4 Things You Can Do to Make Your Online Course More Accessible

The following suggestions are recommended in meeting the Americans with Disability Act (1990).

“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability …shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance… (Section 504, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 794). ” Follow these basic guidelines for compliance and to improve learning for all:

  1. Describe images and hyperlinks with alternative text.
  2. Use San Serif fonts for online text.
  3. Check and repair all portable document formats (PDFs) for accessibility.
  4. Caption all audio and video.

Images. Alternative (alt) text helps people that use assistive technology (e.g., screen readers) as their learning accommodation.  For example, screen readers like Microsoft’s (MS) JAWS (Job Access with Speech) read the description aloud to the user with vision impairment.  Make sure you concisely provide alt text for each image in your online course. This includes images on a course page within a PowerPoint or Word document. For some learning management systems (LMS), it’s not a requirement when adding photos.  For example, Schoology does not.  We’ve contacted the developers to add the requirement as the image is added to the LMS instead of as an additional task afterward.

Hyperlinks. When you add links to your course, think about simplifying information by providing the specific name of the Website instead of a confusing Web address, also known as the URL (Uniform Resource Locator).  Take into account that the assistive technology will read aloud the long URL if you do not give it a name. Imagine listening to an entire URL reading: “h-t-t-p-semicolon-forward slash-forward slash-secure-period-ecollege-period-com-forward slash-shc”.    This would cause extra cognitive load on the listener. Here’s a good and bad example:

The exact name of the Website will aid all learners in understanding where the link will take them.

Fonts.  Sans-serif fonts are recommended for online text to provide accessibility. Sans-serif fonts don’t have the “hats and shoes” on certain letters that serif fonts include.   This is because serif fonts may waiver and become difficult to read on low bandwidth or poor Internet connections.  Schoology provides Arial as the default font, which is sans-serif.  For a complete list of typefaces, see Wikipedia.

PDFs.  Are your PDFs readable? Conduct a word search within the Find box of aPDF for a word you see in the document. Type Ctrl+F if you don’t see a Find box.  If you receive the message, “No matches were found,” then the document is a scanned image, which cannot be read by persons who use assistive technology.  Use Adobe Acrobat Pro XI to repair “unreadable” PDFs.  It has an accessibility checker that you can run to repair the document.

Ensure your MS Word documents are accessible before you save them as a PDF.  MS Word versions 2010 and later have accessibility checkers that will highlight any issues your document has. Within MS Word, select File > Info> Check for Issues > Check Accessibility.  Fix issues like missing alt text for images.  See Adobe Accessibility Quick Reference Card for information on earlier versions of MS Word that you may have at home.

Captions.  Caption all media.  Closed captioning is the preferred format (instead of open captions), so the user can turn it on or off according to their needs.  If you don’t have your media captioned, at the very least, provide a script until you caption the video or audio file.  However, transcripts don’t provide equal access to the lesson because the words and images from the video aren’t in sync to enhance meaning.  See list of free captioning services below.

  1. Captioning Key is funded by the National Association of the Deaf and The Described and Captioned and Media Program. It provides a PDF document on specific quality assurance guidelines for closed-captioning. http://www.dcmp.org/captioningkey/
  2. Amara.org for captioning any video on the Internet: http://www.amara.org/en/
  3. CaptionTube for captioning YouTube videos: http://captiontube.appspot.com/
  4. Subtitle Workshop for captioning any video: http://sourceforge.net/projects/subworkshop/

 

Sandra Annette Rogers, Instructional Designer

Instructional Design for Human Learning: The Basics

The information processing theory explains how humans perceive, internalize, and remember information. The Atkinson and Shriffin’s (1968) information processing model included three systems: sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. This was a linear process, which has since been replaced with the nonlinear working memory model (Baddeley & Hitch, 1974) and other connectionist processes that align with current cognitive neuroscience views of human learning. Instructional designers should focus on the following concepts of information processing to improve learning and retention: the importance of gaining students’ attention, the limitation to working memory, and how to reduce cognitive load.

First, paying attention to instruction is paramount to learning. Bruning, Schraw, and Norby (2011, p.15) define attention as “the mental energy used to perceive, think, and understand.” A person’s attention is limited, selective, but can be self-regulated. There are several distracters which compete for a person’s attention such as noise outside the classroom, unmet physiological needs (e.g., hunger), and psychological aspects (e.g., motivational factors). Therefore, students need to selectively focus on the key elements of the information to be learned. It’s important to explicitly tell students about the importance of attention and teach them how to focus in order for them to be successful. Bruning et al. (p. 35), refer to this as “managing their resources.” They also encourage us to help students transfer these strategies to other content, as this may not occur to them without prompting. As instructional designers, we’re trained to use Gagne’s (1985) nine events of instruction, the first of which is to gain the learner’s attention. Some of the various instructional strategies to achieve this goal are to manipulate the motion, size, intensity, novelty, and/or incongruity of the information.

Second, consider the limitations to working memory and embed metacognitive strategies to help students learn the content. According to Miller (1956), humans are capable of remembering only seven plus-or-minus two pieces of information in our memory at any given time without the help of learning strategies. Therefore, it’s imperative for educators and/or the instruction to provide students with memory strategies to expand this capability or otherwise limit the amount of information provided at any given time. A sampling of learning strategies include chunking, imagery, mnemonics, and rehearsal. Instructional designer should identify specific learning strategies to help students stretch their working memory according to the content, learning environment, and age-appropriateness.

Lastly, due to the competition on a learner’s attention and the limitations to working memory, consider reducing the cognitive load when designing lessons. The cognitive load theory is attributed to Baddeley’s working memory model. Theorists took his model a step further to explain the various intrinsic and extraneous demands on learning information (Sweller, Van Merriënboer, & Paas, 1998). Cognitive load refers to the amount of effort required to process information. For example, difficult information requires more effort due to its intrinsic structure. Extraneous demands refer to how the information is presented during instruction. Bruning et al., explained how intrinsic cognitive load is unalterable until you properly learn something, so that it becomes part of your schema. Instructional designers need to consider the complexity of the content, instructional environment, and the characteristics of the learners in order to avoid cognitive overload. Here are some tips:

  • slow the speed of delivery of complex concepts;
  • sequence tasks logically;
  • use a multimodal approach to delivery; and
  • segment tasks such as instructional videos in small chunks of time (e.g., five minutes).

References

Baddeley, A. D., & Hitch, G. (1974). Working memory. In G. H. Bower (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation (Vol. 8, pp. 47-90). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Sweller, J., Van Merriënboer, J., & Paas, F. (1998). Cognitive architecture and instructional design. Educational Psychology Review10(3), 251–296. doi:10.1023/A:1022193728205