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Instructional designers’ toolkit for a zero-budget training project

One of the most daunting challenges that instructional designers face today are shrinking budgets. They are often asked to do more with less and even though everybody always says “there are a lot of great tools available online for free” it takes a lot of time, effort and quite often a rather large amount of frustration until one finds the ones that are truly without cost and also do what they promise.

At the risk of sounding annoying, I am going to state it too: it’s possible to design and deliver qualitative, engaging, blended learning solutions with no other costs than the designer’s time and imagination.

I am, however, going to take it one step further and list some of these ‘wonder-sites’.

Toolkit for a zero-budget training project

Without further ado, let’s explore 16 ‘wonder-sites’ that instructional designers everywhere should have in their back pocket:

Prezi is a web-based tool for creating presentations (called prezis for short). It's similar to other presentation software like good old Microsoft PowerPoint, but it additionally provides some unique features that make it a preferable alternative. It uses a canvas-based approach. Instead of using slides, Prezi comes with one very large canvas that the presentation moves around on, zooming in and out to view different frames.

Freedcamp is a web, mobile and desktop project management and collaboration system for teams. It is free for an unlimited number of users, files and projects. It also gives access to a number of useful apps.

Hightail (currently acquired by Open Text) is a cloud service that lets users send, receive, digitally sign and synchronize files. Its extension Hightail Spaces appeared in 2015 and is designed to help creative professionals get from the conception of an idea to its delivery as a finished product.

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that makes available to the great public — ‘the commons’ – works that can be seen but also legally used, shared, repurposed or used as a starting point for a new creation. I have written more extensively about it here.

Audacity is a free, easy-to-use, multi-track audio editor and recorder that works for Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems. The interface is highly intuitive and available in a variety of languages.

Crello is one of the most popular and easy-to-use online design makers, offering a wide range of templates for social media. In Crello, anyone can find a perfect template for Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter post, ad, or video. You can create stunning designs for free or with the help of premium photos, illustrations, and animations. You really don't need to have any prior design experience to make professionally-looking visual content in a snap!

Open Game Art is widely used by game designers and developers. It contains free art that can be used in games, but it also has a great library for music and sound effects. It’s the place to go for gamification elements of a course.

Read more: Taking gamification in training to the next level

Glisser is a live presentation app that allows presenters to share slides to the audience’s mobile devices during their presentation. In their turn, audience members can download, like, comment on or share those slides on their private networks.

GoAnimate (now Vyond) is a cloud-based animated video creation platform. It enables designers to create and edit original 2D whiteboard animation as well as infographics videos. The site has an easy to use drag and drop interface that makes it simple and enjoyable to make videos that look professional.

Poll Everywhere allows to receive instant feedback by polling the audience right while they are taking the course (or have just finished it) by using their mobile phones. The app has the feature of showing feedback instantly via charts on the instructor’s screen.

Typeform also provides a solution to easily create polls that look beautiful and get more responses. You can make a poll in minutes by dragging and dropping questions and adding design elements so that it blends beautifully into your brand.

FutureLearn offers a wide range of courses from leading universities and educational institutions from around the world. These are accessible on numerous mobile devices and there also is the possibility to interact with other learners along the way.

WebAIM Accessibility Info For Web Content — since accessibility is a big issue when it comes to online learning, this tool provides a checklist created by WebAIM to help identify if all areas of accessibility are covered where the web content is concerned.

Read more: Beyond 508 – UX e-learning design

All The Free Stock is hands down an awesome tool and an amazing time saver. It is essentially a catch-all resource that lists every free stock website for images, sounds, icons, color inspiration, fonts, and many others.

Epic Pen is an easy to use screen marker and digital whiteboard tool for Windows that enables instructors to highlight their mouse, write, draw, or take a screen capture of any software they are using.

Adobe Color is a design tool that helps creators come up with color schemes by using the color wheel. They can either upload their own images or browse thousands of color combinations from the Kuler community.

GoQR – as the name implies, this is a QR generating website. Designers can create a QR code that links to a URL, document, contact information or any other kind of online resource.

Bitly is a Link Management Platform that empowers designers to harness the power of the link by allowing them to easily shorten, share, manage and analyze various links. Optimizing links with this platform makes it easy to measure each touchpoint in one place.

All in all

This is not an exhaustive list of the free online tools available for instructional designers but it makes for an essential tool kit for designing without spending any money yet coming up with professional looking material.

How to easily design beautiiful online courses