Over the years, the way we communicate with each other has changed. Why do you think this is? Technology has grown so much during this time. There are so many ways now to use this technology and connect online, whether we're working from home, chatting with friends or booking a health appointment. In fact:


of adults keep in touch with friends or family online

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of workers are home-based at least some of the time

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1 in 4

purchases are online

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In this lesson, we'll look at the different types of online communication tools. We'll explain what each type does, so that you can select the right one(s) for you. And you'll find hints and tips on how to get the most out of them.


  • Understand which communication tools are available
  • Identify their key features
  • Be prepared to use these tools safely and securely
  • Find out how you can improve your online communication skills further

Read time:

12 mins

Chapter 1

Introduction to online communication tools

Read time:

2 mins

How have online tools changed the way we communicate?

Years ago, if we wanted to communicate with others, we had a few options. We could see people face-to-face. Pick up the phone and speak with them. Or maybe sit down and write them a letter.

These days, it seems like there are so many different online tools to help us connect with others. But each tool helps us do exactly the same as we used to, just in a slightly different way:


By video calling or looking at photos and videos


Through voice calls and messages


Using text, messages and emails

So, what's changed?

  • We can reach people all over the world quicker
  • We can see, speak with and write to many people at the same time
  • Most of these tools are free to use


What tools are available?

There are many different apps, websites and tools to help us keep in touch with others. Some are just for communication while others offer other features too. Let's look at some - which of these do you know, or use?


Some of the main forms of online communication tools include:

  • Email: Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook and others
  • Online chat in games and on websites
  • Texts and instant messaging: WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and others
  • Voice calls
  • Video chat: Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and others
  • Social media: Facebook, X, TikTok and others
  • Work-based communication tools: LinkedIn, Microsoft 365, Google Workspace and others


With so many tools, which ones should I use?

In the next chapters, we'll look at the different types of tools, and talk a little about some examples. It's good to explore these to see how they work. This can help you decide which ones you think are going to be useful and easiest for you.


We'll cover four types of tools:

Text-based tools

Voice and video calling

Photo and video sharing

Work-related tools

Chapter 2

I want to type - email, chat and instant messaging

Read time:

4 mins

What are they?

These tools let us type messages and send them to others. For instance, email, texting or using instant messaging (IM), and online chat.

We can send and receive text-based messages using any of these. But they each work in a slightly different way and are useful in different situations.

In this chapter, we'll compare the three main types.



Think of emails as writing a letter online. They're great for longer or more formal conversations, compared with IM or online chat. You can add a file or document (known as an attachment). Email is useful when you want to formally 'put it in writing' or write to a large group of people.

Don't expect an instant reply to your email. It's not as quick as texting or IM. Plus, people tend to spend more time writing their emails. You won't automatically know when your email has been read. Bear in mind that it is less secure than using IM tools, so think carefully about what you type in your email.

Email platforms include Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook (the Microsoft email tool) and iCloud Mail (for Apple devices).

You can use these tools on your phone, tablet, laptop or PC. Most phones and tablets have a built-in Mail app - look for the envelope icon. Often, PCs and laptops have email as part of an initial software package. So laptops that use Windows as an operating system might have Microsoft Office installed, which includes Outlook.

You can add other email tools. For mobile devices like phones and tablets, you can find them on the App Store (for iPhones and iPads) or Google Play Store (for Android devices). For laptops and PCs, go into your internet browser and search for the program you want, then download for free.


Texting and instant messaging (IM)

Texting and instant messaging let you send a short text to other people, who receive it (and can reply) straight away. You can add photos, images, emojis or even leave voice messages. These options work well for short chats with friends and family.



Texting is when you send messages to others, using an app that is already on your mobile phone. So there's no need to download anything. When you buy your phone, you may have a package that includes a number of texts each month. Sometimes, you have unlimited texts included. You don't need an internet connection to text - just a phone signal.

Many organisations contact us by sending texts. For instance, you may receive health appointments in this way. Delivery services use it to let us know a parcel is on its way. And banks might text you a code, as an extra layer of security when you're making a payment. So even if you don't use this to chat to others, you may get useful messages this way.


