Since 2007, Jane Hart has been compiling a list of the top 200 tools that learning professionals find the most useful. It began by asking a few people to opine and now her annual top 200 list receives votes from thousands of learning and development practitioners from around the world.
What trends has she seen? What’s been the most surprising tool to top the list over the past 14 years? Take a few minutes to hear about why she originally began compiling this ranking and what she’s learned in doing it.
And don’t forget to make your voice heard. Vote on your most useful tools before voting closes at noon (BST) on Thursday, August 26!
Transcript of the Conversation with Jane Hart
Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast about all things learning and development in bite-size chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, host of Train Like You Listen, and also the Co-founder and CEO of Endurance Learning. Today’s podcast is brought to you by Soapbox, the world’s first and only rapid authoring tool for instructor-led training. It’s a little bit like Instant Pot for training lesson plans. You throw a few ingredients in, which is: how long is your presentation going to be? How many people will attend? What’s the seating arrangement, if it’s in-person? What platform are you using, if it’s virtual? And then what are your learning objectives? And out pops a lesson plan within a few seconds. If you want more information, go to www.soapboxify.com.
Today we are joined by a very special guest, Jane Hart, who is the founder of the Center for Learning and Performance Technologies, and also the genius behind the Top 200 Tools List that comes out annually. Jane, thank you so much for joining us today.
Jane Hart: Well, thank you very much for inviting me, Brian. It’s lovely to see you at long last.
Brian Washburn: I know! We’ve connected on LinkedIn, we’ve touched in on Twitter and finally we get a chance to interact in real time. Today we’re going to be talking about this topic of the variety of tools that are out there.
Brian Washburn: And we always like to start by having our guests introduce themselves using exactly six words, with something along the lines of the topic. So for today, for example, the way that I would introduce myself is, “I’m too comfortable with my favorite tools”. Or– I’m sorry that was seven words– “I’m too comfortable with favorite tools”. How about you, Jane? How would you introduce yourself in exactly six words?
Jane Hart: Well, that’s a good question, Brian. I mean, you did give me proud warning of that question. And I came up with six words, but it doesn’t quite go along with the theme. We’d have to change a little bit. But anyway, I’ve come up with, “I help organizations modernize learning and development”. And you know, if we think a big part of that, it’s everything: attitude, mindset, approaches and tools. So there’s more than six words, I’m afraid, but “I help organizations modernize learning and development”.
Brian Washburn: Yeah. And I do think that that goes along with today’s topic because we’re going to be talking about tools. And I referenced it in the beginning, you know, there’s this Top 200 Tools list that you compile every year based on thousands of votes from around the world. And I’m kind of curious of the origins of that. What made you decide to put together a top 200 list of tools for learning in the first place?
The History of Jane Hart’s Top 200 Tools for Learning List
Jane Hart: Well, it was back in 2007 and I remember going to a conference– or probably actually a very small event, and we were talking about tools, I’m sure. And then, someone said to me– actually it was Donald Clark. I don’t know if you know Donald.
Brian Washburn: Mhm. Yeah.
Jane Hart: And he said “Jane, why don’t you create a list of top tools?” And I thought about it, and I thought, “Well, actually it shouldn’t be my list of top tools. It should be the list of top tools that people love and enjoy and find of value. So, that summer I decided to set it going. And I asked that– back then I invited people– as well as had an open poll – invited people to contribute. I think about a couple of hundred people did. And from that then I created the “Top 100 Tools”.
So that’s what it was back in 2007. So basically it was just someone saying, “Why don’t you have a go?” And I thought it’d be fun. And, you know, the first year was actually pretty amazing, a lot of response from that. And so I’ve done it every year and believe it or not, we’re in the 15th year now! It’s amazing, isn’t it?
Brian Washburn: It is crazy. And so I do– I remember it when it was just the top 100 tools. And it’s really interesting because a lot of the tools– and you’ve actually started to segment the list between tools for education, like traditional classroom education – Kindergarten through 12th grade is what we call it here, and then there’s kind of learning and workplace tools, also. I’m kind of curious, over the past 15 years what are some of the most interesting trends you’ve seen emerge over all the time that you’ve been compiling this list?
