Personalise your Learning

You may not always want to read something that is written, and thanks to modern technology, you don't have to.  There are many ways to get your phone, tablet or computer to read text to you.  You can even photograph pages from printed books and convert the images to speed-readable text or audio files and have them read to you.  Whether you want to strip visual clutter from webpages, see how a webpage is structured and jump straight to the part you want, or listen to the printed word being read to you, you can do so for free.

Are these things free?

At the time of writing, the following websites and apps were available for free, or at least had a free version you can use.  Please check whether an app offers everything you need for free before becoming invested in using it.  OneNote and MindView are premium products the University makes available to all our students for free.  

What additional support do you offer?

If you have any specific difficulties with your vision or reading, please reach out to your Faculty Librarian, who can advise on what the Library can do to support you.  You can find your Faculty Librarian's contact details on your subject page. We have access to alternative formats of works through RNIB Bookshare, equipment and software that can make learning easier for anyone who needs it.  If you need help finding your Faculty Librarian, please get in touch with any member of library staff and we will be happy to help you.


Print-to-text and text-to-speech converters

If you need to speed read or listen to something only available in print or that comprises an image of text rather than something your computer can read for you, you can photograph the pages of the chapter you want to speed read or listen to using your phone and then use OneNote or Robobraille to convert them.

Robobraille excels at reliably turning files, web pages and even images of printed books, journals, newspapers and magazines that you might not want to or be easily able to read into more accessible formats, from plain text to mp3 audio files, allowing you to use your computer, phone or tablet to help you speed read it or have it read out loud to you. 

OneNote converts almost anything, including photographs of printed pages taken with your phone, into a screen-readable text file you can speed read or have read aloud to you.  OneNote is available as part of Microsoft 365 (formerly Microsoft Office) and is available for free to all our students and staff.


Speed readers

People with dyslexia often find that some speed reading apps which show only one word at a time in fast succession focused on a single point on the page, help them to read more effectively.  These same apps allow many more people to read much faster and improve memory retention because they remove the need to scan large volumes of text.  

SwiftRead (formerly Spreed) is a browser extension that takes a webpage or pdf and shows you the text 1-3 words at a time (you choose how many), centred on the page, at a rate you choose.  The central letter of each word is highlighted and appears in exactly the same place, giving you a focal point to look at while you speed-read the changing text.  This helps most people read much faster and can really help people with dyslexia who might otherwise struggle to read from a screen. It is also useful for anyone with a limited field of vision. 

Spreeder is a free alternative that operates through a website, so if you cannot install the SwiftRead extension for any reason, Spreeder is a great alternative.  The most obvious visual difference between the two is that Spreeder highlights the central letter of each word.  


Help with your writing style

If grammar is your Achilles' heel or you would like a helping hand writing more concisely, there are at least two popular apps that can help: 



Try both and see which you prefer.  While premium versions are available via personal subscription, we recommend the free versions because they offer the most useful tools without the premium price tag.


Visual learning

Many people think visually and find it often helps to sketch out an idea as a mind map that breaks a topic into branching trees of related ideas and shows how they interrelate.  Creating mind maps can help you understand the structure of an assignment or revision topic better, unleash your creativity, and help you to collaborate, solve problems, and think critically. Other people find creating annotated collages of images is how they work best, particularly for visual and creative projects.  There are several apps and websites that can support both.  Apps work separately but there is nothing stopping you bringing different tools together if you are working on paper or in OneNote: you can connect sketchnotes to form mind maps or incorporate mind maps into larger sketchnotes and include collages of images.  With a little creativity, almost anything is possible.

Mind mapping tools

MindMeister is available as a free online app.

MindView is only available to University of Portsmouth students and staff.  It is a downloadable desktop app available from the University through AppsAnywhere.  You may need to be connected to the University computer network (connect on campus or via the VPN) to log into AppsAnywhere.


Sketchnotes are a great way to record and connect ideas creatively and by hand.  Check out this Library blog post for inspiration.

Image collages

There are many ways to bring together images and annotate them to explore themes and ideas and to support your learning.  Collages can be used to record field trips, collate and organise visual evidence, gather design ideas and artistic inspiration, curate photo albums and illustrate concepts.  Many apps allow you to add text and notes so you can include your ideas and thoughts with the images.  You might even turn a heavily annotated collage into a visually appealing infographic, conference or seminar poster.  Not least, they are a potentially useful tool for self-expression.

Food blogger Anna Chechko has produced a helpful top ten list for the photo collage apps available at the moment.  Please check whether an app offers everything you need for free before becoming invested in using it.


If you find mind mapping, sketchnoting, and other visualisation techniques overly complex and unwieldy or you simply seek an online way to order and update your life, these list management apps might be some of your new best friends:

Workflowy offers flexible, taggable, collapsible lists to help record, organise and prioritise your thoughts, notes and tasks. The mobile app is simple and intuitive to use. You can just drag and drop items to create nested. offers sophisticated project management tools and timelines for up to two people for free with a student account (and free trials if you need more people involved or more features). Allows you to manage multiple boards and organise projects with tasks and sub-tasks.


Flashcards for learning and revision

Research has shown that flashcards are the fastest and easiest way of learning new information and the most effective way to revise.

Chegg Flashcards allow you to create mobile-friendly digital flashcards.

GoConqr allows you to go further and create flashcards, mind maps, notes, flowcharts, quizzes and presentations your quest to consolidate what you have learned.