General Education

32 of The Most Innovative Online Educational Tools

32 of The Most Innovative Online Educational Tools
Image from
Noodle Staff profile
Noodle Staff March 16, 2015

From sites to apps and beyond, online tools are changing the face of education today. Noodle discovers some creative and effective ed tech to help make a big impact.

Article continues here

Want to be a better student? There are literally thousands of apps for that. Not to mention a wide array of other online learning tools.

They’re not all changing education — but a few innovative ones are. Among the wide-ranging apps, sites, learning management systems, flashcard creators, and content archives, there are a few dozen that promise to make an impact on how students learn this year.

Noodle’s team of education experts investigated the vast array of online learning tools to create this list of the 32 best, most innovative online tools that we think have changed the education space.

We spoke with teachers, tutors, and leaders in the space. We sifted through reviews, awards, and profiles. As we evaluated the available resources to bring you the best, we maintained a strict set of criteria. The selections had to be: designed for high school or college students, user-friendly, in a strong design language, easy to use, and available for free. Among many other factors, each also had to have a solid base of users, a reputation for excellence, and big plans.

We have grouped these 32 selections based on how they are making a difference in student education. Our categories are: classroom connectors, interactive information providers, language learning tools, online courses, presentation makers, productivity boosters, and reading enhancers. We did not rank the 32 best because we believe that they are all excellent in distinct ways. What they share in common is the capacity to change your education.

Without further ado, here are the tools that you’ll want to have on your computer, tablet, or smartphone this year...

Classroom Connectors

# Clever


What it is: Clever streamlines the process of logging into educational apps by letting students log into all of their tools with a single set of credentials (instead of dozens).

Who would love it: K–12 teachers and students, although students cannot access it unless their school registers with Clever. It connects applications with the Student Information Systems (SIS) already in place for schools and districts.

Why it’s good: Clever saves time in the classroom. The company claims that the average teacher spends 15 minutes logging in students for every 50 minutes in the computer lab.

Why it’s relevant: The <a href=" that this year Clever raised $30 million, which it plans to use toward doubling its team and scaling up, with the ultimate goal of serving as a tool in all [132,000 K–12 schools](" target="_blank">Wall Street Journal reported in the U.S., and maybe abroad as well.

# Edmodo


What it is: Edmodo is a controlled social media platform for teachers, students, and parents. It allows teachers to assign and grade homework on their mobile devices, students to connect with educators and classmates, and parents to stay up-to-date on what their kids are doing at school.

Who would love it: Teachers, students, and parents.

Why it's good: Teachers can use it to make the grading process easier, to assess student performance, or to complement their lesson plans. Students can engage with learning material in a variety of ways, and they can also participate in online discussions with their classmates or other learners around the world. By making classwork easily available and offering access to resources, learners, and educators around the world, Edmodo provides a comprehensive setting for the online education experience and ensures that students remain safe and focused.

Why it's relevant: Edmodo has more than 48 million users and continues to expand both nationally and internationally. Recently, the company announced a partnership with Cambridge and Oxford University Presses, both of which will put resources from their renowned collections online and develop content for schools in the U.K.

# Kahoot!


What it is: Kahoot! is a user-friendly tool for designing in-class questionnaires and quizzes. A user designs a quiz, survey, or questionnaire to test the knowledge of his or her audience. Audience members can answer questions using a variety of devices. The quizzes and questionnaires, referred to as "Kahoots," are designed to promote a game-like atmosphere in the learning environment.

Who would love it: Classroom students of all ages; also recommended for use by businesses.

Why it's good: Kahoot! is special because it is easy to use, compatible with a variety of devices, and intended to promote a fun learning environment. Kahoot! allows teachers to get a better picture of where their students stand while students are engaged in a fun learning experience.

Why it's relevant: Although a young company, Kahoot! already has millions of users. A couple of weeks ago, Arctic Startup reported that the company has more than 30 million unique users, with teachers asking 100 million questions and students generating 1 billion answers on the platform. Additionally, Kahoot! is focusing on establishing a Kahoot! community in which users can share ideas, troubleshoot, and ask questions of Kahoot! staff. The company has taken steps to promote this global community by establishing Kahoot! community forums.

