What You Need to Know About Designing Accessible E-Learning with Storyline 360

For many organizations, creating accessible e-learning is both a mission-critical business goal and a legal requirement. The good news is that Storyline 360 has the features you need to create e-learning that meets Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). In this article, I’ll share some important design considerations and walk you through some of the key Storyline 360 features you need to know to create accessible courses.

What Is Accessible E-Learning?

An accessible e-learning course is one that people with different abilities can take equally effectively. Here are a few examples of the kinds of challenges that different learners might face:

  • Auditory disabilities. Learners might not be able to hear clearly, or at all. These learners need text captions provided for any audio included in a course.
  • Visual disabilities or mobility impairments. Learners might not be able to see or interact with the screen. These learners use screen readers (find out which screen readers Storyline supports here) and need keyboard-accessible content and alternatives to mouse-based activities such as drag-and-drops or matching activities.
  • Learning disabilities. Learners might not be equipped to read and process information in a set period of time. You might need to avoid using things like timed quizzes in your courses.

The disabilities and design factors mentioned above are some of the considerations you want to account for when you design accessible e-learning.

Before you begin designing an accessible course, make sure you’re familiar with the set of standards your content needs to meet for compliance. Different countries have varying legislation and guidelines in place that document specific compliance requirements. In the U.S., a federal law called Section 508 mandates that all online technology developed or used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities. Read more about Articulate Storyline and Section 508 Accessibility.

Plan for Accessibility Early On

One key to successfully designing an accessible e-learning project is planning how to give learners access as early on as possible. You need to start thinking about accessibility before you even launch your authoring app. Why? Because you want to design content and activities your entire audience can access.

It’s much easier to develop an accessible course when you provision for it up front rather than try to make an existing course accessible after the fact. In the latter situation you’ll end up having to do rework. You’ll likely need to change things that had already been approved, such as colors, fonts, multimedia, and interactions, because they aren’t accessible. To avoid this type of situation, plan to create accessible content from the get-go.

Here are some examples of things you should do up front:

  • Find out if you’re required to create accessible content. If you are, make sure you know what specific requirements are in place and how the specific guidelines will affect your content or design.
  • Do an audience analysis (learn more about how to do that here) to have a clear understanding of who your accessible learners are and what specific accessibility requirements they have.
  • Research best practices for making content accessible (for example, you should add alt text for screen readers, you shouldn’t use hover states to share critical information, etc.; we’ll talk more about this in the next section). This free e-book and this helpful resource are a good place to start.
  • Have a plan for how you want to handle accessibility. Do you want one course with one set of activities for all learners, or do you want to provide learners with access to an alternative version with accessibility-friendly activities?

Take Advantage of the Accessibility Features in Storyline

Here are some of the things you’ll want to include in your Storyline course to make it accessible.

Closed captions. Closed captions aren’t just for hearing-impaired learners. If your course includes a second language for learners, captions might help them fully understand the content. And learners in noisy surroundings might appreciate captions too. Thankfully, importing closed captions or creating them from scratch is easy with the built-in editor in Storyline.

Keyboard shortcuts. Keyboard shortcuts are critical for learners with visual or mobility impairments. They let a learner navigate by pressing keys on the keyboard, as opposed to having to use the mouse and cursor to interact with the screen. Keyboard shortcuts are easy to create in Storyline with triggers. Consider adding a keyboard shortcut to each slide that lets learners jump to the next slide when they press a key, such as the right arrow key. In some cases you can save time by adding the trigger to your slide master rather than to each individual slide.

Alternate (alt) text. Alt text is important for learners using screen readers. These learners can’t see the images, graphics, or videos on the screen. The purpose of alt text is to provide a description of the multimedia objects that is read aloud by the screen reader. You should add alt text to all slide objects that convey meaning or context to the learner. Adding alt text is super easy to do, and this free accessibility e-book has tons of tips for writing quality alt text.

Custom tab order. Tab order is important for learners with screen readers. Be sure to customize the tab order for each slide in a way that makes the most sense. For example, you’d want learners to tab to the question text before they tab through the answer choices or the feedback text. And if a slide object doesn’t convey meaning to learners, it’s a best practice to remove it from the tab order altogether. This way learners won’t become fatigued by tabbing to unimportant objects and listening to screen readers describe them.

Alternatives to drag-and-drop activities. Certain types of drag-and-drop and hotspot interactions require a mouse for navigation, making them difficult or impossible for mobility-impaired learners to use. If you add them to your course, provide text-based or keyboard-controlled alternatives.

These are some of the key things to keep in mind, but there are other considerations too. A few other accessibility design best practices include:

  • Avoid putting important information on hover states (screen readers will miss it).
  • Refrain from using colors alone to convey critical information (screen readers will also miss this!).
  • Consider providing a transcript that includes not only closed caption text, but also descriptions of important content included in videos and images.
  • Include audio clips to go along with text, for learners who have reading disabilities such as dyslexia.

Remember, there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to creating accessible content. Accessibility depends on your target audience, whether you need to abide to any specific requirements, your stakeholders, and what kind of learning experience you want to create for the learners. By applying the abovementioned tips, you’ll be well on your way to creating an accessibility-friendly Storyline course.

Test for Accessibility

Once the course is ready, it’s time to test it out. Testing and quality assurance are important parts of any e-learning project, but they’re especially critical when it comes to accessible courses. To make sure everything works as it should, test all keyboard shortcuts, and then test your course with a screen reader. If you have someone with a disability in your workplace, enlist them to act as a tester. A person who truly needs and uses the accessible content can likely provide you with the best information about the quality of the learning experience.

Helpful Links and Resources

Here’s a list of accessibility-related links and resources that you might find helpful.

Want to try something you learned here, but don’t have Articulate 360? Start a free 60-day trial, and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning. If you have any questions, please share them in the comments.

Matthew Bibby

Technically, Articulate 360 only works with JAWS 16 in one of the supported browsers: https://articulate.com/support/article/Articulate-Storyline-360-Is-Compliant-with-Section-508-Accessibility-Guidelines#screen-reader. You can get a trial version of JAWS to do initial tests. However, some have found that NVDA (which is free) works okay with Storyline. There are some cases where it can be buggy, search the forums for discussions containing NVDA (e.g., here is one post: https://community.articulate.com/discussions/building-better-courses/nvda-screen-reader). That being said, if NVDA doesn't work as expected, that's not something that Articulate can help you with as they make no claims of it working with their products. I'd love to see Articulate do better in this area. Of part... Expand