Making eLearning accessible—with technology and pedagogy

Let’s talk about making eLearning accessible to everyone. Thankfully, it is a request we often receive or an action we routinely recommend when it is not. Sometimes such a request comes without the necessary appreciation of what making eLearning accessible means for learning design, or the project itself.

Before beginning any custom eLearning project, eLearning designers need to clarify with you what level of accessibility you require for the intended learning cohort. The answer will have a significant impact on the nature of what content we can develop, will influence the interaction types to be used, and may even determine the choice of an authoring tool for content development.

illustration shows eLearning designer thinking about accessibility

Generally speaking, the higher the level of accessibility you aim to achieve, the more considerate we need to be about the interactive functionalities, i.e. what we will be able to use in your custom eLearning piece.

Audience, content, and context matter for accessibility

In determining the ‘right’ level of accessibility, the critical factors to consider are:

  • Your learner audience
  • Specific project requirements, and 
  • Your overall organisational compliance context. 

This exercise requires you, and later the learning designer, to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and to evaluate the learning piece from different ability angles. Rod, Liberate’s Managing Director, recalls an example when we were engaged in creating a suite of custom eLearning modules to help medical diagnoses, which required learners to identify the severity of different types of wounds, such as pressure ulcers: 

“I was in the process of writing the alt tags (which are the narrated words associated with an image that is read by a screen reader), and I realised that the audience needs to have relatively sharp eyesight in order to visually identify the wound, infections, colouring and inflammation of the skin, degree of healing and more. It made me wonder—does this course need to cater for accessibility using screen readers given the audience obviously needs to be sighted?”

Can you use Web Accessibility design techniques?

“Do you use web accessibility techniques?” is another question we often get asked, understandably, as the web accessibility guidelines underpin eLearning accessibility.

In reality, designing for web accessibility is different from designing for eLearning accessibility because the purpose/user experience of a website is to make information as accessible as possible for every user. In contrast, for a learner, it is not just a matter of making the information accessible; it’s crucial to provide the ‘learning experience’ as an equally meaningful endeavour for all learners. Therefore, we cannot just rely on technology, or on ticking WCAG guideline checklists alone to achieve this.

Designing for an ‘equal learning experience’ often needs to go beyond the notion of allowing learners to access the same piece of learning via an assistive technology or through a different mode.

The role of the eLearning designer

Our eLearning designers will always be upfront with our clients about what can and what cannot be done for certain levels of accessibility. If we get asked: “Let’s attach a transcript, so the video is accessible now”, well, that’s not good enough in many instances. Take, for example, a branching scenario with different decision-making points for the learner. That kind of learning experience cannot be replicated in a long-form transcript for the learner to read through, for the experience isn’t an equal learning experience

Take another example, where you present a complex pie chart or diagram and expect someone to learn by having a screen reader read the chart or diagram from the top left to bottom right. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to identify the relation between the X and Y axis while listening to it in a linear order? A case like this would not be a meaningful learning experience

For the reasons above, in navigating accessibility considerations, competent eLearning designers will work with you and rely on their vast experience in finding the sweet spot between 

  • using technical solutions (e.g. short/long descriptive alternatives, colour contrasting, keyboard tabbing, among others), and 
  • applying sound pedagogy practices (e.g. creation of learning activities that are equally meaningful and engaging for all users). 
illustration shows balance between accessibility and equal experience

Authoring tools can help achieve your eLearning design goals

With the common adoption of authoring tools in the eLearning profession, eLearning designers may need to work with a range of authoring and testing tools that give the best flexibility when it comes to accessibility. It is good to be aware that some eLearning development platforms are more ‘technically’ suited to achieving higher WCAG levels than others. For example, our sister company App-eLearn.com offers the ability to accommodate for WCAG2.1 AA accessibility. Do you know what is possible with your in-house systems?

Understand how to test for accessibility

Many organisations request for their eLearning designers and developers to meet WCAG accessibility guidelines; however, it is essential that you know how to test your eLearning for its effectiveness. How can you determine whether accessibility is not only functionally achieved, but that the learning experience is equal, and the accessible alternatives are meaningful? It is critical that you are aware and well-informed so that you are signing off on quality learning solutions that provide everyone with a valuable learning experiences.

Would you like to learn more?

Would you like to explore more ways to make your learning accessible? Call the Liberate team and let’s start the conversation: Call Rod on 0413 982 712 or connect with him on LinkedIn.

How we grow (and keep) the best eLearning development team in Australia

At Liberate Learning, we humbly believe we operate as the best eLearning development team we possibly can be. We dare to say this because it is what our clients across the board tell us after they start working with us, and because our industry peers voted us to be Australian Education and Training Provider of the Year (2019 MyBusiness), and Learning Provider of the Year (2019 AILP), among others. The work we do would not be possible without our team, all of them experts in their respective crafts.

So, we recently sat down and looked deeper into how we usually attract, grow, and develop our people to give us that edge, that X-Factor, which makes such a positive difference to our clients. We want to make sure we know what works well in finding the right people for us, so we can continue on this path and adjust when necessary.

