Free and Essential Tools for Academic Escape Artists
The secret weapons in my journey from professor to instructional designer*
Previously, I shared my journey from Chair of Communication Studies at a small liberal arts college to Senior Instructional Designer at a wonderful training company. I’ve also highlighted the skills required to make such career changes. Here, I reveal the free tools that may aid your escape from the ivory tower too.
Considering a career in instructional design or a related field? You’re probably aware of Learning Management Systems (LMSs) and programs like Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate. Here, however, I focus on tools that will dramatically improve your life outside academe if all you’re used to are the more traditional (*cough — Microsoft Office — cough*) offerings.
Talk data with Tableau
No matter your title, all organizations strive to be data-driven. Much of the time, Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets will suffice for crunching numbers. But if you want to impress colleagues with innovative charts or graphs, I recommend learning more about Tableau. It is relatively easy to get started, though I suggest following tutorials rather than figuring it out on your own. Tableau Public is free — but keep in mind that your data will be public. This tier is a great place to practice and work on public data. Just avoid sharing confidential information there.
Free Tableau resources — https://www.tableau.com/learn/start-your-journey
Design with Figma
If you’re not a visual designer, you may not have heard of Figma. You may not need it either (technically speaking). But it’s a great product to be aware of, even if you’re not using it on a daily basis. Figma allows you to quickly generate designs and visual concepts without worrying about the backend technologies. Like many contemporary tools for designers, it provides rich templates and great learning resources.
Free Figma Resources — https://www.figma.com/resources/learn-design/
Automate with Calendly
Calendly allows you to sync your professional (or personal) calendar(s) and share a link with others to avoid the back and forth of determining a convenient time for everyone to talk. You can set up a basic meeting outline that people can choose, or look into more advanced options like sending out reminders, agendas, and additional information prior to your meeting. It’s a perfect way to automate what is probably the most tedious part of working remotely.
Free Calendly resources — https://calendly.com/blog/getting-started-guide
Share with Slack
Slack lets you work with teams and share content in a much cleaner way than filling inboxes with messages and attachments. It’s very practical and convenient for conversing asynchronously with different groups. While I use this throughout the day at work, I also use it for discussions with professional groups on Slack like Devlin Peck, xAPI, and many others.
Free Slack resources — https://slack.com/help
Create with CodePen
Whether you’re a Web3 aficionado or someone who has only a vague comprehension of HTML, CodePen is a great place to learn and play without much setup. There are millions of projects you can explore and learn from as well as regular challenges, newsletters, and podcasts from the company. If you’re trying to improve your understanding of web technologies, this is a perfect sandbox.
Free CodePen resources-https://codepen.io/pen/tour/welcome/start
Collaborate with Miro
Death by PowerPoint is no joke — there have literally been deaths. An excellent alternative to clicking through bullet points to share information or collaborate with others is the infinite canvas of Miro. The company offers great training that takes only a few hours to become a power user. But anyone can explore a Miro board and quickly get the gist of this subtle yet powerful interface. It may not be obvious how great Miro is, however, until you begin collaborating with others and watching doodles, brainstorming sessions, and full-fledged presentations come to life in real-time.
Free Miro resources — https://academy.miro.com/
Paint with Coolors
If you’re making web pages or applications — or just designing a handout or presentation — Coolors can quickly improve your color schemes. I especially like the ability to import photos to establish a palette. I recently took this photo in La Jolla, uploaded it, and will now use the colors it identified for my website relaunch next month.
Free Coolors resources — https://coolors.co/collage-maker
How about you?
I would love to hear what tools you use to make work more seamless and daily activities richer. Please share your ideas and experiences. And if I can be of any help to those contemplating a similar move from academe to the “real world,” please don’t hesitate to reach out. It’s a choice I fully endorse after one year of dramatically improved living.
^Bonus suggestion —Ready Player Me creates 3D avatars with a photo. It’s a nice option when you’re tired of using the same webcam photo of you at your desk. If you’re into computer animation, it’s also easily exported into all the major interfaces — but that will have to wait for another post.
*These are my opinions. I have no affiliation with any of these products or services.