Enhancing Accessibility in eLearning: A Practical Guide

Summary

Designing accessible eLearning is crucial for inclusive education. This article highlights the significance of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and offers practical strategies such as using multimodal content, chunking information, and employing inclusive language. It emphasizes optimizing media for accessibility, ensuring keyboard compatibility, and testing with tools like WebAIM’s contrast checker. By addressing diverse learning needs and technical limitations, eLearning can be made effective and accessible for all learners.

A Personal Journey into Accessible eLearning

by Ashley Chiasson 
 

When considering accessibility, I’ve never given much thought to my own learning needs, but the truth is that many years ago a sports injury significantly impacted my memory and changed how I learn, write, and present ever since.

Prior to this injury, I had an incredible memory. I could highlight passages in a textbook and commit them without having to study, I could review articles and effortlessly write research papers, and I could present at conferences without the need for assistive technologies to keep myself on track. My brain works differently now.

I would consider the impact of this injury an ‘invisible disability’ – it isn’t something I usually disclose or consider much in my day-to-day life. But by marrying my personal experience with the broader concept of accessibility and my professional experience within Learning and Development, I can offer a unique perspective into why designing with all abilities in mind is critical.

You’ve probably heard about accessible eLearning. And you understand that it’s important to create digital experiences that are available and usable by people of all ability levels. But how do you get started? What are some ways you can start building learning assets that invite, respect, and train your entire audience? In this article, let’s demystify the process of building accessible eLearning content.

 

Steps for creating Accessible eLearning

Careful instructional design plays a pivotal role in creating accessible eLearning experiences. The first thing to do is to familiarize yourself with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines provide a robust and universal framework for creating accessible web content. Understanding these guidelines helps Instructional Designers ensure their courses meet established accessibility standards, making content perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust (POUR for short) for all users.

But what does it mean in practice?

Instructional Design Tips:

An essential approach is to incorporate multiple modalities within your eLearning content. While the concept of ‘learning styles’ has long been debunked, diverse learning preferences and abilities do exist, and learners can benefit from a multifaceted delivery method. Multimodal delivery does not have to mean large amounts of duplicating content or effort. Providing alternative formats, such as transcripts or closed captioning for audio content, alternate text for images, and descriptive videos for live-action videos, ensures that learners with hearing or visual impairments can access the material.

Another instructional strategy to make your material approachable is to break down content into smaller, more manageable chunks. This enhances accessibility by reducing cognitive load on the learner as they process new information in more manageable sizes. This is an especially important tip for neuro-diverse learners or others with cognitive difficulties, as chunking content makes information easier to process and understand.

Use language that is clear, respectful, and inclusive to ensure you are fostering an atmosphere where all learners feel valued and understood. By focusing on using inclusive language and avoiding jargon or culturally insensitive terminology, you can promote a welcoming learning environment. Consider the following example: 

  •         Less Inclusive: Click the next button to continue.
  •         More Inclusive: Select the next button to continue.

Here, the verb ‘click’ is less inclusive because it refers to an action that individuals with motor disabilities may not be able to complete, whereas the verb ‘select’ is a simple adjustment that refers to an action that can be completed via keyboard navigation and makes the instruction applicable for all users.

Check out our blog ‘A Short Guide to Using Accessible and Inclusive Language in eLearning’ for more examples.

With language, you should also be cognizant of metaphors which may not resonate culturally. One example of this could be using the phrase “death by a thousand cuts,” which few people realize originated as a form of torture. Some may believe the phrase solely is a way of illustrating how small changes have a significant impact over a long duration.

Development Tips:

Once the project moves into production, the onus of building accessible learning shifts to eLearning development. You can implement several strategies at this stage to make eLearning platforms more inclusive and effective. Once again, make sure to adhere to the guidelines as much as possible. Though there are a few areas of consideration that I want to cover here.

First, all eLearning content should be designed with keyboard accessibility in mind to ensure compatibility with screen readers. People with no or limited vision rely on screen readers to access digital content, and there is a simple exercise you can do to experience this for yourself. All modern devices come equipped, as standard, with a screen reader. If yours does not, you can download NVDA’s free screen reader. Close your eyes and try to navigate, understand, and learn from your eLearning module. This short exercise will help you realize that any additional time spent fixing your focus orders etc., is vital.

You will also want to make sure that all media in your eLearning is optimized for accessibility. Media optimization may include incorporating descriptive or alternative text, and ensuring transcripts and closed captioning are available for all voice over narration. In considering Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles, such media optimization is not only accessible but also provides multiple means of content representation.

Not all eLearning platforms and tools are created equal when it comes to building accessible content. Based on the level of accessible content you are aiming for; you may need to explore which tools are most suitable from those that are available.

Testing and QA Tips:

Testing for accessibility is essential! eLearning developers can and should leverage free tools such as WebAIM’s contrast checker and screen readers (e.g., NVDA) to thoroughly test, identify, and address accessibility concerns throughout the development process.

One final development consideration is bandwidth and technical limitations that learners might encounter. Not all learners have access to high-speed internet or the latest technology, so it is vital to optimize eLearning content for low-bandwidth environments and ensure compatibility with older hardware and software, as much as possible. By recognizing and addressing these limitations, learning designers can ensure that eLearning content is accessible to a broader audience, regardless of their technical constraints.

 

Conclusion

The combined efforts of instructional designers and developers help create an inclusive and effective eLearning experience. Accessibility is not just a checkbox – it is a core principle that underpins the effectiveness and inclusivity of eLearning. By embracing accessibility from both an Instructional Design and eLearning development perspective, we can create educational experiences that are truly accessible to all learners, regardless of their abilities or circumstances. As we strive to harness the power of technology to democratize education, let’s ensure that no learner is left behind.

Do you create eLearning modules and want to ensure they’re accessible to all learners? 

Access our comprehensive Accessibility Evaluation Guide and Checklist here: Download

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