Common Sense


Best Tools for Virtual and Distance Learning

Making virtual learning or distance learning work for all students is challenging. You can have all the best tools in place, but without equitable access at home for all your students -- and adequate prep and training for yourself -- it's tough to replicate a traditional, in-person learning experience. This list assumes you've got those problems worked out and are focusing now on how to set up an effective virtual learning environment -- either adapting your existing curriculum, or designing a brand-new one from the ground up.

To help you along, we've grouped the tools according to some key needs teachers have when setting up virtual classrooms. These needs -- communicating and messaging effectively, facilitating discussion, assessing learning, delivering lessons, and more -- are also critical ways teachers can create remote learning experiences that keep students interested and active. Take note that we've also selected only the top two recommendations within each category. In each case, we've chosen tools that aren't just highly rated for learning but also free or cheap, making it easier for teachers to put together a toolkit that works for them. Of course, you'll also want to check them out for yourself. When you do this, we'd recommend taking time to dig into each tool's privacy and safety practices. To help, many of the tools on this list have privacy evaluations displayed next to our learning ratings on the review pages.

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Top Picks


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Parent, Caregiver, and Family Messaging


Teachers' text reminders keep students -- and parents -- up to speed

Bottom line: Well-designed, highly effective messaging tool has the potential to keep students and families connected with their schools.


Multilingual texting tool enhances school-to-home communication

Bottom line: Easy-to-use tool for supporting communication and engagement with families in 100+ languages.

Video Lesson Creation


Create and share high-quality screencasts without breaking the bank

Bottom line: A well-designed screen and video recorder that lets teachers and students focus on creating engaging content from the get-go.


Crop, customize, and remix online video content with interactive tool

Bottom line: As a flipped classroom or student creation tool, there are lots of opportunities for use, but teachers will need to be creative if they want students to engage.

Student Portfolios

Seesaw: The Learning Journal

Versatile digital portfolio appeals to teachers, students, and parents

Bottom line: A powerful multimedia learning and communication tool that demonstrates student progress over time.


Slick portfolio tool has cool features, limited feedback options

Bottom line: A neat tool for publishing online, possibly better suited to teacher content creation than student publishing.

Learning and Classroom Management


Manage classes, content, and communication with social LMS platform

Bottom line: This free platform allows for teacher-monitored classroom communication with basic tools.


Top-tier LMS for digital classrooms

Bottom line: To make the most of Schoology, you'll need some ramp-up time and great tasks and assessments, but it can offer rich learning and collaboration experiences.

Lesson Planning

Common Curriculum

Sleek lesson planner replaces bulky binders, promotes collaboration

Bottom line: Flexible and collaborative lesson planning, calendar design, and classroom site creator save teachers precious time.


Handy one-stop digital lesson planner saves time

Bottom line: Simplifies lesson planning with an intuitive, easy-to-use interface.

Communication and Discussion


Pose questions, spark thoughtful video responses with stellar tool

Bottom line: A simple way for students and teachers to create online discussion, as long as your classroom culture is mature enough to use it wisely.

Common Sense Selection


Comprehensive discussion platform develops critical-thinking skills

Bottom line: A great tool in any subject or topic for teachers looking to make discussion a central part of their classroom.

Assessment and Feedback


Provide instant feedback with collaborative, multimedia assessment tool

Bottom line: Engaging, easy-to-use tool that supports both formative and summative assessment while allowing for student collaboration.


Nifty add-on enables audio and text feedback in Google Docs

Bottom line: If your classroom relies a lot on Google Docs, this might just be the feedback tool you're looking for.

Class Website Creation


If you want your students writing and sharing, Edublogs is the place to start.

Bottom line: Edublogs is a fantastic platform for any teacher committed to blogging as a tool for extending learning beyond the classroom.

Google Sites

Make your own website with easy, intuitive drag-and-drop features

Bottom line: With a few clicks, students can design a basic but custom, responsive website that allows for easy collaboration with their peers.

Slideshows and Lesson Delivery


Interactive slideshow tool engages students, promotes collaboration

Bottom line: This effective tool leverages the capabilities of 1-to-1 environments and offers both teacher- and student-paced learning.

Pear Deck

Interactive slideshows offer a variety of ways to engage and assess

Bottom line: While it has some limits, the useful presentation features provide terrific options for formative assessment from any device.

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