Instant messaging (IM)

Instant messages are free of charge to send and just need a connection to the internet using Wi-Fi or your phone data. Using Wi-Fi is free. If you use your phone data, this might be more expensive. More people use IM now, compared to text messages. Often, sending an IM works out cheaper than sending a text.

IM apps can be the most secure way to send information, as many have end-to-end encryption built into them. Always check for this type of encryption, when you're deciding which app to go for.

Examples of IM tools are WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Skype. WhatsApp only works on mobile phones. You can use the other tools on PCs, laptops and tablets too - download the app from your internet browser, or visit your mobile app store on your tablet.


Online chat

Sometimes when we visit an online shop, a little 'chat' box appears, asking if we need any help. This is online chat; sometimes it's called 'live chat'.

Think of these 'chat bots' as the digital equivalent of the shop assistant asking if they can help us. If you don't want to chat, just close down this box (usually there's a little X in the top-right corner to do this). But when we are trying to find or use something online, having an instant helper can be useful.

People also use online chat while they are gaming. If you play online games like Roblox and Minecraft, you can chat with other players if you want to. These chats are checked by moderators - people who are responsible for keeping everyone safe while gaming. Chatting to others while you are playing together can be fun, and gives you the chance to make friends with other players.


Help the moderators and yourself: block, report and mute online chat that makes you uncomfortable

Test your knowledge

Answer the following question by selecting one answer from the three possible options given.

That's not quite right!

Hint: Email isn't very secure. And with online chat, you sometimes don't know who is at the other end.

That's right!

Many instant messaging apps have end-to-end encryption built in. This makes them safer than apps and other tools that don't have this. Always check for end-to-end encryption, for the safest option.

Chapter 3

I want to talk - voice and video calling tools

Read time:

3 mins

What are they?

Video calls (sometimes known as video conferencing or virtual communication) let us see and speak with others, using our phones or computers. Because we can see who we are talking to, voice and video calling can seem more personal than text-based options.


What do they do?

Using these tools, you can make a phone call using the internet. They use video to transmit a live picture, so you can see and hear the people you're speaking with. You'll need an internet connection - either Wi-Fi or using your phone's data. Bear in mind that if you are using mobile data, video calls can be quite expensive.

Just like text-based tools, there are different types, to suit different needs. In this chapter, we'll compare the three main types.


Dedicated video calling apps and software

These tools, like FaceTime (only for iPhones and iPads), Skype and Zoom, are specifically for voice and video calls. They're all available as mobile apps, either built into your phone or quick and easy to install. If you don't want to install an app or want to use your PC or laptop for calls, you can use Zoom and Skype from your web browser too.

You can use these to call someone when you need to, and you can speak with (and see) more than one person at the same time. The way you add more people to the call varies depending on the tool. Some allow you to schedule your calls - useful if you want to book a regular catch-up with a group of friends.


Social media

You can use social media for video calling as well as other things, like instant messaging and sharing photos. We use apps like WhatsApp (only for phones) and Facebook's Messenger for both video and voice calls.

You need to install these mobile apps before you use them. When you set up the app, it will ask to access your phone's address book, or list of contacts. Allowing this access means you can see your contacts in the app and see who is online.

These apps are best for 'instant' calls rather than pre-scheduled ones. They're great for quick social chats. Although you can have group chats through these channels, they work best for one-to-one conversations.


Video conferencing sites

You might use these web-based tools at work, or for learning. They're the best choice if you have lots of people who need to get together online. Most people use PCs or laptops for these, though some are available as mobile apps too. Examples are Microsoft Teams, WebEx and GoTo Meetings.

If you're invited to join a webinar, virtual meeting or other online event, you're likely to use one of these sites. You'll get an invitation (usually by email). This has a link that you use to join the meeting or event.

You don't need to install the software but there are a few steps to go through before joining an event in this way. Read the instructions on the invitation email carefully, and allow some setup time before the event is due to start.

Test your knowledge

Answer the following question by selecting one answer from the three possible options given.

That's not quite right!

Hint: Some apps are only available for phones, or for a particular brand. Think about a tool you can use on a PC or laptop.

That's right!

Zoom works for all devices, including laptops. Other options include Skype and Facebook Messenger.

Chapter 4

I want to share - social media

Read time:

3 mins

What is it?

Social media sites and apps help us connect with others in lots of different ways. We can post photos or videos, share text-based thoughts and ideas, and some site offer voice and video calling too.

Over 57 million people in the UK use social media

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What does it do?

You've seen the IM, voice and video calling features of social media, in earlier chapters. Now we'll look at another way you can use it: sharing photos, videos and other content. Some social media apps (like Facebook) encourage you to share text, photos and videos. Others focus on particular types of content.

We're going to look at these 'specialist' sites now.


Photo-sharing sites

These sites are all about the visuals! People use apps like Instagram, Pinterest and Flickr to share, view and enjoy photos and other image-based content. Although most people use the mobile apps, you can also use these sites from your PC or laptop.

Do you have a particular hobby, want ideas on how to redecorate your bedroom? Maybe you're a keen photographer and want to share your work? If so, these are the sites to look at.


Video-sharing sites

These sites give you a place to view and share videos. TikTok and SnapShot work best as mobile apps - we use them for fun and socialising. People can access YouTube from the app or their web browser. You can see (and share) all kinds of videos here, from gaming, music and entertainment to short tutorials and how-to guides.

As with all social media platforms, do look at the privacy settings. And remember: once you share a video online, it can't be 'unseen'. So make sure whatever you share isn't going to embarrass or upset anyone.


Text-based sites

These sites encourage short text posts and interactions - think of them as the 'short story' equivalent of blog sites. X and Tumblr are popular examples.

X users post short 'tweets' - messages that are no more than 280 characters long. They join in discussions and 'follow' other users. Tumblr users post single photos or a few sentences of text, as a quick and easy introduction to blogging.

People use these sites to keep up to date with current events and trends, chat with others and share bite-sized content.


Staying safe and respecting others on sharing sites

Using social media platforms can be fun, useful and entertaining. But so much information posted on these sites is available for anyone to see.


So ...

  • Check the privacy settings
  • Think before you accept friend requests
  • Don't post anything you wouldn't want to be made public

Test your knowledge

Answer the following question by selecting one answer from the two possible options given.

That's not quite right!

Hint: Why not search YouTube for your favourite band or singer?

That's right!

You can watch music and other entertainment videos on YouTube. You might also see these on sites like Instagram and TikTok.

Chapter 5

I want to work - office-based communication tools

Read time:

2 mins

What are they?

If you work with others, you might use some of these tools. They are part of 'office life' and have become more popular as more people work from home or elsewhere. We use them to keep in touch with colleagues, share files and attend virtual meetings.

Let's look at some of the tools available ...


Professional IM tools

You can use dedicated work-based IM tools like Slack to send instant messages at work. They work like the social IM apps, so we can have quick chats and exchanges with our work mates. MS Teams and Zoom also include IM. Most companies have a preferred IM tool, so when you start working somewhere new, it's good to find out the one they'd like you to use.


Professional networking tools:

Apps like LinkedIn are professional (rather than social) networking sites. People use them to connect with others in their industry to share ideas and join discussions. You can see and apply for jobs advertised here, too. If you are job-hunting or looking for new clients, this type of site can be very helpful.


Digital workspaces

Digital workspace platforms like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace combine lots of different tools to help you share your work and ideas with others in your team. They've got a range of tools to create, manage, share and store documents and files all in one place. You can use them for video calls, email and instant messaging.

Depending on the setup of your company's digital workspace, you may be able to connect with others and access files from different devices, wherever you are. So if you are 'hot-desking', working from home or elsewhere, you still have access to all your work.

Test your knowledge

Answer the following question by selecting one answer from the three possible options given.

That's not quite right!

Hint: Think about tools that help you build your professional network

That's right!

LinkedIn is a professional networking tool, where people with similar work background or experience can share ideas and information.


Bank of Scotland Academy is committed to providing information in a way that is accessible and useful for our users. This information, however, is not in any way intended to amount to authority or advice on which reliance should be placed. You should seek professional advice as appropriate and required. Any sites, products or services named in this module are just examples of what's available. Bank of Scotland does not endorse the services they provide. The information in this module was last updated on 29th September 2023.