Best Free Learning, Research and Writing Tools

I’ve read somewhere that life is a continuous learning and adaptation process. The moment that we stop learning and adapting is the start of our gradual slide to insignificance. At this stage, I suddenly found an urge to learn something new, and the first thing that came to my mind was to study law in one of the reputable universities here in Iloilo.

Things changed when I came across Coursera. It is an online education platform that brings together top-notch universities and schools throughout the world and connects them to students worldwide. Some universities include Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University, the Technical University of Munich, and the University of Melbourne.

Coursera offers courses that cater to almost all areas of interest. These courses are online with complete videos, assignments, quizzes, and exams. After the course, which lasts for a few weeks to several months, they award a statement of completion.

KhanAcademy.OrgedX.OrgAcademicEarth.Org, and Iversity.Org also offer more or less the same services. Unlike the other sites, Alison offers certification in some courses. For those who want to be programmers, head on over to Code and Code Academy.

If you have kids, Tynker.Com offers online programming for children starting from grades 4 to 8. Learning programming is through visual means, and it involves arranging and re-arranging blocks of code that execute certain processes, such as moving up or down. They don’t have to know the programming syntax per se, oh well, at least for the introduction course.

When studying, flashcards are very effective because they are based on the principles of rote and memorization. If you love flashcards, then you’ll love Cram.Com even more. It allows you to create online flashcards, share them, and even collaborate with other people for free. They have a wide selection of user-generated flashcards organized by category. Go ahead, start cramming today.

To generate a visual of your resume, there’s VisualCV, INeedAResume, OnlineResume.Us and StandardResume. Canva has a resume maker that is available on their free plan.

In my free time, I write articles for my blog. As such, I’ve used several web services to help me come up with better content. Below are some best free research and collection tools.

Google Search is an ubiquitous tool, my Web Development career wouldn’t have been possible without it. It may seem to be a simple and straight-forward process to us. But in reality, in order to ensure the quality of search results, it is way more complicated. In order for users to understand, they created a dedicated page that explains how Google Search works. The amazing thing is that it’s more than just a search engine. There’s a lot more you can do about it. Read some “tricks” you may find useful here and here. An alternative search engine with privacy in mind is StartPage. For complex mathematical formulas, go to WolframAlpha.

Research and information gathering is an important part of the process. Nimbus Notes and Clipper allow you to save snippets of information and media from the web. Available as an extension and add-on on the Chrome and FireFox browsers, respectively.

RainDrop has a free plan for its bookmarking service.

Using an RSS feed reader is one of the easiest ways to get the latest website updates. RSS stands for Rich Site Summary, but is also known as Really Simple Syndication. It is a standard format for publishing web content that is frequently updated, like blogs and news sites.

An RSS document is a feed. It is either a full or summarized text with metadata, such as the author’s name and date of publication. Most websites offer RSS to anyone interested via a special URL for free.

A feed reader or aggregator is a software that checks for updates and presents it to the user. It has several advantages. One, people don’t have to visit each website from time to time. Second, there’s no need to subscribe to every site’s newsletter.

I’m currently using Feeder, it provides a generous 200  subscriptions for free, and its ad-free. It has a clean interface and very easy to use and set-up. However it limits the number of posts just 50.

InoReader offers up to 150 free subscriptions. It is ad-supported. The service has a useful rule feature, which allows automatic tagging of articles. It is multi-platform with apps for iOS, Android, and Windows phones. In case of websites with no built-in RSS feature, use the Google News instead, fill-in the keyword(domain w/o the https) and the website’s URL. FeedReader Online, The Old Reader and Good News are other services that are worth checking out.

BlogTrottr is an RSS to email service that sends feeds straight to your inbox.

CommaFeed is a bloated-free feed reader. It has a clean and simple interface. It is a multi-browser with extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari. Download and install the open source software. RSSOwl is a desktop reader for Windows, Mac, and Linux PCs. FreshRSS is a self-hosted script. It is responsive and can manage up to 100,000 articles. It requires PHP, Apache, and MySQL.

An RSS feed reader is a convenient tool to stay updated on one’s favorite websites. There are lots of free but good-quality options, ranging from online to browser extensions and desktop software.

Aside from RSS readers, there are also news aggregators. News 360FlipBoard, and SlashDot are good. Combine aggregators with RSS readers, and you have a highly organized system.

For a start page, I use Start.Me, contains all the important links I need.

If in the Philippines and you prefer to subscribe to a good old physical magazine like Time, Jet Speed Media a local international mag distributor, can deliver it straight to your address.

It’s good to turn off the TV from time to time and give yourself a break from the never-ending flood of mainstream news. It’s time for an alternative source of information. Below are some popular yet credible sources of alternative news. Mind you, alternative media is good, but only if the information is indeed reliable. The Internet is also a nasty tool for spreading lies and misinformation.

Corbett Report: Who doesn’t know James Corbett? Their about page states it “is an independent, listener-supported alternative news source. It operates on the principle of open source intelligence and provides podcasts, interviews, articles, and videos about breaking news and important issues”.

Consortium News describes themselves as the “first investigative news magazine on the Internet. The site was meant to be a home for important, well-reported stories and a challenge to the inept but dominant mainstream news media of the day”.

Aside from reading, learn from audiobooks via LibriVox.

To properly organize your ideas, links, videos, etc., you may use this free note-taking and organizing tools.

With Wakelet, you can invite others to show your work or even collaborate with others. It is so versatile you transform it into a blog, portfolio or even a bulletin board. DotStorming and FlipGrid are other good options.

Another useful tool is Google Keep. It is a pretty advanced note-taking service available on the web and has mobile apps for the Android and iOS phones. Aside from notes, you can create to-do lists, attach photos and audio clips, and set reminders. Nifty features include image text extraction via OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and voice recording transcription. Notes can be color-coded, pinned, and organized by labels. You can also collaborate with other users. Here are other options to extract text from images: BrandFolder and OCR2Edit.

It is handy to keep tabs of the vital content topics and narratives and not get lost as they become bigger and more complex. For this, use mind mapping apps like GitMind which is 100% free, can add images. WiseMapping requires an account. MindMaps is super easy to use. Then there’s MindMup, haha. FreeMind is desktop software.

As a serious writer, it’s important to focus on spelling and grammar. Who likes to read content that’s full of misspelled words and incomprehensible paragraphs? Below are some of the best free writing tools, although I admit my writing style reflects my personality and character no matter what I use.

Grammarly and GingerSoftware have spelling and grammar checkers. Both are available as a Chrome extension. Combining the two has exceptional results. While LanguageTool and After the Deadline are online apps, HemingWayApp does more than just grammar; it grades your writing on how difficult it is to read. But there is no Chrome extension for this one.

Sometimes there’s a need to rephrase content. QuillBot is a neat, ad-free, captcha-free, and excellent paraphraser. They also have a grammar checker and a summarizer. Another option is SmallSEOTools.

Aside from spelling and grammar, you need to focus. There are distraction-free writing apps to give exactly that. TingNote, Shrib, CalmlyWriter and ZenPen let you get started writing right away, no login or registration required.

FrostWriter is unique, it plays calming music, so you can focus on writing. There’s no other feature to set, just select the theme and start.

More features can be had with Google Docs.

Got kids? Nurture their writing and reading skills and enhance their creativity and imagination with My Story Book. It’s a platform that’s fun to use and encourages children to write their own stories.

Content is one thing, but what really turns a visitor into a reader? I bet the title plays a role, haha. To know more, read some free SEO tools for content and title.

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