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10 Free Tools to Add Zing to Your Online Course

  • Cynda PikeCynda Pike

Online courses are a great way to transfer information or personal experience into a dynamic learning environment.

That text block you call an ebook may be going stag to the Kindle party for eternity, but redesign the information for online consumption and you could find a whole new audience.

Plenty of knowledgeable and talented folks have decided to teach courses to a virtual audience.

Look no further than these stats from 2015 and it’s clear: people are looking for educational tools online… all the time.

What happens when you combine a robust economy, a global population armed with electronics, and a high level of supply and demand?

Reality-show levels of thriving competition.

What this means is that the era of compiling PowerPoint slides with some narration and calling it a course is over. The online student population is too media-savvy. They know they have plenty of options—options they can choose with a few clicks.

Smart online teachers not only understand this but recognize the benefit of using dynamic and interactive tools to engage their audiences. Videos, animation, and webinars have become the norm in connecting with students in the virtual classroom.

Below are 10 free tools to create course materials, spruce up content, and make the whole process easier.

There’s a virtual cornucopia of free goodies out there to try, and best of all, there’s no risk to you. Try them out, delete them if they suck, or sign up for additional features if they rock.

1. Smart Builder Course Building Tool

Smart Builder

A common concern for business people creating courses is technology.

Smart Builder’s WYSIWYG interface arms users with the simple building blocks to create interactive courses with no coding required.

There’s an option to create a single lesson output to a web page, and this is where Smart Builder is…. smart. Online courses bomb all the time from lack of interest, a clear niche, or marketing strategy.

Just look to this blog to see the number of articles stressing how good ideas do not necessarily make a viable course. This is why course pilots are so important.

Use Smart Builder to pilot a single lesson plan before you throw down the big bucks on a course that fails miserably. The folks over at Google use this, too!

2. Dipity


Timelines were once the staple of news magazines, where they stretched across the bottom pages and charted the historical comings and goings of people like corrupt African dictators.

This is no longer the case, and thanks to the onslaught of celebrity slideshow websites, timelines have been reinvented. Dipity creates interactive timelines that weave various forms of media with location and timestamps.

Teaching a dessert class online? Instead of that wall of text detailing the history of chocolate, try a fun timeline that shows the evolution of chocolate milkshake, instead.

3. Canva


This online graphic design platform is the go-to app for meme creation, if not for the sheer volume of free, stylish design templates, then for the ease of use.

It’s likely those inspirational quotes zooming up your Facebook feed this morning were created in Canva.

Canva also has a poster feature, which is often overlooked, but is a great tool for creating online course materials.

Teaching a class on the Korean language? Make a poster with phonetic pronunciations of important terms like “bathroom” or “chili cheese dogs” and offer it as a free, downloadable PDF.

4. IrfanView

IrfanViewIf the website looks like something out of Eastern Europe from the 1990s, well, that’s because… it is! It looks horrible, but it works great.

Resizing images is a headache, but it’s part of being in the world of online business. Keep this image viewer on your desktop to quickly resize graphics and in the time it takes for Adobe Photoshop to slowly chug into action on your PC, you’ll have that gif resized and reloaded.

IrfanView does have some restrictions: it’s free for non-commercial use and works on Windows only.

5. Easy Test Maker

Easy Test Maker

Winner of the most generic looking interface ever, but Easy Test Maker is unbelievably easy to use. Compile tests in a variety of question formats such as multiple choice, true/false and fill-in-the-blanks. Divide up exams into sections and add more instructions.

This web-based test generator also provides answer keys, spell check, and automatic grading.

Adding a test to a course not only gives students an opportunity to be accountable for their learning experience, it can also gauge where the course materials may need to be tweaked down the road.

6. Soundcloud


All you need to do is register your info and this online audio platform will give you get 180 minutes of audio time. Record directly from your computer or upload a recording onto the site.

Designed with social sharing in mind, Soundcloud is a great way to record and promote podcasts.

Interviews with subject matter experts can be used as an effective marketing strategy for online courses on social media, for example.

7. Zoom

No,zoom I’m not referring to that strange public television show from the 1970s featuring unsupervised children weaving baskets.

Zoom is a free web conference software and is popular with online teachers for its sturdy audio and video quality (read: you can expect fewer occurrences of the dreaded “frozen face”.)