# Schoology


What it is: Schoology is a learning management system to facilitate the creation of class rosters, curricula, and calendars. It also keeps track of interactions among students and student assessment results, among other things.

Who would love it: K–12 schools, higher-education institutions, and corporations.

Why it's good: Features include Web hosting; calendar management and the aggregation of personal, course, school, and district calendars; workload planning; personal messaging; and large-scale (system-wide) and small-scale (user) management.

Why it's relevant: In 2014, Schoology won three CODie awards, including "Best Overall Education Solution."

Something you didn’t know: Schoology doesn't have any third-party branding, meaning it can be custom-branded by whoever is using it.

# Skype


What it is: Skype is an online video-calling tool that allows users across the world to communicate, for free, via the Internet.

Who would love it: Anyone anywhere with an Internet connection strong enough to support streaming video. (Given the unregulated nature of the Internet, it’s recommended for users older than 18 or with adult supervision.)

Why it's good: Skype has been around for a long time, but it has only recently tapped its educational potential. High schools have used Skype to connect students with international speakers and educators, or to organize cross-country educational projects.

Why it's relevant: Skype recently put a focus on their “Skype in the Classroom" program that helps teachers expand their curricula beyond their schools. The “international classroom" is becoming an increasingly important concept in education, and Skype makes it easy to connect people around the world.

Something you didn’t know: There are lots of ways that teachers are using Skype, but Skype itself has also developed a game aimed at younger learners. In "Mystery Skype," two classrooms must guess the location of their Skype partner by asking each other questions. Skype also has a database of teachers and classrooms looking to connect for this or any other project.

Interactive Information Providers

# BetterExplained


What it is: BetterExplained is a forum for sharing founder Kalid Azad’s "Aha!" moments on technical subjects. Through videos, diagrams, and colloquial explanations, the site explains the logic behind mathematical equations and concepts, such as imaginary numbers or Bayes' theorem.

Who would love it: Teachers as well as students of all ages (or anyone generally interested in numbers).

Why it's good: Azad wants students to believe that a given theorem or claim is true because they are capable of making sense of the claim — not because someone, somewhere is capable of composing an abstract and complicated proof of the claim.

Why it's relevant: The <a href=" has been focusing on encouraging students to engage in Obama administration studies. With the Department of Labor projecting that there will be [more than 4.3 million jobs](" target="_blank">STEM in the computer science and math space by 2020, BetterExplained’s efforts to make math accessible to younger students are both important and timely.

# Desmos

!enter image description

What it is: Desmos is an incredibly fast online calculator that can graph any imaginable function. It also allows users to add sliders, do regressions, and plot whole data tables, among other things.

Who would love it: Anyone learning math, from middle and high school through graduate school and beyond. Also great for teachers.

Why it’s good: Desmos can be used on any computer or tablet, completely free of charge, and does not even require a download. It seamlessly creates beautiful visual representations and animations, and it allows users to save and share graphs they've created. Desmos makes complex math — whether theoretical or applied — fun, interactive, and accessible.

Why it’s relevant: For many students and math enthusiasts who can't afford graphing calculators, Desmos is leveling the playing field. It is also, in Tech Crunch's words, "platform-agnostic" — so anyone with a computer or tablet can use it anytime. In addition, Desmos is supporting the push toward online textbooks and leading many students to spend their free time creating cool graphs and cultivating a love of math — something that's especially crucial given the growth in STEM-related careers.

Something you didn’t know: The site has an engaging series of classroom activities for teachers. One of these is the Function Carnival, which enables students to watch a video, create a graph, and have that model transformed into an animation. Another is Des-Man, in which students do math artistically — they draw faces with graphs by using domain and range restrictions.

