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Designing Accessible E-Learning to Meet Diverse Learning Abilities

E-learning is popular because it removes the barriers of time and space and provides learning at the learner’s convenience. It is natural to expect that it is accessible to everyone, irrespective of their abilities. The onus is on learning developers to create courses that are accessible to even those with disabilities. There are legal and ethical reasons to make e-learning accessible. Learning designers have to think of ways to design accessible e-learning that caters to diverse learning abilities. Let us learn more in this blog.

Identify the Disabilities

The first step toward creating accessible e-learning is identifying the disabilities of the learners accessing the course. This makes the designer tuned in to the design elements he needs to include to create courses that suit learners’ needs. There are three major categories of physical disabilities:

Visual-related disabilities:

These include total blindness, partial blindness, color blindness or photosensitivity

Hearing-related disabilities:

These relate to total or partial hearing impairment and other hearing disorders

Mobility-related disabilities:

Mobility issues related to the hand can affect the learning experience

To meet the needs of learners with disabilities, e-learning has to meet the following attributes according to WCAG guidelines, known by the acronym POUR.

Perceivable – Content should be available to the learner’s senses, he should be able to see and hear the content.

Operable – Users should be able to interact with the content using a mouse, keyboard, or any other adaptive device.

Understandable – The content should be clear and unambiguous.

Robust – Content should use a wide range of technologies and abilities to be accessibles.

Designing for Learner Needs

Learners with visual related disabilities are the ones who find it most difficult to access e-learning because of its visual nature. People with total or significant vision loss, access online content with the help of a screen reader. This device reads the text on the screen in a computerized voice. Learners with visual disabilities use a keyboard to access the web content and not a mouse. Such learners use the tab key or arrow keys to navigate the screen. But this may not be as intuitive as a mouse. More work is required to make the content perceivable to the learners. Changes that can be made in the design include:

  • When creating features that operate with a mouse click, ensure there is a keyboard alternative
  • Correct heading elements should be used to structure the content
  • Avoid dropdown menus because screen readers will interpret them as one object

Those with partial vision will find it difficult to read small fonts or text in colors with poor contrast. Learners with color blindness find it difficult to distinguish between shades of some colors, making it difficult for them to read the text in a combination of colors. When designing for such learners include the following factors:

  • Provide alternatives to text and describe non-textual items
  • Allow learners to control the appearance – the size, color, and contrast of the text
  • Use colors that offer sufficient contrast
  • Use visual clues apart from color contrast to represent differences
  • Allow users to use the tab key to click a link

Learners with auditory disabilities experience fewer learning barriers compared to those with visual disabilities. But multimedia and audio content present barriers when transcripts or captions are not provided.

  • Videos must have closed captioning, this means not just the dialogues but even the ambient sound in the video such as music playing
  • Complete transcript should be available for audio streams such as podcasts

Motor disabilities, especially those related to the hand, can affect the quality of learning. Such learners may find it difficult to control the mouse; to counter this, all content should be keyboard accessible, controls and interactive elements should have keyboard substitutes. Content should work well with most adaptive devices such as mouth sticks or head wands that imitate keyboard functionality. These learners can be helped with:

  • Use of screen reading technology
  • Use of voice commands
  • Support for adaptive technologies especially input devices

Accessible e-learning ensures that every learner has a barrier free experience when accessing courses. Designing accessible learning ensures that the needs of people with disabilities are taken into account. It is among the best practices aimed at creating and developing eLearning courses that are accessible to everyone.

What design changes do you plan to make for accessible e-learning? Do let us know.

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