6 Ways of Using Context and Consistency to Ensure Your Online Learning Content Is Accessible
According to research from the World Health Organization, about 15% of the global population experiences some form of disability. Disability takes many different forms, and individuals experience conditions regardless of whether or not they have been diagnosed.
It’s imperative that we remain cognizant of this statistic when designing learning experiences. Online education can—and should—be accessible to all learners, regardless of ability or disability.
That’s why it’s so important to be mindful of the context in which we present information. We also need to remain consistent in our approach so all learners can know what to expect when navigating an online learning environment.
Below, we’ve outlined some key elements that can help you ensure that you’re creating accessible learning environments with the right context and consistency.
Context is Crucial
When we provide context, learners have all the elements to process and comprehend the information fully.
Providing enough information helps everyone. But doing so is especially important for learners with attention impairments who otherwise struggle to focus on a subject without getting distracted.
What tools can provide additional context? The following are some key elements that help add additional context when designing a course:
Instead of teaching an entire concept all at once, you can break it into smaller chunks of information. Besides making content more digestible, chunking also gives learners the opportunity to process each piece at their own pace and to put the pieces back together themselves, improving learning retention.
Smaller segments of content can minimize cognitive load by helping learners with attention impairments to navigate the course and quickly find where they left off if they get distracted. Some learning management systems (LMSes) provide the option (e.g. via H5P technology) to break down the content and divide it into different components users can interact with. In that sense, technologies like H5P allow educators to create highly accessible and engaging learning activities.
“Chunking” your content applies to all kinds of learning materials. Studies show that students prefer bite-sized video lectures to traditional long-format ones. Instead of including a one-hour-long video, you can break it into smaller videos (optimally between three and 17 minutes in length) to make it more digestible for all your learners. The same principles can be applied to written content, as well as audio.
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Captions are the explanatory comments that go underneath a photo or in a video, providing additional context/information to users. An image caption would be a longer description that contextualizes why the image matters to the content. Video captions are subtitles that ensure the viewer understands all essential audio (like speech, sound effects or music).
By adding captions to content, we help more than just learners with visual or hearing impairments. For example, we’re also accommodating people with an ADHD diagnosis who may struggle with an auditory sensory processing disorder and have a hard time understanding audio.
Transcripts might seem time-consuming to produce and unnecessary if captions are already in place. However, users with certain kinds of learning disabilities need them so they can read the information at their own pace. Transcripts also allow us to provide the same content in two different ways, giving control to users on how to approach learning. Some learners might simply prefer reading content instead of watching a video. Also, users with poor connectivity issues will appreciate an alternative to watching a bandwidth-heavy video.
Thanks to technology, transcribing has become an easier task. Most office packages include a tool to transform audio into text. At the bare minimum, ensure that you add transcripts and captions to the learning videos hosted in your LMS.
4) Alt Text
When you upload images to your course, you’ll be prompted to add descriptive text for people who cannot see them—that’s the alt text (short for “alternative text”)! Screen readers will read the text and provide context to users with visual impairments. Including alt text in your course images ensures that everyone, regardless of their visual ability, can understand the content.
You need to be concise but descriptive when writing alt text. The ideal length should be around 120 characters. Here are a few tips to help you create excellent alt text:
- Don’t start with “Image of.” Screen readers will already inform the users that it is an image
- Avoid describing decorative images (borders, backgrounds, corners, etc.) that are irrelevant to the content of the page
- Provide just enough information for users to understand how the image relates to the content. For example, “Twitter logo” provides more information and context to the user than “blue bird facing to the right”
- If the image is clickable, include the url destination in the alt text as well
Also bear in mind that infographics or table images need more than just what short alt text offers. If the image contains a lot of information or requires considerable context, it’s worth including a descriptive paragraph right below it.
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Accessibility Demands Consistency
Consistency is very important for overall accessibility, particularly for people with ADHD, anxiety, or autism spectrum disorders. Learners rely on a consistent structure to navigate and operate a system. Having to understand new functionalities at every step of the process can be stressful and difficult for some. We want to avoid that!
The following tools can help your courses achieve consistency:
Routine habits and systems help to create inclusive environments and give consistency to a course. When the learning structure is predictable, people can focus their energy on the content. More importantly, routines help people with certain kinds of disabilities. People with autism find consistent routines useful in maintaining order, as sometimes minor changes in their life can be distressing.
Reminders help build routines. Besides notifying users that they have a pending course, reminders also help give consistency: learners get an alert when it’s time to finish a task, jump into a live session, or review material before a test.
Configuring weekly reminders in your LMS is a good strategy. Open LMS has the functionality to design personalized learning that allows you to preschedule messages that go out at different times. You can post reminders as course announcements too.
Who hasn’t gotten lost when a button in a course is suddenly no longer in the same place? Sometimes, we can also get confused if one lesson has a different design from other sections within a course—you wonder if you clicked the wrong course, if you need to refresh the page, or if you missed something. Now, think how difficult this will be for people with attention deficits, or how users that use screen readers will have a hard time getting used to the course’s structure.
Being repetitive might sound boring, but in reality, it will help make your content easy to understand. Creating templates or having themes within your LMS will make it easier for you to keep your lessons consistent.
At the very least, ensure you’re consistent with your:
- Buttons and icons: both the style and text
- Colors: Use them consistently across your elements and text
- Sections: Give your sections the same name in each of your lessons. For example, avoid calling a section “Homework” and then “Practice Lesson” the next lesson
- Content structure: Avoid reinventing your lessons every time. Instead, keep the structure consistent and invest your creativity in the content itself
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Accessible Content is Within Reach
Whether your learners are university students or professionals in the workforce, it’s essential to consider their various potential needs during the course design process. Accessible online learning lessens the burden for learners and can improve learning outcomes. That’s why it’s critical to design experiences that provide students with enough context and consistency to successfully navigate their online learning platforms.
As an industry leader in open-source technology, Open LMS can help you provide accessible learning to everyone within your organization, whether you’re an institution of higher learning or a business.To learn more about creating accessible online learning, download our ebook, 4 Principles for Accessible Design in Digital Learning.