# Google Knowledge Graph

!Google Knowledge Graph

What it is: Google Knowledge Graph is an enhanced way of using the standard search bar. In essence, Google Knowledge Graph consists of those short, accurate answers you see when you ask a question in Google search. Rather than dig through websites to find the distance to the moon in miles (for instance), Google Knowledge Graph quickly answers your query and suggests resources for further investigation.

Who would love it: Anyone.

Why it’s good: Google Knowledge Graph provides many resources for educators, including live and online tutorials, lesson plans, and interactive class materials.

Why it’s relevant: New developments in Google Knowledge Graph, such as Voice Search and Carousel, have made this product even more user-friendly. Google's ongoing efforts to make its search engine compatible with your mobile devices make for an increasingly versatile tool.

Something you didn’t know: We love "A Google A Day," which presents users with daily trivia challenges that they are supposed to answer using Google. This is a great way for educators to incorporate research-skills practice into a fun daily activity.

# instaGrok


What it is: instaGrok is a search engine that generates a web of related videos, images, articles, and terms based on a student’s query. Students can also use instaGrok to evaluate sources and to quiz themselves on specific topics.

Who would love it: Students who are first learning how to conduct research.

Why it's good: instaGrok turns searching for content into an interactive experience. Students can understand the links between subjects and explore the breadth as well as depth of research topics.

Why it's relevant: instaGrok is now available through Edmodo (see above). When InstaGrok is run through Edmodo, students can submit work they've created in instaGrok as assignments in Edmodo; Edmodo class members are immediately registered for instaGrok.

# Khan Academy

!Khan Academy

What it is: A series of videos that emphasizes self-paced, interactive learning with a large number of online lessons across a variety of subjects.

Who would love it: Students of all ages and skill levels. It is also useful for parents and teachers.

Why it’s good: Khan Academy is one of the first sites to have free, high-quality videos that are actually personal. They don’t sound like a textbook. Khan Academy is a tool that emphasizes that education doesn’t have to happen at an institution — it’s something that anyone can undertake for self-improvement.

Why it’s relevant: In addition to recently releasing a free iPad app, Khan Academy is making waves in the world of standardized testing. It launched a competition to find the best resources to help students prepare for the redesigned MCAT (which is coming this April), and they partnered with College Board to create free and open SAT prep materials for the new version of the test coming out in 2016.

# PatrickJMT


What it is: PatrickJMT gives students access to a wide variety of free online video tutorials in math.

Who would love it: Students studying elementary through early college-level mathematics.

Why it's good: PatrickJMT offers a large number of free video tutorials online. In addition, it has a store (through MindBites) in which users can purchase videos to download. Students can buy individual lessons or entire series. The free videos are a great starting point, and they can be downloaded for offline studying.

Why it's relevant: PatrickJMT is now working with Thinkwell, an education technology company, in a partnership that’s allowing PatrickJMT to offer even more advanced learning tools for users.

# Wolfram Alpha

!Wolfram Alpha

What it is: One part calculator and one part encyclopedia. From showing you step-by-step solutions to complex equations to telling you everything you need to know about the 17th president of the United States (Andrew Johnson), this database provides systematized knowledge in an accessible way.

Who would love it: College students, particularly those involved in STEM studies. Also useful for students of all ages and skill levels, as well as teachers and professionals.

Why it’s good: Wolfram Alpha offers step-by-step solutions to help students actually learn material. It also provides wonderful visual representations of its content. Perhaps most impressive of all is the wide variety topics covered by Wolfram Alpha's system.

Why it’s relevant: Wolfram Alpha, now available for Windows phone users, has the long-term goal of making “all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone." This objective especially resonates as education technology heads in the direction of big data and increased content accessibility.

Language Learning Tools

# Duolingo


What it is: Duolingo is a language-learning app and website that features comprehensive guides for nine of the most commonly taught languages in the U.S., including Spanish, French, and German.

Who would love it: First-time learners as well as veterans looking to brush up on their skills before a trip; especially friendly for younger audiences.

Why it's good: Most free language-learning apps can feel like a random stack of unrelated flashcards. Duolingo actually features an intuitive, step-by-step learning progression that leads speakers through the basics of the language while gently challenging them and explaining key grammatical concepts. For that, and its excellent design, it’s also been named one of the best apps by Apple, Android, and TechCrunch.

