regularly to help me be more productive. And if I’m more productive, I’m saving time and money.
Pixie is a simple color picker. It gives me the hexadecimal or RGB color codes. I use it all the time to pull colors from images when I work in PowerPoint. All you do is open it and then you can pick a color from any part of your computer screen.
2. Color Schemer
Color Schemer helps you create color schemes. You start with one color and then by combining a mathematical formula and the input of a panel of shamans, you end up with a complementary color scheme. For me it kind of goes hand-in-hand with Pixie. Usually what I do is use Pixie to pick a color from an image (or logo) and then go to the color scheme site to create a color scheme to go with it.
You can also download the software, but that isn’t free.
I also like to use other sites such as Kuler and Color Scheme Designer. Once I have a color scheme, I can use that throughout my course. Personally, I find this works well for me since I have slight color distinction problems, which many men have.
Paint.net has really developed into a nice application. I wasn’t as fond of it initially, but I find that I use it quite a bit now. The price is great (free) and it does most of what you expect from a graphics editor.
I find that a lot of people buy a more costly graphics editor and then only use it for basic tasks. So unless you really need to use the power of an application like Photoshop, you might find that you can get away with something like Paint.net. So why spend all of that extra money? Especially when you can spend it on a good craft beer. That’s my motto. Besides, if you do need more power, there’s always Gimp (another free application).
Here’s a link to some tutorials to help you get started.
4. Photo Resizer
Photo Resizer is kind of an interesting tool. It’s almost magical. I tend to do a lot of image resizing, especially for the blog. This tool is perfect for quick resizing of images. All I do is drag the image (or folder of images) I want resized onto the icon. Then they get resized to whatever the number is on the application title. If you want a new size, just change the number. How easy is that?
Audacity is an open source audio editor. I’ve been using it for a few years now and have never had any problems with it. It’s easy enough for the basic stuff (which is mostly what I do) and sophisticated enough if you need more.
I usually record my audio directly in the rapid elearning tools. However, if I have a larger project, then I like to break my production up into chunks and keep my audio separate.
There are also times I like to layer my narration with ambient sound or different effects. That’s easy to do with Audacity. When I’m done I just import it into my rapid elearning course.
Click here for Audacity tutorials.
Movie maker comes with your Windows PC so most likely you already have it on your computer. It’s an easy-to-use video editor. I do most of my basic editing with it because it’s on my PC and does most of what I need for my online courses. There are other free applications, and of course if you use a Mac, you have your own video editor.
In either case, it’s easy to shoot video with a simple digital camera and edit it without a lot of expense.
Click here to view some Movie Maker tutorials.
7. Format Factory
Format Factory lets you convert media from one format to another. I don’t use it as much as I used to now that Articulate’s Studio ‘09 provides a video encoder. However for those who need to convert media from one format to another, it’s a handy tool. For rapid elearning converting to the SWF and FLV Flash formats are important and Format Factory supports this. I mainly use it to convert FLV to other media for easy editing since I can’t find an easy FLV editor.
On a side note, if you are looking for an FLV editor, you might try the RichFLV editor. I’ve used it with mixed results, but I am sure that it will improve with time and I applaud all of the work Benjamin Doppler puts into the application. I’m hoping to add it to my list soon.
The next two tools don’t really do anything other than let you play media file. However, I find that since I do use Flash media files quite a bit, the following two applications sure come in handy and make my work that much easier.
8. SWF Player
SWF Player lets you view Flash SWF files. Simple as that. Click on the SWF file and SWF Player lets you see what it is and view the file’s properties. This is a very handy tool and makes viewing the SWF files on your PC a breeze.
9. FLV Player
What the SWF Player did for SWF viewing, the FLV Player does for viewing Flash videos in FLV format. It’s another simple tool, but one that works well. It’s one of those tools that you don’t notice until you don’t have it. If you happen to be using the Articulate Video Encoder ‘09, then this is a redundant tool. But for everyone else, it’s another good one to have.
So there you have it. Nine tools that I regularly use. They help me be more productive when I build my rapid elearning courses. I do want to add that these aren’t necessarily the best of the tools or the only ones available. They just happen to be the ones I use and am comfortable working with. I’m sure that you have some that you could add to the list.
Which free tools help you be more productive? Feel free to share them by clicking on the comments link.