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Distance Learning: Best Apps, Tools and Online Services

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Distance learning solutions and online educational tools are rapidly growing in popularity and effectiveness with teachers, colleges and university-level programs worldwide. One recent survey estimated that at least one in five undergraduates has participated in at least one "distance education" course as part of their studies, and many middle, high and even elementary school teachers have begun using some form of distance learning in the classroom. For modern educators looking to provide the best tools and services for distance learning solutions, here are a dozen top resources to consider:

Adobe Connect - Much like teachers and students need to know their way around the company's ubiquitous PDF files, it also pays to be familiar Adobe's collaboration and learning solutions. The educational version of the company's online meeting software allows for teachers to easily tweak presentations, provide real-time quizzes and facilitate interaction, breakout sessions and more. There are also a number of tracking mechanisms to allow for real-time feedback on course content and setup, as well as monitoring of students' progress.

Blackboard - Blackboard is a platform for education that functions much like the blackboard in traditional classrooms. It provides a number of different ways for teachers and students to collaborate and connect, all in one easy-to-use place. Instead of piecing together various tools for communicating and participating in lessons, Blackboard makes them all available in one place. The company also specializes in other areas of distance learning and education as well, making it a promising one-stop solution for administrators.

Canvas - Canvas is an "open source" solution to online collaboration that's designed to be as simple as possible to users. Unlike some of its competitors, it's free, and seeks to integrate tools and program that people already know how to use, such as Google Docs or YouTube, rather than creating their own versions.

Coursera - Coursera is an online portal that hosts courses from universities around the country and the world, essentially providing a way for students anywhere to "audit" classes they would otherwise not have access to. It provides a readymade way to learn online and see the benefits of distance learning firsthand.

edX- edX is one of the leading sites for accessing MOOCs, or massive open online courses. The venture was founded by Harvard and MIT, and offers classes from those prestigious institutions, as well as material from an expanding list of partners.

ePals - Collaboration site ePals offers a way for groups of students around the world to be matched up and paired with other classrooms, and allows teachers to create their own projects or join another class' existing ones.

FaceTime - Just as millions of everyday users have come to embrace Apple's popular videoconferencing tool, so too should teachers and educators give it a look -- it's among the simplest and most widely-available ways to connect via voice and video with others online. Both users will require an Apple device to participate in discussion and learning, however.

Google Plus Hangouts - Google's social network shines for its own online video chat solution as well, which lets teachers, students and third-party experts easily videoconference in groups -- we've even seen it used to broadcast presenters live to packed auditoriums.

iTunes U- Apple's in-house solution for online and connected learning, iTunes U provides thousands of audio and video courses on-demand. Using it, you can access learning and presentations from many top K-12 schools and universities worldwide -- and learn more about the world without setting foot in a formal classroom.

Schoology - As a distance learning tool, Schoology differentiates itself by placing an emphasis on the monitoring and education of students, promising teachers a way to help analyze and better educate kids based on usage and activity.

Skype - Skype ranks among today's most widely-utilized ways to make voice or video calls online, providing for communication across PCs, smartphones, tablets and mobile devices, making it a useful tool in educators' arsenal. Thousands of teachers and kids can use it to connect with experts, or fellow pupils and educators, for real-time chats -- and for free.

Udacity - Another major player in the MOOC scene, Udacity sees its role as "democratizing education," as it brings online lessons and classes to more than 160,000 students in nearly 200 different countries.

YouTube - With so many educational videos and classes available online, YouTube provides a surprisingly robust information resource, and source of insight into topics ranging from science to mathematics, history and geography. While quality, substance and efficacy of educational content widely varies (hint: take everything with a grain of salt), many leading schools and lectures post material online, with myriad snippets from instructional videos, documentaries and TV programs also frequently available.