Why it's relevant: Duolingo has a track record of excellence in design and education. It is also expanding this year, adding new languages (like Swedish) and greatly improving its Web experience. It may not be as robust as a Rosetta Stone, but we’ve found it to be more engaging and a joy to use (not to mention: free).

# Pleco


What it is: Pleco gives you the freedom to engage with the Chinese language in a variety of ways. It serves as a digital dictionary that helps with vocabulary and also enables you to look up characters from texts, images, and even handwriting.

Who would love it: Anyone who wants to expand Chinese language knowledge.

Why it's good: Looking up an unknown Chinese character can be tricky — it's a process that involves counting the number of brushstrokes (and, for beginners, a certain amount of luck). Pleco makes learning new vocabulary easier. You can look up words by tracing characters, “hovering to translate," and using voice input.

Why it's relevant: Apps to help students learn languages with different characters, let alone a language as famously complex as Chinese, are rare. Pleco has been around for years, and it continues to release new versions of its app (the latest was in October) — thus enhancing the user experience that has won it such widespread support.

Something you didn’t know: Pleco started out as a Palm app designed by a high school student! It has since evolved into one of the most prominent Chinese language applications available on iPhone and Android.

# SpanishDict


What it is: SpanishDict is a Spanish translation tool with a built-in community of Spanish language learners.

Who would love it: Anyone learning Spanish.

Why it's good: It is a Spanish-English dictionary with more than a million entries, but it is also a translation service and an active forum. On top of that, SpanishDict hosts about 25,000 flashcards, about 5,000 "video pronunciations" (wherein native Spanish speakers use the language in context), and 90 full-length Spanish lessons.

Why it's relevant: As the Spanish-speaking population in the United states continues to grow — the Pew Research Center estimates that Spanish is a first language for 37.6 million people in the United States — learning the language can open up opportunities to connect with others. SpanishDict is a great way for those interested in becoming fluent to learn Spanish.

Online Courses

# Coursera


What it is: Coursera works with world-renowned universities to give users access to free online courses. Students can learn at their own pace and receive certificates as they complete courses.

Who would love it: College students, as well as adults and professionals interested in personal and professional development.

Why it’s good: Coursera distinguishes itself from other <a href=" providers by the close partnerships it maintains with a large number of well-known educational institutions (its CEO is former MOOC president Rick Levin" target="_blank">Yale. Because of its wide array of affiliations, Coursera is able to provide a comprehensive selection of high-quality courses in one online location and one format. While all courses are accessible for free, students who would like to receive verified certificates can join the company's Signature Track for a fee.

Why it’s relevant: TechCrunch reported that Coursera recently teamed up with start-ups and established companies — including Google, Shazam, Instagram, and Snapdeal — to have them judge Coursera students’ capstone projects. Through these projects, students demonstrate the knowledge they have gained in their “specializations" (the Coursera equivalent of majors). This means that entrepreneurship students are pitching their ideas to potential business partners, and the best projects presented by Mobile Cloud Computing specialists make appearances in the Play store.

# Crash Course

!Crash Course

What it is: Crash Course is a YouTube channel created by John Green — author of “The Fault in our Stars" — and his brother, Hank. It offers deeply-researched, information-packed video courses in episodic format on big topics like world history and astronomy.

Who would love it: The content of these videos is probably best suited for a high school or college-aged audience.

Why it's good: Crash Course videos tend to be fast-paced and funny, with a zany humor that should be familiar to YouTube connoisseurs everywhere. Although these videos cover a lot of material, they're eminently entertaining and easy to watch.

Why it's relevant: Crash Course was undertaken as an initiative by YouTube in 2011. Recently, its creators partnered with PBS Digital Studios, and soon it will be featured in PBS LearningMedia.

Something you didn’t know: Some of Crash Course's charm comes from its recurring segments, such as the many videos containing "open letters" to historical figures, periods, objects, and even ideas. These letters range from the serious to the patently absurd. ("An open letter to animal crackers: ...thanks for being delicious, but...maybe foods that are already delicious do not need the added benefit of being pleasingly shaped.")

# iTunes University

!iTunes University

What it is: iTunes U is a library of free educational resources. It offers lectures, videos, books, and other educational materials.

Who would love it: Anyone with iTunes. (To participate in private courses, though, you'll also need an iPhone, an iPad, or an iPod touch with iOS 7 or higher. The Public Site Manager allows schools to distribute courses and educational materials. It's accessible to K–12 schools as well as institutions of higher learning.)

Why it's good: The iTunes U app for the iPad allows teachers to custom-design courses with assignments, materials, and study notes. This enables instructors to craft customized learning experiences for their students.

Why it's relevant: Last year, iTunes U released an upgrade that allows educators to edit coursework from their iPads. It also allows students and teachers to communicate through a group chat. This is an important advancement in Apple’s push to get more iPads used in schools. As of June 2014, Apple reported that 10 million iPads were being used in schools.

# University of Reddit

!University of Reddit

What it is: The University of Reddit is an online learning community, self-described as an "experimental, open-source, peer-to-peer teaching and learning platform."

Who would love it: Anyone. (Classes are free for registered users, and anyone can register to teach or take courses.)

Why it's good: Classes can be taught by a single teacher or by multiple teachers. Users who sign up to teach classes are provided with teacher admin panels. These allow teachers to manage their classes, send mass personalized messages to their students, and access a file hosting service upon request.

Why it's relevant: The University of Reddit is one of many tools that allow individuals to take ownership of their education — whether they are focused on self-improvement or strictly academic courses. The University of Reddit takes this educational democratization to a whole new level by allowing any interested person to become a student as well as a teacher.

Presentation Makers

# Plotly


What it is: Plotly provides a user-friendly platform in which graphs can be created and shared in a Web-based format.

Who would love it: Students, teachers, scientists, and businesses. This system is sophisticated enough to support the data visualization needs of working scientists, but user-friendly enough to be a valuable learning tool in a classroom setting.

Why it's good: Plotly helps students learn how to visually represent and interpret data. Teachers can collect assignments online, and students can access a wide variety of tutorials in case they need a refresher or extra help with a specific technique.

Why it's relevant: As those in the education space put more information on the cloud, Plotly provides a great way for students to collaborate on projects across classrooms and continents.

# Prezi


What it is: Prezi allows you to make cool interactive presentations and collaborate on projects in real time. It can also feed updates of your work to your devices.

Who would love it: Educators and students.

Why it's good: One of the things that makes Prezi stand out is the versatility of its presentations. Prezi has moved away from the traditional notion of slides and gives users new data-presentation methods that are not only visually appealing, but also conducive to audience engagement.

Why it's relevant: Prezi raised 57 million dollars in investments in 2014. At the same time that it exceeded 50 million dollars in funding, it did the same in the number of users.

# StudyBlue


What it is: StudyBlue is a popular online studying platform. It boasts a gigantic library of user-created flashcards and study guides.

Who would love it: Middle school and high school students.

Why it's good: The site’s nearly seven million users store and share class materials, flashcards, and practice quizzes. The free version of StudyBlue gives you access to suggested flashcards within particular interest sets, whereas the paid version gives you access to all of the decks in the library (more than 275 million of them).

Why it's relevant: Originally founded in 2006, StudyBlue raised more than $2 million in funding in 2014. Co-founder Becky Splitt said she hopes the site will also appeal to learners who are no longer in the classroom, explaining that she wants it to be “a destination for anyone who wants to learn anything, regardless of whether you have a final to study for."

# Quizlet


What it is: Quizlet allows users to create study tools, such quizzes, flashcards, and games — which can then be accessed on computers or mobile devices. It also allows teachers to create study resources and share them with an entire class.

Who would love it: Teachers and students of all ages.

Why it's good: Quizlet gives users the ability to custom-design their study experiences. Study tools can be shared among users and accessed through a variety of devices.

Why it's relevant: According to its website, Quizlet ranks #54 among America’s most-visited websites, and #10 among most popular free education iPhone apps. With its large fan base, Quizlet wants to continue expanding by integrating external courses and developing new tools for specific subjects, such as verb conjugators.

Productivity Boosters

# Cold Turkey

!Cold Turkey

What it is: Cold Turkey will help you to stay focused and on task by allowing you to block applications, websites, or even the entire Internet for a fixed amount of time.

Who would love it: Anyone who wants to get work done on a computer.

Why it's good: This application is about prevention, planning, and user control. Users have the opportunity to customize their experiences, plan events, and schedule breaks.

Why it's relevant: A scientific study at Duke found that subjects with less self-control, or the ability to regulate attention and emotions, are more likely to have poor health and difficulties with money. Cold Turkey, named one of TechRadar's best free PC productivity tools, can help students learn self-control and facilitate future success. If you are looking for a Mac equivalent, try SelfControl.

# f.lux


What it is: f.lux makes the lighting of your computer screen adapt to the time of day. This change in lighting is supposed to help you sleep better by affecting the way blue light is used in your nighttime computer screen.

Who would love it: Anyone with a computer. This is a particularly valuable resource for people with sleep difficulties, since the color change that occurs toward the latter part of the day helps create an environment conducive to sleeping.

Why it's good: A recent study in the medical journal BMJ Open found that using any blue-light emitting device an hour before bed had up to a 52 percent increase in someone needing more than an hour to fall asleep. The AMA found that using dim red lighting could minimize this effect. Given the importance of sleep in influencing your ability to consolidate memories and focus, this tool could be your key to a restful night before final exams — and every other school day, as well.

Why it's relevant: We think f.lux will make an impact this year because tech users are beginning to focus more on how their devices interact with and affect their environments. In a Wired article, author Kyle VanHemert listed the integration of f.lux-like software into all of our tech platforms as a key development he’d like to see this year.

# Focus Booster

!Focus Booster

What it is: This productivity app helps you stay focused by giving you the tools you need to implement the Pomodoro Technique — a method of focusing that involves short periods of concentration followed by quick breaks — in your work life and study habits. You can download a timer (to your desktop or mobile device) that keeps track of how long you've been focused on a particular task and helps you remember when to take breaks.

Who would love it: Students, employees, and businesses, as well as freelance workers and consultants.

Why it's good: Focus Booster bridges the gap between a time-tested focus strategy (the Pomodoro Technique) and the digital age.

Why it's relevant: The recent release of Focus Booster HQ has helped to transform this product from a virtual timer into an all-out time management machine. HQ now gives users the ability to monitor specific projects, keep track of the time they spend working, and analyze their productivity with charts and graphs. Focus Booster, with HQ in tow, not only promotes better focus and productivity among its users, but now also allows them to develop a deeper understanding of their work habits.

Something you didn’t know: Since Focus Booster HQ allows students to track their progress from project to project, they are able to identify which subjects and topics present them with the greatest difficulty. This functionality allows them to identify potential areas of weakness that may require extra study time.

# RescueTime


What it is: RescueTime helps you monitor how you are spending your time when you are on your computer, and it provides reports that analyze your productivity.

Who would love it: Students, writers, academics, and businesspeople. RescueTime also offers a research platform that is useful for universities and other groups interested in gathering data.

Why it's good: By analyzing your RescueTime report, you can identify where you are losing valuable moments to procrastination or unproductive tasks. RescueTime allows you to set goals and alarms to keep you on track. It also gives you productivity scores and sends you weekly emails about your work patterns so you can monitor your progress.

Why it's relevant: RescueTime is now supported on Zapier, a tool that integrates Web apps for a streamlined workflow. This means that users can more easily integrate information from their other organizational apps into their RescueTime app.

# Unstuck


What it is: Unstuck is like a private life coach that lives in your computer or phone. When you're stuck with a problem, it will ask you questions about your situation, then categorize the kind of “stuck" you are. Once it has categorized your current state of mind, it prompts you with ideas for overcoming your current situation.

Who would love it: Adolescents and adults.

Why it's good: The device asks you engaging and insightful questions, much in the way a friend or family member might. This is great for working through issues that others might not have the time to discuss with you, or that might be too personal for you to discuss with someone else.

Why it's relevant: Unstuck has won two Webby awards, one of which was a People’s Choice Award (awarded based on popular vote). Unlike most productivity apps, Unstuck not only focuses on academic challenges, but also addresses the emotional and psychological difficulties of being a student.

Reading Enhancers

# LightSail


What it is: LightSail is an educational reading app. It combines a large library of 80,000 books with in-text assessments and quizzes.

Who would love it: Students in grades 1–12; or, according to the website, "any student who can read independently."

Why it's good: When students read a book via LightSail, the software actively quizzes them on the book's content. These quizzes put a lot of data at the fingertips of teachers, principals, and other educators, who can see trends in reading performance for each student, class, school, or district.

Why it's relevant: On his GatesNotes blog this past August, Bill Gates included LightSail on his 6 Tools for Teachers list.

Something you didn’t know: LightSail supports reading lists that change dynamically, meaning that the app will adjust each student's reading list based on her performance.

# Newsela


What it is: Newsela — a combination of the word “news" and the acronym “ELA" — helps students develop critical reading skills that are aligned with the Common Core. The online reading program uses relevant news topics and articles to test students in five different reading levels. Quizzes help students work through the material they are reading. Teachers can view students’ activity to help them keep track of progress and areas of weakness.

Who would love it: Students reading at the elementary level up through high school.

Why it's good: This highly interactive program engages students as they practice their critical reading skills. Additionally, the variety of reading levels available for each article allows students at different skill levels to read the same general content.

Why it's relevant: At a time when leveled reading — adjusting the books students read according to their reading abilities — has come into conflict with the Common Core standards (which emphasize the importance of having all students read challenging texts), Newsela finds a middle way. As Slate has pointed out, Newsela enables all students to read the same text at their own levels. The approach has had great early success: TechCrunch reported that it took just two years for half the teachers in the country to register for Newsela.

# panOpen


What it is: panOpen provides a platform for easily accessing and evaluating high-quality open educational resources (OERs). An OER is a piece of content that has been freely and openly licensed for educational purposes — it can be a textbook, an assessment, a collection of course materials, or even an entire course.

Who would love it: Any age group. (Any open educational content — whether it's an assignment for a kindergarten classroom or a course at an institute of higher learning — can be released as an open educational resource.)

Why it's good: panOpen allows instructors to adapt a piece of content easily — they can rearrange huge sections or chapters using drag-and-drop tools; integrate resources like videos and PowerPoint slides; and collaborate in real time with colleagues.

Why it's relevant: On its blog, panOpen cited a Babson survey showing that only 2.7 percent of professors think about cost when assigining textbooks. With the Obama administration’s recent push toward free community college and the affordability of higher education, reliable OERs like panOpen are helping move education into the realm of universality.

# SlugBooks


What it is: SlugBooks helps students find inexpensive textbook options. It compares prices from various online retailers to determine where students can find the best price to buy or rent. It also provides a platform for people looking to sell textbooks.

Who would love it: College students and anyone who wants to buy, sell, or rent a textbook.

Why it's good: It’s easy to use and saves time. SlugBooks searches the Web to determine the most cost-efficient textbook options for a given course or query. Searching can be done by course title and school, or by ISBN. This makes it easy for students to get the books they need at reasonable prices.

Why it's relevant: It can save students a lot of money. When asked how he sees the company growing, David Miller, Founder and CEO of SlugBooks, told Forbes: “The price differentials that we see on the most widely used textbooks are just too extreme for people to back away from the Internet. “

Disclosure: Staff members at Noodle are invested or otherwise involved with some of the companies in this story, including: LightSail, Newsela, and panOpen. This involvement in no way affected the selection, description, or inclusion of these companies in this list.