Whether you’re new to e-learning or you’ve been developing online training for years, you might be confused the first time someone asks you if your courses are accessible. After all, your courses are on the internet. Doesn’t that make them accessible? Well, not necessarily.
In e-learning, the term accessible means the content is designed for all learners—including those with auditory, visual, mobility, or learning disabilities.
To better understand what this means, let’s look at a typical online learning experience.
A Typical E-Learning Experience
Imagine this scene: our learner, Jane, is sitting at her desk in front of her computer. Using her mouse, she logs on to the company Learning Management System (LMS) and selects the e-learning course she needs to take. She turns up the volume on her speakers and listens to the narrator speak, while images fade in and out on the screen. A few moments later, the course poses a series of questions about the images on her screen. Jane uses her mouse to click on, drag-and-drop, and submit her answers.
What I just described is a pretty standard e-learning experience involving fairly common activities. But are these activities accessible for all learners? Let’s take a look at how Jane’s experience might be different if she had a disability.
Another Type of E-Learning Experience
Let’s say, for instance, that Jane has hearing loss. What would her experience be like when taking this e-learning course? Think about it. The course has audio narration. How will Jane access that information? Are there closed captions or a script panel? If not, she will simply see the images on the screen and miss out on the accompanying audio.
Now let’s imagine that Jane is visually impaired. The course also has information, images, navigation controls, and exercises on the screen. Can Jane use a standard screen reader tool to navigate the course? Do the images have alternative text so her screen reader can describe them to her? The course also has a drag-and-drop activity. Will Jane be able to complete this activity if she can’t see the items on the screen?
These are just a few examples of how physical issues might impact access to an e-learning module. To create e-learning courses that are truly accessible, you’ll need to answer all these questions and many more. Accessibility is a vast subject and can also include things like font size, color scheme, and mobile design considerations.
To ensure all learners can access online learning materials equally, accessibility standards were developed. Let’s take a quick look at the two accessibility standards that are most commonly used in the United States:
- WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines): a set of accessibility standards for web design that can guide your e-learning accessibility efforts. Pop on over to this article for more details: Understanding WCAG: A Quickstart Guide for E-Learning Developers.
- 508 Compliance: Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that requires that all federal information available electronically be provided in a variety of methods to address various disabilities. Section 508 contains 16 provisions to guide your course development. Learn more about these standards here: What Is 508 Compliance for E-Learning and How Can You Achieve It?
Exploring the WCAG and 508 Compliance standards is a great first step to learning more about accessibility. Here are some other resources that can help guide you on your journey:
- Four Reasons Accessibility Is Important
- 6 Best Practices for Designing Accessible E-Learning
- What You Need to Know About Designing Accessible E-Learning with Storyline 360
- “But It’s to Code”: Thoughts on Accessibility in E-Learning
I hope this article helps you get started down the right path in your journey to creating fully-accessible e-learning. If you have specific questions about accessibility, please don’t hesitate to post them below or in the Building Better Courses forums. You’ll find a lot of talented e-learning professionals ready to help you out!
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