10 Kick Ass Tools That Make College and Learning Online Easier


It’s been exactly two weeks since I finally completed my prison sentence college with the last class of the University of Malawi – the Polytechnic (now MUBAS). I thought I’d share some of the best online resources that I used to make college less of a pain. I figured I’d do it now while the misery of tertiary education is still fresh in my mind. Plus thanks to Ms. Rona making a muck of how we do everything, including living and learning, this list of digital tools might be helpful to students who are now learning online (thoughts and prayers).

(PS: This is part one of an ongoing blog series called How To College Better. I’ll share more tips and tricks that might be helpful for anyone pursuing their studies so be sure to keep checking out Pastiche Mode for more hacks to survive college.)

All right. Here are my kick ass recommendations for schooling online:

1. Super Simple Highlighter

There are other (and arguably better) web highlighters out there but I love this one for its…(drum roll please)…simplicity. This chrome extension lets you highlight web pages in different colours. So you can highlight the most relevant parts of the Wikipedia article you’re going to steal ideas from and other sites your bitch of a course takes you.

2. Hypothes.is

A level up on the super simple highlighter is one of the most powerful tools I used during college. It’s a web annotation tool that lets you highlight, annotate, and tag web pages and PDF documents. Lovely, I am begging you to get this. It’s so helpful in organising and not losing track of important information. There’s nothing more annoying than when you find some good content to cheat with use for your work and then not being able to find it again. You don’t even need to remember which sites or PDFs you were using. Hypothes.is saves everything in one place. All you have to do is log in.

3. MindMup

Do you use mind maps, lovely? If not, start now because they’re really beneficial. Let’s be honest though – organising your thoughts can be a bit of a hassle especially when you’re just formulating ideas. I used MindMup – a really great public interactive mind mapping application that really helps bring your ideas together. No logins required either, you just have to save the mind map’s url and it will be saved for six months (after which it expires). The catch is that you have to use the same browser to view your work. A different browser or incognito mode will just lead you to a blank mind map.   

4. Crash Course

I still remember when Crash Course started. Back then, I was completely obsessed with VlogBrothers, a YouTube channel by John Green (of The Fault in Our Stars fame) and his brother, Hank. When they started Crash Course I just watched for my own interest but it really became treasured infotainment when I started my degree. It’s an amazing channel with easy to understand breakdowns of a wide variety of subjects and the resource that probably helped me most in the early years of college.

5. Citation Machine

Lovely, please tell me you are not manually creating citations. With citation machine and other automatic bibliography creators, all you need is your source’s details (usually just an ISBN for books, a url for a website or the doi of a journal) and presto! Citations created. Sometimes you’ll have to manually enter all the details yourself if it can’t automatically find your source but it still formats references to your preferred style.

6. Evernote

I’m recommending Evernote for online learning but the truth is I love this app for pretty much everything in my life. Evernote is a powerful app for note taking, organisation, task management, and archiving. It allows you to upload and embed images and more rich media into notes, keep different “notebooks” (which you can use for every subject or area of life) and share your notes with others. You can take Evernote everywhere too because you’re allowed to sync the mobile app to the web client and you can even get a desktop version.

7. Google Docs (Or Any Web Office Suite)

An online office is a great way to make your school work accessible from any internet capable device. Google Docs has been my lifesaver since high school but it was particularly useful when I busted my computer not once but twice during my college experience. I didn’t have to stress out because my work was already up in the cloud so the only truly soul-crushing experience was watching shows on a tiny phone screen.

8. Google search operators and Boolean operators

We all know Google is the powerhouse search engine but it’s less common knowledge that it can be made even better. You can use advanced search operators (special commands for filtering search results) to get more relevant information. Check out this handy guide to get clued in on the wide variety of tools at your disposal. Boolean operators are also useful for internet search queries and you can read more about them here.

9. Online OCR

If you’ve ever needed copy text from an image and then had to suffer through rewriting it word for word, Online OCR is a tool you’ll love. The site enables you to extract text from images and convert it text you can copy. That means no more having to type up the stuff you need. Just upload the image and it will retrieve the text for you. Slight caveat: it’s not always a perfect match but in my experience, it only ever makes minor errors.

10. Sleepy time

When I was in 6th Form, I was so obsessed with TV that I’d stream episodes soon after they aired in the States. You think it was extra when people stayed up every Sunday to watch Game of Thrones? Imagine someone doing that daily for no less than 4 shows per night (usually between 2-4 a.m.) and then structuring their whole life around that. No wonder I’m a cartoon masquerading as a human being. Anyway, after that sad little interlude, let me share how I made sure I didn’t wake up groggy for school: Sleepy time. It’s an site that helps you get rested based on when you have to wake up or when you plan to go asleep. In college, this mostly helped me plan my cramming sessions. These days I use it to schedule naps, the only pure thing we have left in this world.

Any online resources that helped or are helping you through college? You’re welcome to share your favourite tools for online learning in the comments.

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