Interesting Trends Over Time in Jane Hart’s List of Top Learning Tools
Jane Hart: Okay. Well, when I first started it in 2007, the top tool back then, I don’t know if you remember, was Firefox. And that was a bit mad because people were like, “What’s a browser doing at the top of a list of tools for learning?” (laughing) But I think that was the beginning of helping people think, you know, tools for learning are not just the sort of traditional tools. So I think that began to make people think. And, it didn’t stay long at the top of the list because then social media sort of came into play, and social networks.
And then we had, of course, a number one for seven years. And again, that was a huge surprise for people. People used to say to me, “What’s Twitter got to do with learning?” But by asking that question, it meant I could kind of talk them through the fact that tools for learning weren’t just, you know, traditional dedicated training tools, everything could be used for learning in a different context. And people just needed to realize they were learning in many different ways. They weren’t just learning in the classroom, they weren’t just learning in online courses and so forth. So that was, you know, that was interesting. So that whole concept of social media being used for learning purposes – interesting.
And then of course the next top tool was YouTube in 2016 for the first time. And I think people then realized the real importance – videos, short pieces, and that started the whole concept of microlearning and thinking about, you know, we don’t have to create these huge courses anymore. Just very simple videos can be enough.
And then last year, of course, you know last year was a very strange year. And what we had at the top of the list, or at least very high for the list, was the video meeting tools and collaboration tools like Teams and Zoom and Slack and so forth. And then they really came to the fore. Again, I think that helped people to think about, well actually these tools are really being used for many purposes: working and learning, remote working, remote learning – it was very difficult to see that. And we’re beginning to see the integration of working and learning, or at least in people’s minds – they aren’t separate activities – we’re doing them all the time.
But, you know, you mentioned the different lists and I think back in– I think for the 10th anniversary – so that must have been about 2017 – I decided I really needed to sort of categorize them a bit more because as I say, people would say, like, “What’s Twitter got to do with learning?”
Brian Washburn: Mhm.
Jane Hart: But by compiling those different tools, people could really see the context in which these tools were being used, and I think that began to open up people’s eyes. There are things people use for themselves and there are things people do in the workplace. And as you say, in the education world, there are some other different things going on there. So the top 100 list – or as it became – 200 list, really wasn’t very useful in its own right. It was only when you actually broke it down into the different sub lists that you really got to see it was all about. So to answer your question, I think the trends have been apparent in the tools and whether they’ve led the way or whether they will be representative of the way we’re thinking or working, I don’t know. But anyway, they’re the five sort of things I’ve sort of picked out to share with you today.
Brian Washburn: Sure. And so you mentioned that, you know, when Twitter was the number one tool – even Firefox – people were surprised by that. Is there anything that’s really surprised you over the years when you’ve taken a look– when I’ve taken a look at the list, I’ve thought, “Oh, that’s kind of a cool technology” or, “Huh. I had never heard of that before”. Is there anything that has surprised you in terms of individual tools or even categories of tools that people put into their votes, and you’re thinking, “What is that?”
Surprises in Jane Hart’s Top 200 Tools for Learning List
Jane Hart: Well, every year there’s some really interesting tools that come onto the scene and I’ve looked through all of them. I mean, I look at every contribution that’s made and I think it’s amazing, the new stuff that’s around. In terms of trends, I guess, I was pleased to see certain things I thought were happening represented in the list.
But for individual tools, if you’re interested in some of the new things that I’ve seen in the last couple of years, for instance, you know, one of the ones was Telegram – which is a messaging tool. And I think people were beginning to get a bit worried with WhatsApp and they were moving to other things. And Telegram seemed to shoot up the list in all countries, and I was really surprised about that. I tried to use it myself and I now use it as a way of sort of sharing articles and so forth, rather than Twitter, because I found that that’s perhaps– you know, it just gets lost in your stream of stuff. So having a tool like WhatsApp or even Telegram is very interesting.
