E-Learning Accessibility Overview Plus Top Tips & Best Practices
When creating e-learning courses, the focus is often dominated by issues like content creation and ensuring the training is successful. Accessibility can too often get lost in the mix. However, ignoring accessibility issues or not giving them enough attention can significantly impact the potential of your e-learning course, as not everyone will be able to use it properly.
Most importantly, learners with disabilities will not benefit from the same learner experience as those who don’t have a disability. They will also lose out on learning the new skill or information.
Therefore, it’s important to consider e-learning accessibility from the outset when creating new e-learning courses.
What is E-Learning Accessibility?
E-learning accessibility involves creating courses that can be accessed and used by all learners, regardless of their abilities.
Importantly, there is no single description that can be used to describe the types of disabilities that people in the UAE and Saudi Arabia can have. In fact, everyone’s experience is different, so the range of disabilities that exist is incredibly diverse. They include auditory, visual, cognitive, speech-related, neurological, and learning disabilities. However, even within these groupings, there can be varying types and degrees of disability.
The above is an important point to remember as it is often overlooked, causing the issue of accessibility in e-learning to be oversimplified. And oversimplifying e-learning accessibility is almost as bad as ignoring it completely.
The fact is e-learning accessibility is about much more than providing subtitles on video content. Disabilities are not always obvious, they can manifest themselves in a range of different ways, and they can have varying levels of severity.
Understanding this establishes a good foundation for the creation of accessible e-learning content.
Best Practices for Making E-Learning Courses Accessible
When considering the question of accessibility in e-learning, there is no need to start from a blank canvas as established guidelines already exist. The most commonly used are those developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C. It has published guidelines that include crucial accessibility principles. These guidelines are regularly updated to ensure they remain relevant.
The four main principles are:
- Perceivable information and user interface
- Operable user interface and navigation
- Understandable information and user interface
- Robust content and reliable interpretation
Let’s look at each in a bit more detail.
Perceivable Information and User Interface
This principle involves ensuring the content of your e-learning course can be accessed by everyone.
This can include providing text alternatives for media elements and other non-text content. Examples include descriptions of graphs and charts, as well as alt text for images. You should also provide captions, text transcripts, audio descriptions, and/or sign language interpretation for multimedia elements like videos and animations.
The way you present content is a factor too. Specifically, making your e-learning course accessible involves ensuring it can be adapted by the learner, either manually or using an accessibility tool.
The final point of this accessibility principle involves taking additional steps to ensure the content in your e-learning course is easy to see, read, and listen to. Some examples include:
- A graph that is only readable if you can see colours is not accessible. There should also be additional elements, such as text labels on the graph in addition to the coloured areas.
- When a learner zooms in on text, none of the information should be lost.
- Avoiding as much as possible the use of images that contain text.
- Keeping the volume of background music on videos and animations low or removing the background noise altogether.
Operable User Interface and Navigation
The key points of this accessibility principle include ensuring all the functions and features of your e-learning course can be operated with a keyboard as well as a mouse. In fact, this is one of the most important parts of making your e-learning course accessible.
You should also make sure content won’t cause dangerous physical reactions, such as seizures, as well as giving learners sufficient time to read content in parts of the course where time might be limited (such as in a video). For the latter point, this can simply mean allowing learners to pause content, enabling them to read at a pace that suits them.
The navigation of your e-learning course is another important factor that will contribute to its level of accessibility. In general, your e-learning course should be easy to navigate, that navigation should be intuitive, and the content should be easy to find. It’s worth mentioning that those points are not just important for accessibility reasons, as easy-to-use navigation should be the goal anyway!
The accessibility of the interactive features in your e-learning course is also important. For example, there should be undo or back functionality for situations where learners accidentally hit a button or activate a feature. Another example is buttons, as they should be big to make them easy to tap or click on.
Understandable Information and User Interface
This point includes ensuring text can be understood by as broad a range of learners as possible. How do you do this? Examples include identifying the language of e-learning courses to make them easier to read for automated text-to-speech tools, as well as providing explanations and definitions for jargon terms and abbreviations. Eliminating jargon where it is not necessary helps too.
The content in your e-learning course should also behave predictably. The most important thing to remember about this point is design consistency, where the layout of the various screens, the location and style of buttons, and how you present the content remains consistent throughout the whole course.
