Beef Up Your Training ToolBox with Free Web Tools

By Karl M. Kapp

To keep ideas fresh and learning engaging, training and development professionals need to constantly update, freshen, or create new training materials. Fortunately, there are free Internet tools that can aid in revitalizing supplemental training materials.

What follows is a description of a few of these web tools along with an explanation on how to use them:

Add Some Graphics

Creating new or updating existing training materials can be a daunting and often time-consuming task, especially for someone who is artistically challenged. Here are some easy-to-use tools and new ideas to add color, humor, and pictures to liven up your training.

 —Use word clouds. A word cloud is a great way to introduce terms specific to a topic or domain. They also can be used in icebreakers by asking the audience to make sentences from the words. Available at www.wordle.net, Wordle is a free, easy-to-use Internet tool that creates beautiful word clouds.

Upon logging in to the Wordle website, the user can enter as many as 30 words into a box and press “go.” Almost immediately, a word cloud appears that can be customized by font, color palette, and language by clicking the randomize button. The word cloud can be printed, saved as a PDF, or published to a public gallery.

Other free word cloud generators include

All of the word cloud generators are just a little different, with some requiring a user name and password. Most are easy to use and free. Choosing colors that help the featured picture or logo stand out makes the training artifact more appealing for the audience. But for someone who is colorblind or not artistically inclined, this can be a difficult task. Color Hunter (www.colorhunter.com) can facilitate finding a suitable color.

On the website, one is instructed to browse and upload a photo or logo. Once uploaded, a color palette appears next to the chosen graphic. With the click of a link, the site will also provide an alternate, more subdued color palette. Each color palette includes the color’s hex numbers, which website developers use to specify a specific color.

Many word processing and presentation packages use red, green, blue (RGB) color numbers and not hex numbers. To find the RGB color, simply go to the hex-to-RGB converter website (www.javascripter.net/faq/hextorgb.htm), and plug in the hex numbers. The corresponding RGB numbers will appear immediately. Next, simply plug the RGB numbers into the “more colors” palette in Word or PowerPoint to get the color recommended by Color Hunter.

 —Tell stories with the funnies. Cartoons are a great way to add humor to a training session and can be used to tell a story, put a concept into picture format, or as a focal point for discussion. Often, however, it is difficult to find the perfect cartoon. Web-based cartoon-creating tools, such as ToonDoo (www.toondoo.com), enable trainers to add customized cartoons to their training materials.

The simple-to-use drag-and-drop technology makes it easy for anyone to create a cartoon for a specific training session.

In addition to the wide array of backgrounds, characters, and other resources, the tools allow the user to upload his own images. Once a cartoon is created and published to the online gallery, the cartoon can be opened in a new window and saved as a JPEG format to a personal computer. Although ToonDoo is free, it does require users to create an account and login.

–Paint or modify a picture. For those who are artistically inclined as well as those who are challenged, Sumo Paint (www.sumopaint.com/app) is similar to Adobe Photoshop, except that it is free, online, and requires no login. Sumo Paint allows the user to modify personal photos using filters, to recolor, and more. The tool also includes many brushes and other tools to create beautiful designs and pictures. Like Photoshop, it allows users to work in layers.

Because this web tool has so much functionality, new users may want to view the many tutorials available within the site, experiment with the different brushes, and upload pictures for practice editing before using the tool in production. New or edited images can be downloaded to a personal computer in PNG or JPEG format to insert into a Word or PowerPoint document.

–Capture the (video) moment. Occasionally, trainers may want to use specific graphics, but the file format is not compatible with the software being used to develop the training material. In another situation, trainers may want to use a video on the Internet for something they teach repeatedly, by including the link in a PowerPoint presentation.

The problem is that an Internet connections and specific URLs are not always reliable or available. Zamzar (www.zamzar.com) is a free online file converter that allows the user to choose a file, such as a video file, and a format to which to convert it. Zamzar converts the file and delivers it to users through an email message with a link.

From their email, users can activate the link and download the converted file to their personal computer or thumb drive to use repeatedly, without the uncertainty of Internet access. Zamzar is free and requires no software download or login.

 Get the audience to participate

The more appealing or interactive the training material is, the more attentive the audience will be. Here are two tools and ideas that can help trainers engage their audiences.

–Poll the audience. Found at www.polleverywhere.com, Poll Everywhere uses cell phone technology to poll the audience and get instant graphical results. It is an alternative to e-clickers. Poll Everywhere will accommodate true and false, multiple choice, free text, or vote-for-a-cause polls.

The response shows up almost instantly as a graph depicting the number of responses and percentage of the audience that chose each answer. Poll Everywhere requires an Internet connection, and the audience must have a cell phone with texting capability. Poll Everywhere is free to use for a small class, or pay a small monthly fee for larger training sessions.

 —Create custom games. Although not considered web tools or new technology, PowerPoint games can incite audience participation and are a great alternative when an Internet connection or audience response devices are not available. A variety of popular PowerPoint games can be downloaded from the Internet at jc-schools.net/tutorials/PPT-games. Once the games are downloaded, the trainer simply types the information into the templates.

Since the technology is simply PowerPoint on the resident computer, the games can be easily updated to fit a specific training sessions and utilized without concern of a poor Internet connection or service interruption.

The games are a great way to poll the audience, review what was taught, or draw the audience into an otherwise expected boring training session with trivia questions. PowerPoint games can also be utilized in a team competition setting. The disadvantage of PowerPoint games is that results are limited to a show of hands.

Stay up-to-date on new tools

Trainers can use many Internet tools to enhance materials and make a session more interactive. Moreover, new tools are being developed all the time. How one utilizes the tools will be dependent on how innovative and creative the training developer is. A good way to learn about the tools and gain innovative ideas on using them in training sessions is to network with other trainers through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Diigo, or a professional listserv.

Another way to stay abreast of what is new is to monitor web tools directories, such as GO2WEB20.net or Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies, and personally experiment with the different tools.

About the Author:

Mary E. Green is an adjunct instructor for the Department of Technology Education at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Reprinted from Learning Circuits

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