And then last year, the couple of tools that were really quite important to me were the online whiteboard tools like Mural and Miro— and there are others as well – JamBoard and Microsoft Whiteboard. But I think that was really interesting because people were wanting to sort of extend the engagement of the social collaboration tools or the video meeting tools with other things, and do some sort of interactive work or collaborative work – either working in meetings or in training.
Brian Washburn: Especially during the pandemic, right? So people lost the ability to come together in the office. They couldn’t come together and whiteboard and it makes sense that tools like that would start to skyrocket to the top.
Jane Hart: And they really did shoot up the list. So they were the ones that I was not necessarily surprised about, but interested in. And then one of the ones that I really liked for a personal tool was Google Lens. Have you seen that one? It’s an image recognition tool, and so helps you explore the world around you. You can do all kinds of things, right? You know, hold it up and identify plants or animals, or could translate text or copy and paste it. So it’s quite a nice little tool that I think that perhaps hasn’t come up on the list as high as maybe it could do. Maybe it will this year, I don’t know. But it’s an interesting new way of sort of thinking about learning. You don’t actually need to have everything right in front of you. You can “Oh, let’s put it up and just check out this or that or the other”. And you know, so I think those tools, like the little performance support tools are really going to take off in the years to come, I think.
Brian Washburn: And let’s talk about that for a second. So there are some tools that are like, “Ooh, that’s really cool”. What do you think is the difference between what could be considered like a shiny object and a tool that’s actually useful for people as they take a look at your list?
Tools That Are Shiny Objects vs. Really Useful Tools
Jane Hart: Well, you know, everybody says, “Oh it’s shiny, shiny”, but you know what? I think that’s a bad thing in a way because you can explore things. But I think what really turns a shiny tool into a real tool is one that really helps you use it for a productive purpose. And by that, I don’t just mean to automate the process, I mean to innovate the process. It helps you do things differently, you know, perhaps become more productive by doing that. And sometimes you can only do that or find that out by actually using the tool itself. And yet, you know, as you said, you look on the list, you say, “Oh, there’s a shiny tool”, but you use it and then suddenly it transforms your life (chuckles) and it becomes a really important tool. So I think we have to think, “It might look shiny, but they might have a really important use”. And I think we– I know lots of people look at the list and investigate the tools, and then find some good stuff. And certainly I do that myself, too. So I think we’ve gotta be careful just sort of passing things off as being shiny tools because I think they can bring some real value. It means time, it means you have to explore them. (Chuckles)
Brian Washburn: Yeah, it’s funny – so every Friday we have a team meeting that we call a “play date” and it’s 30 minutes long. And sometimes it’s just a brainstorming session about a project that somebody is working on, they’re stuck on. And sometimes it’s, you know, kind of a free forum. And last Friday we had everybody come in to our play date, choosing one of the top 200 tools and saying, “Okay, what’s something that you’ve never used or never heard of, and use it. And then bring it to the meeting and tell us – is it something that we could use for work?”. And so that’s one of the ways that we use the list, the Top 200 Tools List. What are some other ways that you can think of, or that you’ve heard of other people, using this list, checking out this list, so that they can actually apply some things to their work?
Ways to Use Jane Hart’s Top 200 Tools List
Jane Hart: Well, I think what you said is a brilliant way to sort of get people to explore things and then share what they’re doing. But you know one of the things I’ve tried to do to help people is sort of categorize them as well – not just in personal learning and workplace. But actually, in terms of, what are the tools we could use for, I don’t know, meeting, whiteboarding and all the rest of it – so we look at the four or five tools. So I think if people are wanting to explore things, I don’t necessarily just have to stick to that one tool – they could look across at all the different tools in that category. Then I think that’s quite useful because if you look at a category, people might think, “Oh, I didn’t know we could use that tool to do that”. And it might trigger a whole process, where if you just look at the name of the tool, you might think, “Okay, how is that going to help me?”
