01/23/2014 01:19 pm ET Updated Mar 25, 2014

Top Learning Tools for the 21st Century Student

The 21st century student is part of a tech-savvy, digital generation more comfortable with devices and gadgets than pen and paper. This is a generation of students unlike any other. To survive in today's workplace, students need a unique skill set that oftentimes can't be acquired in a traditional, brick and mortar classroom.

For many of these 21st century learners, online education is becoming the most affordable and convenient alternative. In fact, enrollment in online courses is at its highest ever. A recent report indicates that, during the fall of 2011, more than six million students took at least one online course. Many schools across the U.S. also seem to be responding to the demand for online education, with more than 60 percent offering fully online degrees.

But with some online courses reporting completion rates of just four percent, many remain skeptical. While online education may still have a long way to go, headway is being made. Below are five of the top tools and platforms transforming the way students learn.

Udemy offers on-demand online courses for students of all ages and levels looking to advance their education and master everything from programming to photography. The platform offers an extensive selection of online courses including Game Theory 101, Web Design and Basic Piano Hymn Playing.

In many ways, Udemy is similar to other MOOC platforms including Khan Academy, edX and Udacity. What sets Udemy apart, however, is it offers a selection of both free and paid courses. Top experts including best-selling authors, CEOs and Ivy League professors lead all Udemy courses. Founded in 2010, this online learning platform has grown impressively with more than 8,000 courses being taught to more than 800,000 students.

2U partners with leading universities to bring their degree programs online. The company offers technology, infrastructure, marketing resources and most importantly a best-in-class SaaS platform and LMS.

Since its launch in 2008, around 10,000 students have completed an online program through a 2U partner program. Notable universities include UC Berkeley, Wash U, University of Southern California (social work and teaching degrees) and Georgetown University. In an average week, an estimated 1,000 grad courses are taught and completion rates stand at more than 80 percent. 2U has raised $100 million in venture capital and is one of the leading players in the education tech world.

Top Hat
Top Hat is an interactive response system, which makes lectures dynamic and engaging by giving all students the opportunity to answer polls, quizzes and multiple-choice questions during lectures.

Students can also use devices ranging from smartphones to laptops to ask questions and receive feedback without interrupting lectures. The response system makes it easy for lecturers to monitor each student's understanding and progress in real-time. In this way, they are able to tailor lectures for maximum effectiveness. Further, students can use the system to track their own progress using grades from previous quizzes and assignments.

More than 300,000 students at 350 leading universities are using Top Hat, including Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Duke University. Since its launch in 2009, Top Hat has raised more than $12 million in funding.

Ginger is a natural language learning platform. It offers a suite of tools, including a grammar checker and proofreader for both native and non-native English speakers to help them better express themselves. Using sophisticated natural language processing algorithms, Ginger ensures a text is contextually correct by taking into account language subtleties and nuances for seamless communication.

In addition to a comprehensive sentence rephraser that suggests alternative phrases and provides contextually fitting synonyms, the Ginger Personal Trainer provides English practice sessions that draw from one's recurring mistakes. The platform can be used for double-checking emails, documents and even academic papers. Ginger, which was founded in 2007, has established itself as a leading tool and has raised $20 million in funding.

Coursera is an online learning platform that partners with prestigious universities and other educational organizations worldwide to offer free online courses. The courses are interactive and video-based, enabling students to master the material at their own pace. All courses provide students with an opportunity to interact with others enrolled in the course through forums. In addition, there are assignments to help students keep track of their progress throughout the course.

Some courses offer a verified certificate from both Coursera and the partner university. The courses offered cover topics from the humanities and medicine to computer science. Course offerings include Buddhism and modern psychology from Princeton and medical neuroscience from Duke University, among others. Coursera recently raised $63 million, bringing its total funding to $85 million.

Online education has made learning accessible, convenient and affordable. And as this multimillion-dollar industry continues to evolve, students can look forward to an increasingly enhanced learning experience unlike anything traditional education can provide.