When designing digital learning we need to make sure that it’s accessible to all. L&D can and should take steps to guarantee the widest possible access to learning.
Barriers to accessing learning
Physical disability and mental health disorders can limit a person’s ability to access digital learning. Physical problems include difficulty hearing, impaired vision, and limited mobility and dexterity. Depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and addictive behaviors are just some of the mental health challenges faced by employees. Mencap reports that in the UK approximately 1.5 million people including over 2% of adults have difficulties with learning. In the US as many as 1 in 5 people have problems with learning and attention.
The chances are then that some people in your organization are going to face barriers to learning. What’s more, organizations have a duty enshrined in equality law to meet the learning requirements of people with disabilities.
Over 20 years ago the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) published guidelines (WCAG) to improve accessibility to web-based content. It continues to update them. Many of the guidelines have been adopted by producers of digital learning to improve the accessibility of their learning content.
How do you ensure your digital learning is accessible so that everyone can learn?
6 steps to improve accessibility
- Use a mix of media: Mixing video, audio, animation, infographics, and text extends the accessibility of your learning content. A mix of media meets a wide range of learning preferences. Match the medium with the content and remember that a large percentage of what we learn is by doing or from watching others.
- Offer alternative access to information: When using video ensure you have captions for people with hearing difficulties. Provide downloadable written transcripts for audio recordings. Make sure a screen reader can read out all text. All images should be accompanied by alt tags with concise but complete descriptions that a screen reader can read out.
- Pay attention to presentation: Improve the readability of your text by ensuring a high contrast between text and background. Make it possible to enlarge or zoom the text to aid reading. Use standard colors in designs. Strong colors create associations and enhance intelligibility. Be consistent when you associate colors with specific features and functions (blue for a link, for example). Remember too that between 5 and 10% of the population has an issue with color blindness. There are browser plug-ins that let you view a screen as a person with color blindness sees it so you can check your choice of colors and contrasts.
- Set standards: Maintain a consistent approach in choosing a font, frames, and navigation features. Standardization helps orientate learners and makes it easier to retain information. Ensure that learners can easily return to where they came from or left off (e.g. by using a bread crumb style navigation). Adopt symbols that are commonly in use in digital media such as icons and symbols for play, pause, stop, delete, forward and back, and so on. Develop content development guidelines that document the approach you take and check all content – in-house, customized, or off the peg – adheres to those standards.
- Be clear, always: Avoid long pieces of text and use an image or an infographic instead. Scale down learning to bite-size chunks that can be quickly consumed and retaken at will. Use animations and screencasts to describe processes and software features. Conduct regular usability studies and canvass feedback to ensure that learners have easy access to digital learning programs and are understanding the content.
- Open learning up: Make content available, adaptable to, and accessible from mobile devices. Learners can then access it when they need to on the device they’re most comfortable with. Offer content in a variety of formats to help personalize it to meet individual needs. Raise awareness of accessibility by developing learning content and scenarios that address accessibility issues and featuring learners with accessibility needs. Keep track of emerging technologies like augmented reality to see how they can improve accessibility.
Accessibility benefits all
The primary aim of accessibility guidelines and legislation is to improve access for those learners with disabilities. But attention to accessibility is not just the right thing to do, it actively benefits everyone:
- Equality access promotes inclusivity.
- Inclusivity creates stronger, more cohesive, and effective teams and helps realize the full potential of all people within the organization.
- Greater accessibility ensures a more diverse range of opinions is heard.
- Adopting accessibility features and guidelines improves the quality and effectiveness of digital training and caters to the widest possible audience
- More accessible learning improves learner engagement and retention which translates into better performance.
- Access for all improves morale and makes for a healthier working environment.
To find out how we can help with your organization’s accessibility to deliver equal opportunities and improves the effectiveness of L&D across the board get in touch now.
Libby graduated from the University of Winchester in May 2018 with a degree in Media and Communication and soon after joined HT2 Labs as a Digital Communications Officer.
Following their acquisition in June 2019, Libby is now a Senior Marketing Executive at Learning Pool and with a keen interest in content marketing, Libby’s day-to-day involves blog writing, press releases, case studies and more!
Outside of work, Libby enjoys all things health and fitness related, including long walks and morning swims. Having spent 9-weeks travelling Central and South America before University, Libby is a keen traveller and you’ll often find her planning her next trip with her partner.