But categories are useful as well. So I think that’s why I’ve done so many different ways of looking at the list, and I’m always open to other ways of trying to help people. I know people keep saying, “Can you just do a list of new tools please? Because that’s all I’m interested in”. So I tried to make those– highlight those out so they’re easy to pick out. But you know, sometimes some people often overlook the old tools, or older tools, or at least what they can do, you know? And people– the ones like PowerPoint, for instance. People just think it’s there to do presentations, but it can do so much more. And I think, you know, sometimes you have to look at some of the, you know– go down really deeper into what even some of our oldies but goodie tools can do as well.
Brian Washburn: Jane, I love this conversation. I love this list, this Top 200 Tools List. So thank you very much for joining us for this.
Get to Know Jane Hart
Brian Washburn: Before we go, I’d love for people to get to know you a little bit more. I have a few speed round questions. Are you ready for those?
Jane Hart: Okay, let’s go. (Chuckles)
Brian Washburn: Alright, let’s do it. So what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Jane Hart: Well, I’ve been thinking about that, but I think the best piece of advice was “be yourself”. You know, don’t try and be like somebody else. Don’t try and copy and do other things – be yourself. Stand out, you know, show who you are. And stand up for what you believe in and so forth. And once I’ve done that, I think I’ve actually, shall we say, thrived better than just trying to follow the old track – so “be yourself”.
Brian Washburn: I love it. So you are kind of a pioneer in the field of learning and development. You’re sort of the thought leader. Your name comes up all the time. What is your favorite thing about being in the field of learning and development?
Jane Hart: I think it’s probably because there’s always something new happening. You know, people often say things are standing still, but they’re not. They’re moving on all the time. And I love listening to all the people that are trying out new things, doing new things, sharing what they’ve done. You know, that’s why social media, for me, has always been so important. Because I learn as much from them as hopefully I give to them too. So, It’s about– it’s a constant journey. It’s not sort of like, you know everything. We’re all learning together. We’re all moving forward. And that’s what I love about it.
Brian Washburn: Now, what is something that you think that people in our fields – learning and development – should either be reading or listening to these days?
Jane Hart: Well, that’s a good question because I always think actually we need to be looking out broader than just the learning and development field. Because we need to be thinking about what people are thinking about us inside, what’s happening in the world outside and how we need to sort of be part of that. So I recommend people actually access books, podcasts, videos of things outside the field. It would probably be more like in the general business – so things like Forbes and Harvard Business Review and Fast Company, those kinds of things. Because it’s there that I get most of my stimulation in terms of thinking about the way the world’s moving on, getting the big picture. And then thinking about, you know, what that means to learning and development. So I think we need to break out of just having a very small focus on learning and development issues, but thinking in a much wider context.
Brian Washburn: I love those recommendations, especially things like Harvard Business Review or Fast Company, because they’re short form, right? They are magazine articles. You don’t have to read a whole book. But it gives you a really good perspective in terms of what others are saying and thinking. Before we leave here, are there any shameless plugs for us, including maybe a deadline for people to vote for their top 200 tools?
Jane Hart: Well, that’s right. I mean, actually it’s in a couple of weeks time – 25th of August. I think it is Thursday, two weeks from today- well, from where we’re recording this anyway. (Editor’s Note: Voting for Jane Hart’s Top 200 Tools for Learning closes at noon (BST) on Thursday, August 26) So anyone who wants to get involved can do that. And there’s lots of different ways: you can fill in the form or you can do a tweet or you can send me an email, whatever people prefer. They don’t have to leave their name, it can be anonymous. So, I’d just like to find out a little bit about the people and who they are, whether they come from education or whether they come from companies or whatever it is. It’s very easy really, and it’s great to have as many people to do that as possible. So they can do that at www.toptools4learning.com. So hopefully we’ll get some interest. And then, if they want to find out more about me and my work and the online resources I produce, they can find that at www.modernworkplacelearning.com.
Brian Washburn: Fantastic. Jane Hart, who is the Founder of the Center for Learning and Performance Technologies, thank you so much for joining us for this podcast. Thank you to everyone else for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen, which is a weekly podcast that can be found on Spotify, Apple, wherever you get your podcasts. Until next time, happy training everyone.
This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox. Sign up today for a free demo below.