My Top 10 Learning Tools

In a recent post on his Half An Hour blog (which he declares to be “A place to write, half an hour, every day, just for me.”), Stephen Downes struck a chord with me, for what he writes and how he writes it. I’m referring to My Top Personal Learning Tools 2020, where he starts with Jane Hart’s annual call for the top e-learning tools, and he builds and publishes his own. The interesting stuff comes here: he explains why he uses such tools in a way that I felt connected with mine. In fact, his choices are (not so surprisingly, given the subject we’re talking about) practically identical to mine. Here, I just report my own and add a couple of bits of comment here and there.

  1. Firefox – The Web browser is likely my most-used tool, period. Firefox is one of the most efficient browsers and Google already knows a lot about my email, searches and docs that I don’t feel like providing them also with my browsing activity. Firefox is great, and so are its tools and add-ons. I have always on, plus OneTab, a little marvel at keeping tabs on one page (which can be made public).
  2. Feedly – Probably the best RSS reader around. I use Feedly every day, from either my computer or iPhone. I love that it can show a magazine-like interface, which is quite pleasant. Have to say that Laura Gibbs has made a wonderful case for the Inoreader RSS reader and its usage to syndicate students’ publications, and I am scheduled to try it out. Check her wonderful work with a complete tutorial on blogging and syndicating without Feed WordPress. But for the time being I stick with Feedly, and its tiny monthly fee. A post apart will be on that: to pay or not to pay?
  3. Instapaper (Stephen prefers Pocket)- True, Instapaper is not associated and integrated with Firefox, like Pocket, but it’s lean and minimal and perfectly effctive ti stacking my read-it-later pages. I use it across many devices, almost daily. Problem is, I am not quite the disciplined guy to routinely check the Instapaper stack and decide what to do with the saved pages. But, at least, my algorithm is simple: IF the page is interesting/useful THEN it gets saved permanently in my Diigo bookmarks (see item #8); ELSE, it’s thrown away.
  4. Email – Also at number 4, email is a top application for everything, including courses, student communication etc.. I open email every day and most of times I am overwhelmed by the number of messages, so I start frantically to reply to the top-priority ones. When I get to the newsletters (which I love, BTW) I’m often left without energy to open them. Tomorrow, I say to myself. Anyhow, Newsletter reading and subscribing is one tool I’d love to see enhanced for the Web. Unless it already has.
  5. Reclaim Hosting – I agree with Stephen here. A virtual server is a technology I use daily: Reclaim hosts this site and my courses (inf115,, cineitalia, etc.) and lots of stuff, including a NextCloud instance which should soon supplant (or complement) my Dropbox. I do appreciate Reclaim’s support! In this same spot, allow me to place WordPress, which I use daily, for my sites, courses and almost everything!
  6. Presentation tools: (Downes chooses PowerPoint as his first choice – “I always find myself returning to PowerPoint because it’s an exceptional authoring environment”) – I definitely use Apple Keynote, another “exceptional authoring environment”, plus Google Slides and SlideShare. However, I love Alan Levine’s 100% pure Web slides (like the SPLOTpoint Theme — check this presentation he did for PressEDConf19) and I’m exploring Markdown Web-based tools, like and similia, including the flat-db CMS named Grav and its presentation add-on.
  7. I should put Search here, not only the plain ol’ Google Search, but also, Creative-Commons Search, Internet Archive, Twitter Search, and yes, I love to search for special places on maps, like the Diomedes isles between Russia and the US, in the middle of the Bering Strait (there’s a school, I learned).
  8. – Social Bookmarking still plays an important role in my reading and storing liturgy. Diigo is a very good tool, albeit somehow inflated with not-so-important stuff (to me). Anyhow, see item 3: When I finally decide I want to store a record fort a certain website, I pull it from Instapaper and put it into the diigo archives, comfortably appending the tags that are useful to me: for instance, this is the public New Media collection, which I can share with students, under the inf115 tag.
  9. Twitter – The microblogging tool I have been using for a huge number of years now. Not so much today, I have to say. Still, I consult it use it every day (together with Feedly it adds to my daily reading material, and beautifully). I tweet mostly within my courses, to share with students, or to say the odd ill-formed thing. Now, I am also checking out the federated microcontent platforms like Mastodon and the ideas behind the Indie Web. I am @avunque on Twitter.
  10. This semester, and the last, I am compelled to include Zoom, same spot Downes places it. And more or less for the same obvious reasons. No, online education is not Zoom, but it can happily contain some happy Zooming.
  11. Eleven?? Unfair. So, where do I file Evernote and Apple Notes, together with Firefox Notes and Gmail Keep? Truth is, I use especially the first two plus Keep constantly, at the expense of a serious synch (and mental) deficit, since I prep everything with some Notes app: classes, emails, posts.

I should add Flickr, to this list, but unfortunately, even though I resumed paying for the Pro edition, I’m not using it much, for glorious that it is. There is more, of course, but given this list is self-limited to ten items, I won’t indulge.

[Featured image: “Master List of Websites” by anselm23 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

[Map image: Embedded from Google Maps, the Diomedes islands.]

About Antonio Vantaggiato

Professor, web2.0 enthusiast, and didactic chef.
This entry was posted in list, tools and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *