Best Free Timeline Maker Tools for Students and Educators

Best Free Timeline Maker Tools for Students and Educators
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Timelines are useful tools for indicating the elements or milestones involved in an event. These elements or milestones are displayed in a sequence along a line, making the event easier to understand as a whole (ReadWriteThink, 2020). Because of their versatility, timelines are also used in a wide variety of settings today.

For instance, many individuals use timelines to organize and present ideas and concepts in a more engaging manner. For work projects, timelines and Gantt charts can also be visual representations that outline tasks or information relevant to a project similarly laid out in a linear fashion. For students, timelines can also be used as a visual and historical representation of a series of events. In today’s digital age, creating one is easily accomplished using timeline generator software.

This article aims to present a list of some of the best free timeline maker tools for students and educators today, with each showing its own strengths and weaknesses. Most software solutions were created with a business objective in mind, so certain features can only be accessed if the user upgrades to a paid version. For some of the software below, the basic free version might be enough to produce good results.

Timelines have long been used to represent sequences of interval events, most of which are typically designed as presentations to explain a story (Brehmer et al., 2017). In creating timeline presentations, students need not agonize over manual preparations but rather just take time preparing source materials and familiarizing themselves with software. Given the expensive nature of education, which can reach as much as $50,000 a year, every little bit of savings count (Song, 2020). And free software can definitely help reduce expenses for students. Educators can also benefit from introducing readily-available software that serve as a level playing field for the creation of timeline projects.

Source: EducationData.org

However, there is a caveat in the definition of free timeline software. While most of the applications do have a free version, more features and abilities are available once users upgrade to a paid subscription. The free version usually contains basic features, but are often enough for students to create a decent timeline. In addition, most of the products listed below are web-based, which means project data can be accessed through any computer with a web browser. Saved data is usually stored on a cloud server.

By checking into each product’s features and benefits, adequate information can be gleaned to make a personal decision on which software to use.

1. Sutori

Sutori, while currently positioned as a creator of interactive stories, was originally designed to make interactive timelines. This presents a bonus for students and new users, as this timeline creator can make interactive stories as well. These features are important because they can help keep students engaged through interactive learning. A simple, clean interface, interactive features, and templates to get things started, Sutori has everything students and educators need to create timelines immediately.

While Sutori is designed to be an app for teachers and educators, the basic version is free and should be adequate for coursework requirements. The Unlimited version costs $99.00/year and grants a single Educator license and unlimited students, and can incorporate quizzes and media into the timelines. The Department version costs $500/year and covers up to six educators in a single license, while the Sutori for Schools offers a school-wide license and costs $2,000/year. Custom plans and pricing are also available for districts and colleges.

2. Timeline JS

TImeline JS dashboard

Timeline JS is an open-source tool that lets students create visual, interactive timelines via Google Sheets. Advanced students can utilize their JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) skills and other coding skills to customize the program and create advanced features. In support of its interactivity, Timeline JS can import media from popular media apps like YouTube, Vine Vimeo, Twitter, Flickr, Dailymotion, Google Maps, Wikipedia, SoundCloud, and many others.

To create a timeline, simply open and modify the included Google sheets template on the site. Instructions on how to save the document, generate a timeline, and embed the results to a website can be found in the Make A Timeline section. As Timeline JS is a free online tool, there are no subscriptions or registrations necessary. Also, permissions or royalties are not required when publishing work created by the software.

3. Adobe Spark

Adobe Spark Timeline dashboard

Adobe Spark is a powerful media creation tool that creates visual designs for web or mobile posts. It is an integrated web and mobile design tool that allows even occasional users to show their concepts in a visually engaging approach (Liston & Liston, 2019).

While Adobe is more of a cloud-based subscription service, its Adobe Spark lineup includes a free timeline maker. The online tool features a simple, guided, layout similar to the best presentation software. Images are available via search, but the system does not seem to have provisions to upload personal images from a personal computer.

The timeline maker is free to use. However, an Adobe account will be required to sign in every time. Expect a limited number of projects allowed when using the product. A special Adobe Spark for Education program is available for free to educators via request. In addition, the Adobe Education Exchange provides a library of resources and classroom content.

4. Google Sheets 

google sheets timeline

Google Sheets is GSuite’s web-based spreadsheet program. While it is not a standalone timeline maker, it can be used to generate comprehensive project timelines and Gantt charts. Users may start from scratch by manually formatting and adding formulas on a blank spreadsheet. This way, you can design exactly how you want the timeline to work as well as how it will look like. Alternatively, if you want to expedite the creation of your timelines, you may choose from the templates in the application’s gallery and simply customize them, depending on your project’s needs.

Another advantage of using Google Sheets is that it is readily accessible if you already have a Gmail account. Also, as part of the GSuite, it stores all your documents on the cloud and automatically synchronizes it across your devices. It is also easily shareable, allowing you to simplify collaboration with colleagues. This works great for teachers and students who already use Google apps in the classroom. The only downside you may need to consider, however, is that this software may lack certain features that full-fledged timeline makers have to offer.

5. Visme

Visme Timeline Creator dashboard

Visme is a complete visual document tool that lets users create presentations, infographics, timelines, and other formats. The online timeline maker allows users to fully customize the layout, from color schemes to element position and size, fonts, and backgrounds. It can also animate elements in the timeline for a more dynamic look. Upon completion, users can share the link or download the timeline as an image file.

Visme is a subscription-based application but the free version allows you to create up to five projects using a total storage of 100MB. Template choices are limited, and output can only be downloaded as JPEG (a PDF option is available for paid subscriptions).

6. Preceden

Preceden dashboard

Preceden is another online timeline maker that creates timelines and project roadmaps. It features a simple interface that provides an easy and intuitive learning experience. It features the ability to work with layers for improved grouping related events. Preceden is web-based, so it does not require download or installation. Instead, users just need to login to their account.

Preceden offers a free version that allows for the creation of one timeline with 10 events. Afterwards, users will be asked to subscribe for as low as $29/year for a student license that features a single history timeline with unlimited events.

7. Timetoast

Timetoast dashboard

Timetoast presents a collaborative experience where groups of users can work together to create a common timeline. This can be ideal for group projects for students and introductory lectures, historical presentations, or even unit reviews. Upon completion of the timeline, users can download the embed code, or share the presentation via Facebook or Twitter.

Timetoast offers a free ad-supported version limited to one user and a single draft timeline. There is no time limit for the free version. The Basic ($5.99/month) and the Pro ($8.99/month) allow for unlimited timelines and collaboration among multiple users.

8. Timeline Maker

Timeline maker dashboard

Timeline Maker Pro is a downloadable Timeline software (as opposed to web-based) that is available in Windows 10 down to XP. It features a spreadsheet-style interface that allows for the importation of timeline data for conversion to timelines. The software also comes with an intuitive user interface and helpful tutorials to help first time users. Files such as Word documents, PDFs, images, audio, and video can be easily uploaded into the timeline.

While Timeline Maker is not entirely free software, a full-featured trial version is available for 14 days. This might be enough time to create a single project timeline. And, if the results are positive, users can consider a one-time purchase (as opposed to a monthly subscription).

9. Timeline3D

Timeline3d dashboard

Timeline3D is one of the more visually appealing timeline software available. The downloadable program helps create a historical timeline that can be viewed from a 3D perspective. This not only adds style to the visuals but also improves the presentation of connections and relationships between elements. During presentations, the software utilizes keyboard commands to control the flow and adjust views. Timeline3D also provides a search tool for easier reference to certain elements.

For all its bells and whistles, Timeline3D is built for Mac OS only. The software is free to use without watermarks, limitations, or the need for registration. Extra features such as printing and exporting to PDF or movies can be purchased separately.

10. Time Graphics

Time Graphics dashboard

Time Graphics is a free online timeline maker that provides a no-frills timeline creation experience. Simply visiting the website and clicking “Create” lets users start immediately. The interface takes a while to get used to, but once the user does, it opens up several features that can help create a more visual presentation. While the basic setup is free, registration is required to save the timelines.

Time Graphics is free, but a premium subscription provides more functions and features. The free version lets users create public timelines that can be viewed by anyone. Creating private timelines or providing access to these will require a Premium subscription. Special education discounts are available, and donations via PayPal are accepted.

Which Timeline Software Should You Choose?

As mentioned earlier, the choice of timeline creator software to use has many considerations. Is the free version of the software enough to fulfill one’s requirements, or will it entail shelling out money? Is internet access, which is critical to web-based software, something that is not widely available in the area? Are the required hardware or operating systems present in the device?

For educators, the choice of software can be narrowed down to which product can bring out organization and creativity in students. If the time spent by students will go mostly towards getting the software to work, then lesser time will be given to the actual content. Ideally, the software should help engage and inspire students to produce quality output.

The best course of action would be to test as many software as possible and gauge whether the features are adequate for one’s academic requirements. By doing so, the student can personally check if the software can help with productivity, or just provide an additional task that complicates matters even further. In case these don’t work for you, you can also learn how to create a timeline in PowerPoint. And lest we forget, the timeline software can only help receive the material. Everything else is up to the student.

References:

  1. Brehmer, M., Lee, B., Bach, B., Riche, N.H., & Munzner, T. (2017). Timelines revisited: A design space and considerations for expressive storytelling. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 23, 2151–2164. https://doi.org./10.1109/TVCG.2016.2614803
  2. Liston, S.F., & Liston, M.B. (2019). Adobe Spark: A web-based, customizable graphic design tool. Marketing Libraries Journal, 3 (1), 19-25. https://doaj.org/article/457c62ca60604bc39dbf7271d8964efe?
  3. Rosenberg, D., & Grafton, A. (2013). Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Architectural Press. Google Books
  4. Song, J. (2020, June 14). Average cost of college in America. ValuePenguin.
  5. ReadWriteThink.org. (2020). Student interactive: Timeline. ReadWriteThink.

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