Sign up and get 40 minutes to rock a webinar. Upgrade and personalize your own Zoom room for student/teacher conferences, group coaching sessions, and study hall.

Best of all, screen sharing documents is a breeze!

8. MakeBeliefsComix


Breaking up text in course material with images is a standard practice, but what about a short comic?

Comic strips are a great way to personalize course material and infuse humor into the user experience.

Make Beliefs Comix is marketed as a children’s program, but the graphics are easily transferable for adult learning. The program features a clear step-by-step demo and multilingual option.

9. Jing


Before programs like Jing came along, PC users tapped a series of non-intuitive key strokes to capture a screen image. Grabbing screen info is way easier now. Jing is a downloadable program that posts a glowing yellow orb at the bottom of your screen. Hit capture and drop and drag to grab the screen image.

Screen grabs are a convenient method to save information from fast-paced discussions and online research.

Jing has no paid option, but Snag IT is another paid screen capture program from TechSmith.

10. Free Images

Free Images… OK, I confess. Sometimes free stuff is free because it sucks (free hosting, for example).

Most free image sites have plenty of images, but the searches required to find appropriate images are often inconsistent. This is the downside to free image providers.

To show you what I mean, here’s what I like to call the “Yoda” test.  I type in a popular culture term to what happens.

I typed in the search term “Star Wars.” The closest related image for this search was:

tie fighter

I typed in “X-Men” and found no matches. (Unless these are the real X-Men!)

Lakers fan

Finally, I typed in “Yoda” and got this:

cute puppy

You might have to work a little harder to find the right image. But the important thing to remember here is that, even though you won’t get to plaster Yoda pics all over your course materials, George Lucas’ lawyers won’t run after you for copyright infringement, either.

OK, online teachers, you’re up! What challenges do you face creating dynamic content? Have you tried any free programs or technologies to help with your course content? Let us know in the comments!

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12 thoughts on 10 Free Tools to Add Zing to Your Online Course


Cynda, Excellent article! I’d never heard of Smart Builder and Dipity. Thank you! Really fun article and extremely helpful. 🙂


Hey Diane, Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment on my article! Glad this helped.

Lexi Rodrigo

Cynda, you don’t know how much it means to me to discover MakeBeliefsComix now that Bitstrips is no more.


Hi Lexi, Great to hear from you! Thanks for checking in and commenting on my article. I really enjoyed testing out Makebeliefscomix and I’m glad you’re enjoying them, too!

Sonja Arnold

Thank you so much for this information. I have been researching platforms and trying to make my decision. The download gave me more suggestions. Not sure if that is a good thing or not. LOL so many choices to research and thing to consider. Your check list will be helpful and a list of free resources is always welcome.
I know it is a personal decision, but do you have a favorite platform??

Kelly Edmonds

Cynda, thanks for this easy to follow guide. I’m a professional e-course designer and always looking for clever tools for my followers, students and clients. I’ll be posting this article in my Facebook group, E-Learning Rocks!

Ps. Going to check out that free course platform. Have you used it before? Comments on it?

Best regards,

Mary Collette Rogers

Just the kind of information I needed. Testing tools are also great if you’re creating ecourses where e.g., for a wellness program, an employer needs to ensure that employees listened to and understand the content. I’m guessing it could also be used for evaluations before, during and after the course. Thanks–looking forward to exploring them.

Virginia Reeves

Cynda – I can see how I might use some of these suggestions in places other than a course. Thanks !


Great and Thanks Cynda.. very clearly explained step by step with tools how to show to the trainees..


Cynda, thank you for this fun and anti-boring post on online courses! I really liked the variety of tools you have reviewed. it’s not something you see every day 🙂

Amar kumar

Hey Cynda,

Glad to read your wonderful post,

Online courses are really very helpful to share information and personal experience with audience for dynamic learning environment. These tools absolutely sounds great in productivity. Smart Builder is looking very simple developing blocks to create interactive courses, main part is that there is no requirement of coding. Some of them are known by me like Canva they are really fully featured tools.

Easy test maker is looking interesting with its unique features, it may be valuable in online marketing. It is going to help students by providing opportunity to accountable for their learning experience.

Eventually, thanks for sharing your worthy post.

With best regards,

Amar kumar

Penny Costello

I’m just moving into online course development, and this article came at a perfect time Extremely helpful. Thank you, Cynda, and thank you Mirasee, for making i available to me.

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