Beef Up Your Training Toolbox with Web Tools: Your Learning and Development Materials Can Sizzle with Some Easy, and Often Free, Online Tools

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To keep ideas fresh and learning engaging, training and development professionals need to constantly update, freshen, or create new training materials. Fortunately, there are free Internet tools that can aid in revitalizing supplemental training materials. What follows is a description of a few of these web tools along with an explanation on how to use them.

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Add some graphics

Creating new or updating existing training materials can be a daunting and often time-consuming task, especially for someone who is artistically challenged. Here are some easy-to-use tools and new ideas to add color, humor, and pictures to liven up your training.

Use word clouds. A word cloud is a great way to introduce terms specific to a topic or domain. They also can be used in icebreakers by asking the audience to make sentences from the words. Available at www.wordle.net, Wordle is a free, easy-to-use Internet tool that creates beautiful word clouds. Upon logging in to the Wordle website, the user can enter as many as 30 words into a box and press "go." Almost immediately, a word cloud appears that can be customized by font, color palette, and language by clicking the randomize button. The word cloud can be printed, saved as a PDF, or published to a public gallery.

Other free word cloud generators include Techmynd.com (www.techmynd.com/tools/word-scrambler.php), which quickly scrambles words (trainers can have the audience unscramble the words); Tagxedo (www.tagxedo.com), which formats word clouds into shapes; and ABCya (www.abcya.com/word_clouds.htm), which allows users to save the word cloud directly to their computer as a JPEG ready to be inserted into presentations or Word documents.

All of the word cloud generators are just a little different, with some requiring a user name and password. Most are easy to use and free. Choosing colors that help the featured picture or logo stand out, makes the training artifact more appealing for the audience. But for someone who is colorblind or not artistically inclined, this can be a difficult task. Color Hunter (www.colorhunter.com) can facilitate finding a suitable color.

On the website, one is instructed to browse and upload a photo or logo. Once uploaded, a color palette appears next to the chosen graphic. With the click of a link, the site will also provide an alternate, more subdued color palette. Each color palette includes the color's hex numbers, which website developers use to specify a specific color.

Many word processing and presentation packages use red, green, blue (RGB) color numbers and not hex numbers. To find the RGB color, simply go to the hex-to-RGB converter website (www.javascripter.net/faq/hextorgb.htm), and plug in the hex numbers. The corresponding RGB numbers will appear immediately. Next, simply plug the RGB numbers into the "more colors" palette in Word or PowerPoint to get the color recommended by Color Hunter.

Tell stories with the funnies. Cartoons are a great way to add humor to a training session and can be used to tell a story, put a concept into picture format, or as a focal point for discussion. Often, however, it is difficult to find the perfect cartoon. Web-based cartoon-creating tools, such as ToonDoo (www.toondoo.com), enable trainers to add customized cartoons to their training materials. The simple-to-use drag-and-drop technology makes it easy for anyone to create a cartoon for a specific training session.

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In addition to the wide array of backgrounds, characters, and other resources, the tools allow the user to upload his own images. Once a cartoon is created and published to the online gallery, the cartoon can be opened in a new window and saved as a JPEG format to a personal computer. Although ToonDoo is free, it does require users to create an account and login.

Paint or modify a picture. For those who are artistically inclined as well as those who are challenged, Sumo Paint (www. …