How to improve accessibility in Online Learning

25 April

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How to improve accessibility in Online Learning

Whether in business or education, online learning has grown dramatically in recent years. The pandemic has simply fast-tracked an existing trend. And while digital learning has increased access to education for many learners, some may have been left behind. The needs of students with disabilities are not always front of mind. The move towards accessibility in online learning seeks to address this shortcoming.

Today’s post explores the latest trends in accessible e-learning. And it’s essential reading for anyone tasked with developing digital L&D programs.

Online platforms present challenges for some learners. Those with visual or hearing disabilities often struggle with digital content. It’s a similar story for students with cognitive conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD) or dyslexia. And learners whose fine motor skills are limited because of a disability or accident find using a mouse tricky.

We have made great strides in the physical world to ensure accessibility with ramps, hearing loops, braille signage and much more. However, we often forget about the digital world.  

Accessibility in online learning aims to level the playing field. Accessible e-learning ensures everyone has opportunities to learn and succeed regardless of ability. All students can participate fully, from course content to assignments, and no one is left behind.

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The Rise of Online Learning

The global e-learning market is expected to be worth $1 trillion by 2027. Enrollment in digital learning programs has steadily increased over the last decade, with an explosion during the pandemic. When the lights went out in schools, universities and workplaces worldwide, remote learning came into its own.

In the US, nine out of ten businesses now provide workers with e-learning opportunities. And in one survey, 67% of American college students said they used their mobile devices for online learning.

And it’s a move that’s popular with most learners. In one poll, 70% of students said online learning is better than traditional classroom settings. The flexible, anytime, anywhere nature of e-learning makes it a winning format.

The data paints a clear picture. With its flexibility, variety and affordability, online learning is here to stay.

Tips on How to Improve Accessibility in Online Learning

The World Health Organization estimates that 1.6 billion people worldwide live with a disability. So, improving accessibility in digital learning is about being more inclusive and reaching the widest number of potential learners. 

Here we share four easily implemented steps to ensure your e-learning is accessible for each and every learner.   

Study the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

The World Wide Web Consortium is the international standards organisation for the internet. The Consortium has taken the lead with its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The guidelines relate to online information generally and not just digital learning. However, it’s a valuable checklist that will help ensure online information is consistent across the board.

The guidelines are organised around four guiding principles:

  1. Perceivable: online information and the user interface should be presented in ways that all users can understand

  2. Operable: onsite navigation and functions need to work with all input methods and not just a keyboard and mouse

  3. Understandable: content must be readable and easy to digest

  4. Robust: content has to be robust so that it can be reliably interpreted by a wide variety of users and assistive technologies

Familiarise yourself with the guidelines, as they provide a valuable introduction to the issue of accessibility.

Avoid Long Blocks of Text

Long blocks of text can quickly overwhelm any user and make for a poor learning experience. However, students with ADHD, ADD or dyslexia find text-heavy content incredibly challenging. Information is hard to read and becomes difficult to understand.

Instead, look to break up large blocks of text with bullet point lists and bold to draw the eye to key pieces of information. And include more white space by increasing the spacing between lines. Infographics and slide presentations are alternative ways to present information. Often, they are more engaging for all learners.

Furthermore, carefully select your font. Some are easier to read than others. Arial, Tahoma, Verdana, Helvetica and Times New Roman are excellent choices. And pick a font size that’s comfortable for most people to read – 16px is the minimum.

UX Design is Operable for All Navigation Inputs

Just as our physical workplaces, shops and offices meet accessibility standards, so should online learning. And when it comes to digital accessibility, Universal Design is the gold standard. Universal Design means that your online learning program is suitable for all users. Instead of having different versions for differing abilities, one rich, interactive version does the job for all, including those using assistive technologies.

For example, subtitles, graphics and voiceovers are added to video content. Learners with a hearing impairment can then appreciate what’s been said.

And adding alt text, using headings and bold text highlights essential information to screen readers. Visually impaired learners use assistive technology like screen readers to access text-based content.

Furthermore, not all users will use a mouse for navigation. Learners with conditions that affect their fine motor skills may find it easier to use keyboards or trackpads. Your e-learning content will be accessible to these students if you make functions available using only a keyboard or trackpad.   

Enhancing accessibility in online learning with Universal Design creates a seamless UX for everyone. Even better, all learners can benefit. For example, captions are essential for those with a hearing impairment, but they are also helpful for learners who may have a different first language.

Consistent Accessibility Standards

Consistency is crucial when it comes to accessibility. There’s no point in having some aspects of your e-learning program accessible if others are not. Even if some modules are highly accessible, users will have a disjointed experience if the entire program is not up to the same standards. This will impact students’ learning and make it harder to achieve learning outcomes.   

Whatever accessibility standards you apply, the golden rule is consistency across all course content.

Discover more tips on how to make your online courses more accessible: Here

The Impact of Accessibility in Online Learning

Accessibility is primarily related to disability. Ensuring those with disabilities and limitations have a similar UX to all students is a desirable outcome in itself. However, the impact of accessibility is extensive and wide-reaching. When digital learning meets e-learning accessibility standards, all users find understanding, navigating, and interacting with content much easier. It creates a more memorable and positive learning experience for all, regardless of learning style or ability.

In turn, this impacts other workplace performance indicators, including employee engagement and retention. The Great Resignation is still rumbling along. And according to one survey, a staggering 97% of workers said they would stay longer if their employer invested in professional development.

And it’s a similar story with employee engagement. L&D is a surefire way to boost engagement rates as employees feel valued and appreciated.

Moreover, a highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce gives you a competitive edge. From breakthrough innovations to streamlined onboarding, or more agile operations, accessible online learning has the power to transform organisations.

Digital Learning Institute and Accessibility and Universal Design

If you are ready to get started, the Digital Learning Institute’s new Accessibility and Universal Design Certificate is for you. The programme will advance your career and ensure your organisation’s digital learning meets the highest accessibility standards. Learn how to monitor and evaluate accessibility in digital learning content. And explore the latest features and technologies in accessible e-learning.

The Accessibility and Universal Design Certificate is industry-accredited, and university recognised. And this assurance is vital when working in this constantly evolving speciality field.

Talk to one of our professional advisors for more information.

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