e-Learning designers face many of the same challenges as designers of classroom training – they’re aspiring to a learning experience which is relevant, motivates, incentivises and inspires learners to change or improve certain behaviours or attitudes.
But let me now take you behind the scenes, into the world of us e-learning developers. One of the core challenges that we face lies in creating e-learning that is effective, engaging and accessible for all learners, including those who aren’t using a mouse and instead are using assistive technologies. A video may be the most interesting and effective way to illustrate a key message in the learning, but what will the training experience be like for a learner using a screen reader?
These are my top seven tips for developing effective e-learning in line with the WCA accessibility guidelines:
1. Include the equivalent text alternative for all graphics and images
This is similar to alt text used in html sites. All learners need to understand the meaning and use of the image or graphics.
2. Use colour effectively
Any content using colour should also be available in a format that doesn’t require colour perception. One way to do this is by avoiding using colours in instructions, such as ‘Click on the red, green and blue parts of the image to view the descriptions.’
3. Avoid using animated, flickering or flashing content
If this isn’t an option, then include information at the beginning of these screens stating that the screen is animated and provide the way to turn off the flickering or animations.
4. Use a descriptive transcript for videos
This visualises the current situation for the visually impaired learner.
5. Use a font which is a sufficient size and a readable style
Avoid using colours in the fonts and try to use the high resolution graphics which will not scale when the learner zooms in on the image.
6. Arrange all the elements on screen logically
Use a sequence in which they display the learning. If it’s not possible to physically arrange the elements on screen, try to code the accessible elements in the sequence of learning.
7. Provide the alternative equivalent text and brief description for the navigation icons
This will help ensure that that all learners are able to navigate efficiently through the learning.
The most important thing to remember though is ‘when’, rather than ‘what’. Plan for accessibility in the design of e-learning from the beginning of the process, rather than creating a course which isn’t accessible to all learners and then attempting to convert or improve it to meet accessibility requirements later on. Instructional designers, graphic designers and developers need to work closely together at the design stage of a project to develop effectively and accessible e-learning.
I hope that these tips give you some pointers for designing your own accessible e-learning, but you should bear in mind Kevin Carey’s (Director of HumanITy) advice: ‘There is no single solution for accessibility’. One size will not fit all: especially when it comes to designing complex bespoke interactions. A little creative thinking can go a long way, so don’t be tempted to over-simplify if there is a way that you can still present your content accessibly.
If you have any other tips on ensuring e-learning is accessible then please post them below…
This year, the Learning at Work Day theme is ‘Learning for Growth’. The constant availability of mobile learning already makes it ideal for self-development, but are you making the most of this medium?
A mobile learning course isn’t an e-learning course resized to fit on a smartphone. Or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s very easy, when designing a course, to forget that something that works fantastically on a desktop computer may not be so impressive when squashed onto a much smaller screen.
So when we’re asked to produce a mobile learning course, our aim should be to develop considered, dedicated mobile learning, rather than developing e-learning that can also run on mobile devices. Mobile learning has different possibilities to e-learning, and we should make the most of these.
It helps to start with the basics. Why does the client want the course to be accessed from mobile devices? Sometimes there is a practical reason; a hospital’s employees may spend more time on site than in an office, and will have easier access to a mobile phone or tablet than a computer. Maybe the idea is to encourage people to dip in and out of the learning, which is easier when it can be accessed at any time through something you carry around with you.
Once you have your client’s purpose in mind, you can start crafting your content to fit it. There are a few key areas that you can focus on to make the most of your mobile learning, which we’ll take a look at now:
1. Devise for the device
This is the big one. These days we expect that online courses will have interactive screens – forty pages of text won’t impress anyone, and more importantly probably won’t teach them much either. But before you start scripting intricate puzzles and flashy animations, think about the capabilities of the device itself – some don’t use sideways scrolling, for example, and not all devices support Flash (Adobe has discontinued Flash for mobile devices, so if your course is going to be used in the long term, then you shouldn’t really be using it at all!).
This is the main reason why, if possible, it is far better to design a course for one specific device, rather than several. It means that you can design your interactions to use the full potential of that device, rather than having to go for the lowest common denominator.
2. Keep it simple, keep it smart.
Mobile devices can be anything from a laptop with the same screen size as a desktop computer to a mobile phone, and all of them need to be considered differently. The small screen size on a mobile phone means that a design with lots of colours and images will become confused, so it’s better to stick to a clean layout and simple colour scheme. Additionally, mobile learning is often used in places that are full of distractions, such as train carriages or on a lunch break – a course that is easy to follow is more likely to hold a learner’s attention than one that is over-crowded. Graphic novel styles often work well for mobile learning, as they have a limited amount of text on screen and use a simple but engaging layout.
It’s worth giving some thought to navigation too. The iPhone uses ‘swipe’ gestures to move through screens – incorporating this into your course will make the environment feel more intuitive, and can allow your learner to interact with the content in new ways. I’ve worked on an interaction that had the learner ‘piloting’ a plane, which they had to direct through the correct answer ‘hoops’ in response to questions. Using the iPhone’s touchscreen to direct the plane instead of clicking on the hoops would make this more game-like, and make better use of the device’s capabilities.
3. Recognise that if it’s immediate, it should be revisitable.
The key benefit of mobile learning is that it can be carried around in your pocket, so it would be useful to have a course that could be used as a reference tool as well as instructions. On a building site and can’t remember which type of wire cutter you need? Open up your training course and go straight to the tools guide. Or why not promote message boards as a way for learners to ask questions and get quick answers?
Think about what makes mobile learning different, and use that to create exciting courses.
And finally, I’ll leave you with a comic (courtesy of Stephen Collins Illustration) on just how mobile devices put instant knowledge at our fingertips …