Here are what we identified as our secrets to becoming the best eLearning Development team in Australia:

Liberate Learning is a complete provider of workplace learning solutions

For our clients, the reality is that our eLearning development team are a complete learning solutions partner, as we offer the entire bandwidth of training and workforce development:

  • Custom e-learning solutions
  • Instructor-led training design 
  • Blended learning consulting 
  • mLearning
  • Microlearning
  • Performance support tools
  • Video and animation.
Illustration showing different people interacting on a laptop

This breadth of service means our team covers a wide spectrum of professional skills at the highest level, from strategic learning consultants, project managers, educators, to graphic designers, multimedia developers, instructional designers, videographers, motion graphics designers, and animators.

How we find the best eLearning experts in Australia

Only once in ten years have we ever advertised any roles in our team on Seek or alike; we grow by attracting top talent to apply to us. Working with Australia’s largest corporate, top universities and governmental organisations, we see hundreds of work samples every day, and outstanding work always sticks out. Hence, the chances are that by the time such a top performer knocks on our door, we already know what they can do. 

We expect our team members to be highly proficient in the skills and tools of their trade, be it authoring tools or storyboarding, stakeholder liaison or instructional design, we need first-class skills for the client work we do. People come to us ready to hit the ground running. 

Our culture of client-centric excellence

Apart from the job role-related technical skills, we need people with the right cultural fit. There is no point in being a master of their tool/skill if this is not matched with an absolute commitment to collaborative project acumen and top communication skills.

Yes, we are learning nerds, but we do understand and speak our clients’ business languages fluently. We commit to delivering quality deliverables on time and budget, job-for-job, and we expect all our team members to manage their priorities to meet or exceed client expectations. 

Illustration of people climbing up cubes and ladders, to become the best eLearning development team

If this makes us sound like a team of workaholics, we know this is not true, as our team members entertain a lot of interesting hobbies and passions to make sure our minds keep fresh. In our midst, we have hobby-pilots, farmers, cartoon designers, photographers, golfers, surfers, gaming masters, to name a few of our quirks.

Liberate Learning is an Australian-based experts team

We work across industries and also with many Australian Federal and State Government departments, some with high-level security clearance requirements. Therefore, we have strict background and compliance checks in place, and we only engage people who have the right to live and work in Australia for the same reason.

While formal qualifications are welcome, and we hold many of them in our team including four with Doctorates and many with Masters degrees, our experience shows that current Australian industry experience is more critical for us to reach the level of client satisfaction we expect to provide. 

Innovation in eLearning

The digital learning industry is moving fast, and all of us at Liberate are passionate about being at the forefront of innovation, continually looking for better ways to design, develop, and deliver learning. Being at the cutting edge enables us to be nimble and react to changing environments like in the current COVID pandemic. For example, we recently produced an entire reel of virtual reality (VR360) footage to enable virtual university open day tours for remote or international students.

Does this sound like an eLearning development team for you?

We always welcome the opportunity to talk to new talent. If you consider yourself as an experienced learning innovator and would consider yourself suitable to join our team, contact rodney@liberatelearning.com.au, give him a call on 0410 082 712, or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Micro-credentials and data analytics make universities as we know them obsolete

Are university study programs, where students take ‘time out from life’ to study towards a future career, becoming an outdated way of gaining qualifications? Enter technology-supported customised learning, where learners acquire the knowledge and skills they need at the time they need them, and receive and use micro-credentials when needed. 

Let’s consider the mature-age worker employed as a software developer. She attended university but left when deciding that the course was not keeping up-to-date with technological changes. She has worked in a number of businesses, demonstrating advanced levels of knowledge and skill in her profession by learning on-the-job. Now in the middle of her career, a project management position has become available for which she believes she is highly qualified, yet does not have the degrees which will attract a new employer’s notice. How can she compete in the employment market?

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is one strategy that she might use. Most universities or TAFE colleges will offer some form of RPL. However, as one university states, RPL will not be recognised until an offer of enrolment is accepted. The Australian Qualifications Framework requires any RPL process to be of the same standard of assessment as would be required at any accredited institution and performed by an academic or teaching staff with the expertise in the subject. These put restrictions on the timeliness of both learning and accreditation.

Business woman standing in front of labyrinth of RPL. Micro-credentials could help.

What a tedious process RPL has become, with the expectations that verified supporting documentation attests to what is known, understood or has been performed. Few of us look to the future and compile work samples or copious documentation of what we do from day to day, either in a professional or personal capacity. Yet, these are the experiences which accumulate to build our expertise in many areas. Learning is a never-ending process, and acknowledgement of what we know and how we use it can provide many new opportunities for employees.

What if we all had the opportunity to keep track of our learning journeys easily by using the capabilities of technology and the interoperability of learning systems? What if technology helped to collect the data associated with our chunks of learning, compiling these into usable summaries linked to professional competencies? A secure linking between private and public cloud services might play an integral role in supporting changes between the tertiary education sector and personal learning spaces.  

The benefits of big data and data analytics using modern technologies such as Learning Record Stores (LRS) and xAPI tracking make it possible to think about a completely different approach involving micro-credentials. This approach encompasses how university students acquire their knowledge and skills and how these results are tracked, recorded and credentialed.