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Jan 2006

Google Tools to Make Learning Work | Free tools

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Shaping the future of learning

As Google continues to develop tools and applications, we see increasing opportunities for their application to learning. Whether it’s looking for answers to specific problems, integrating tools into low cost blends or simply informal learning by browsing, there are some great tools out there from Google.

We’ve reviewed five Google tools you shouldn’t miss out on if you want to tap into great resources for a whole range of learning solutions.

1. Google desktop – for personal knowledge management

Start at home with Google desktop

If your PC is your main working tool it probably houses thousands of resources you amass over the years, whether these are websites, documents, e-mails, presentations etc. Above all, Google desktop is search tool which reaches into your own rich resource base. If you are a compulsive information horder but forget what you’ve obtained and where you put it, and rarely tap into it, the search tool gets you there quickly.

But there is so much more. Load the side bar and you have a mini knowledge management centre running on your desk top. Scan e-mails as they come in – choose whether to action or ignore. Using Desktop as a just in time productivity tool, you can load key messages in the photos section; chase down your to do’s; write reminder notes; and access recent documents. The key aspect is instant access to information in multiple formats and from multiple sources.

The opportunity for learning?

If you prime your PC with learning content, formal and informal, or embed links to relevant learning content – e.g. Powerpoint decks, bite size e-learning, Moodle links, task sheets, workflow maps, Google Desktop gives you a powerful just in time informal and formal learning channel – straight to the point of need. And that’s right in front of your eyes!


2. Google books – for access to digital library resources

Avoid the trip to the bookshop or library

With so much of the global knowledge base still in print format, we can sometimes forget about the wealth of resources books offer us. And yet books are still an obvious place to turn to for important and reliable research.

Google Book search keeps you in touch with these resources – but of course remains firmly in the digital domain. Books is a progressive project to digitize and offer facsimiles of books. It’s a free and growing resource, though dependent on the relationship with publishers, so it is by no means a universal resource.

The opportunity for learning?

Use Books as your own personal reference library. For casual browsers or those looking for key references, Books is a powerful and easy tool to use. For example look up Kotter on change and you get direct access to his book.

Google Books - Kotter

The snag? Google limits the number of pages you can view from one specific search. But being Google there’s always a lateral solution. It automatically produces search results on the rest of the book so you can carry on scanning short sequences of pages. Books is an ideal just in time reference tool, particularly for people in management and leadership roles or in HR.

3. Google Video – for access to free video learning

No video nasties

Forget the VCR and training room. Video is now a searchable free resource straight to your desk top. Video has long had a part to play in training since the introduction of the VCR. The appeal has been the ability to capture human behaviour in sound and pictures and use that for training either in correct behaviour modeling or wrong behaviour critiques. As such, video has been a key component in blends particularly for soft skills training.

Video on the web is nothing new. But with bandwidth more readily available, it’s becoming mainstream. Google Video offers a new dimension – and that’s the searchability of the resource. It’s early days for Google video, but already you can easily find video based training on coaching skills and Microsoft packages. Check out this on coaching:

Well known e-learning commentator Jay Cross has started an open source ‘blogumentory’ site – i.e. video documentaries about blogging.

Check the out the project

In effect, this is a live learning project on the power of blogging, delivered by video. How ‘cross’-referential is that!

Always smart in search terms, Google Video also offers you a whole set of related assets, so you can pick up supporting content.

The opportunity for learning?

With Google Video you have an instantly accessible resource of content for creating blended learning. Take our coaching skills example. Get learners to watch the video and then prepare their own coaching tactics guide which they can share with others or just keep for themselves via their blog or personal journal. Have them complete a series of coaching sessions with their teams or bosses and then skype them in for a facilitated feedback session. After that, get them to contribute to a best practice wiki and tell their coaching stories as an ongoing project.

4. Google answers – for paid research support

If you struggle for time or need support in specific areas, Google answers provides a pay as you go research service. A group of over 500 accredited Google researchers are at hand for a fee as low as $2.50 to take your question and find the most appropriate and relevant answer.

The great possibility here is tapping into a cost effective resource to solve problems. Think of it as cheap coaching or mentoring, but with extended access with two key dimensions. The vastness of Google’s search resources and the intelligence of human problem analysis.

The opportunity for learning?

This is a simple one. Tap into a vast knowledge network and get the most out of others’ research skills to support your learning needs. It extends the reach and possibilities of ‘ask your neighbour’ style informal learning while still keeping the social dimensions of learning support. It’s a tailored (paid) peer to peer support network of the greatest magnitude which doesn’t reside in single knowledge domains such as a software package or a professional skills, but spans every area you could possibly think of. And what better way to share your knowledge?

5. Google pack  - a complete learning productivity suite of software for learning professionals and learners

If we could assemble a simple toolkit to create blended learning, what would be in it? In Google pack, you get a great collection of tools fit for free or low cost e-learning, many of which can be used to assemble low cost learning blends.

The opportunity for learning?

Lots of packages come in Google Pack. Some of the best:
Google desktop – great for personal knowledge management, tapping into the key knowledge assets on your computer, as describe above.

Google talk – run chat and video conversations similar to Skype. Great for low cost coaching sessions, feedback and support.

Picasa – organize and manage your visual content and reuse it for learning; it’s organized by year and can easily be mailed or sent to a Blog

Screensaver – run learning reinforcement messages through your screen saver

What's next?

To peek into Google's future (which, let's face it, is your future) have a look at what's brewing in Google Labs. Explore emerging tools such as Google compute, which will allow you to donate your computer's idle time to solving complex scientific problems . So next time it upsets you, don't give it the night off, put it to work for your future benefit. Why should you do all the learning? You need to rest before you start searching your own DNA on google. It won't be long...



Shaping the future of learning

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