Interactive elements like forms, scenarios, and quizzes can also prove challenging to some users, but there are steps you can take within this principle to mitigate these challenges. Those steps involve helping learners avoid mistakes in the first place and then to easily correct them when they do make a mistake. A simple example is to include descriptive instructions on what to do and how to use interactive elements.
Robust Content and Reliable Interpretation
This is the most technical of the four accessibility principles. It involves ensuring your e-learning course is compatible with various accessibility technologies and tools.
12 Essential & Practical Tips for Making E-Learning Courses Accessible
What about the nitty-gritty practicalities of making e-learning courses accessible? Here are 12 actionable tips that you can implement straight away.
- Optimise Page Titles
Page titles are the first thing read by screen readers, plus they are helpful to all learners, not just those with a disability. So, it is important to optimise your titles on the pages or screens of your e-learning course. Here’s how:
- Make sure all pages and screens have a title
- Make sure all page titles are unique
- Ensure your page titles are concise and descriptive
- Use the most important information first
- Provide Text Alternatives for Audio Elements
This includes providing transcripts of videos and audio elements, as well as including captions, subtitles, or audio descriptions in videos and animations.
- Ensure Visual Content is Compatible with Assistive Technologies
There is a range of assistive technologies available that can help learners who find it difficult to read text. Your e-learning course should be compatible with these technologies.
For example, use alternatives to drop-down lists in quizzes as screen readers can find it difficult to read them. Image alt descriptions are also important, so long as they accurately describe the content of the image.
- Make Text Size Adjustable
The text in your e-learning course should be readable by as wide a range of learners as possible. However, you should also provide the option for learners to adjust the size of the text according to their preferences.
- Avoid Drag-and-Drop Features
Drag-and-drop features require agility and dexterity in the use of a computer mouse. This can be challenging for many users but particularly those with mobility-related disabilities.
If you really want to include drag-and-drop features, make sure you also include an alternative interactivity method, ideally by using keyboard shortcuts.
- Make it Easy to Pause Videos, Animations, and Audio Content
Firstly, make sure there is pause functionality in your media elements. It should also be possible to pause playback using either a mouse or keyboard.
- Make Sure Colour Contrasts Are High
Colour contrasts can present significant barriers to some people with disabilities. Therefore, make sure you use shades, tones, and colours that are sufficiently different when presenting information, such as in a graph. This helps people who have difficulties distinguishing the difference between colours that are too similar.
You should also make sure there is a high contrast level when adding text to a colour or image, as this will make the text easier to read.
You need to also think about those with other disabilities too. Those with dyslexia, for example, can find it tiring to read text where the contrast level is too high, such as black text on a white background. Therefore, it’s important to strike a balance. Use dark grey text on white backgrounds, for example, or black text on backgrounds that are light grey.
- Embrace White Space
White space makes your e-learning courses less cluttered, improving overall usability. White space is even more important when considering accessibility, as it makes the content on the screen easier to read and digest for those with certain disabilities, including dyslexia.
- Label Fields in Forms and Quizzes
Assistive technologies will struggle to read and understand forms if the fields are not properly labelled. Don’t put the label inside the field, however. Labels on forms and in quizzes should be placed before the field.
- Label Navigational Elements Properly
A navigational element with the label “Click Here” does not tell the user anything about what will happen when they click. For those with visual impairments, this can be challenging. A more descriptive label will be much more useful. Even something like “Next Section” is an improvement.
- Add Labels to Videos that Have Flashing Images
Flashing images in videos can trigger seizures in some people. The ideal situation is to not use flashing images in the videos and animations in your e-learning course. This isn’t always possible, however. Therefore, make sure you include a warning with the video to help people who need to avoid flashing images.
- Make Links Descriptive
If you include links in your e-learning course, put them behind text that accurately describes where the link leads to.
Being Accessibility Aware
As you can see from the tips above, making e-learning courses accessible doesn’t have to be a major technical challenge. Instead, it is about being accessibility aware to ensure you do things in a way that makes your e-learning courses accessible. For example, using descriptive links rather than “Click Here”.
In fact, very few of the above tips will increase the development time, and for those that do, the additional time required will be marginal.
So, while making e-learning courses accessible is important, doing so is not as difficult as it is often considered to be.