Making your eLearning Accessible

shutterstock_284549888The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”  Tim Berners-Lee.

In the U.S, most federal agencies and institutions are required to be 508 Compliant and across the world, courses and web pages need to adhere to WCAG requirements.  Both these requirements are geared to make web content accessible to all learners including those who are differently-abled.

Though accessibility, on the surface, seems to be a straightforward requirement, to make an eLearning course truly accessible to all learners is a challenge. You need to first understand the requirements of differently-able learners and the solutions to address these.

Five User Profiles

Knowing the various user profiles that you need to address is crucial in ensuring that the courses are accessible. There are five user profiles to keep in mind while designing for accessibility. You may not be required to cover all the user profiles in your learning solution.

 1. Individuals with visual disabilities

Individuals with visual disabilities have challenges using eLearning courses since these rely on visuals for teaching. The possible solutions for the challenges faced by these individuals are as follows:

  • Provide text descriptions in the alt attribute since they are unable to see images, photos, graphics
  • Allow the users to skip items that might be difficult or tedious to listen to by adding links.
  • Avoid asking the learner to use the mouse extensively, if this cannot be avoided, suggest keyboard alternatives.
  • Avoid relying on color alone to convey meaning
  • Offer audio descriptions of elements in videos that are not covered in audio alone. For example, if there are actions that a character does in the video, describe these in the audio.
  • Individuals with color blindness may require additional considerations such as ensuring there is sufficient contrast in the colors used for a course.

2. Individuals with hearing loss

There are varying degrees of hearing loss, from mild hearing loss to profound hearing loss. For these users, you will need to provide transcripts for audio clips and provide synchronous captioning for video clips.

3. Individuals with deaf-blindness

Deaf-blindness is a condition when the individual is both deaf and blind. When accessing web content, they generally use a Braille device that enables them to access the text content of a web page and provides alternative text for images.

4. Individuals with motor disabilities

Users with motor disabilities include those who have spinal cord injuries or the loss or damage of limb(s). The challenges faced by these users and the possible solutions are as follows:

  • Ensure that all functions are accessible by using the keyboard. These users may rely on voice-activated software. This software cannot duplicate mouse movement as successfully as the keyboard can.
  • Ensure that your pages are ‘error-tolerant’. For example, if the user deletes something, display the message asking them if they are sure they want to delete the file.

5. Individuals with cognitive disabilities

Individuals with learning or cognitive disabilities may be able to function adequately even with the disability. For these users, simplify the layout as much as possible. You can also organize information in manageable chunks and use minimal text.

How are you ensuring accessibility in your learning designs? What are some of the solutions that you have used to make eLearning accessible? Do share your thoughts in the comments below.

6 Simple Ways to Develop an Eye for Detail

Image1“I love the way your team pays attention to details and picks up such little things that are easy to ignore,” said one of our clients on the call last evening, when we were discussing the project highlights. This annotation from the client, made me think about the importance of paying attention to details and its impact on the overall quality of the courses we create.

In the e-learning industry, quality is one of the biggest criteria that helps an organization stand out amongst others. Everyone involved in the project is responsible to ensure the courses delivered are free from not only the obvious issues (technical and/or functional), but also the small things that require a keen eye to detail.

According to author and media expert Michael Levine, the biggest problems in any business arise from ignoring the smallest of detail. And as an instructional designer, I believe that paying attention to details should be put into practice right from the beginning of the project. Even the minutest of the things, if carefully looked at, right from the start, can help reduce errors, increase efficiency and enhance the finishing of the final product.

However, it’s not as simple as it sounds; paying attention to details is a skill that needs to be acquired and just like other skills, it requires a conscientious practice.

 

Here are 6 simple ways to develop an eye for detail:

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1. Research before you begin: Do some study before you start a new assignment. For example, get to know your customers, their preference of language, writing styles, graphics, color schemes, and do not hesitate to ask detailed questions. The more thorough you are while asking questions in the beginning, the better it is for the project at later stages.

2. Make friends with checklists: Checklists come very handy when you have to work on multiple projects simultaneously, with each project following different standards. These are effective little tools that help you improve your attention to detail by keeping a track of what you might otherwise miss. The habit of creating checklists pays off well.

3. Use MS Office tools: MS Office tools are your saviors for many small slips, like typos, inconsistent formatting of your bullets, different capitalization method for the section headers in your document and inconsistent spellings (for example, e-learning vs eLearning). These negligible slips may not be seen up-front but give clients an opportunity to form a not-so-good impression about your work. MS Office tools can help you fix these slips to a great extent. For example, F7 can check spellings for you, Ctrl+Shift+C and Ctrl+Shift+V can be used to apply same format across all pages and Find and Replace option can help in maintaining consistent writing styles.

4. Review your work: Review your documents a couple of times to ensure nothing looks out of place. If possible, have another pair of eyes review your work and provide feedback. It’s always good to invite another person’s perspective as it gives you an opportunity to think deeper on what you may not have previously considered.

5. Take a break: Yes! That’s right. Take a break, grab a coffee or go for a quick walk if you start losing focus or feel tired. If you continue working when you can barely concentrate, you will end up missing out on details. So, take some time out for yourself and resume work when you feel refreshed.

6. Do not rush: Take time to complete your work as speed induces errors. There are occasions when you have multiple deliverables in the same day or week. Plan your tasks as per priority so that you can give enough time to each deliverable without overlooking small things that may make a big difference.

 

And it doesn’t stop there. Learning how to pay attention to detail is a continuous exercise, even for people who have a keen eye to detail.

So, slow down… and start paying attention to details using these tips as your checklist, and let the quality of your work define you.

Any more suggestions/tips on how you can develop or improve upon this skill? Share your ideas here.

Why Stories Matter

shutterstock_381846403 One day a nervous professor was standing in front of utterly uninterested class wondering how to start her first lecture. Standing in front of the class where everyone was checking their phones, barely glancing at her, she began by saying, “Let me tell you a story.” Suddenly everyone’s head snapped up and all eyes were on her: she had their attention.

Everyone loves stories. From the time we learnt to communicate, stories have been the chosen medium to pass on information and knowledge. Even in our daily lives, we all turn into storytellers; around water coolers, during our conversations with friends and family, we narrate our everyday events as stories.
Let’s explore why we should use stories in e-learning and if stories really do help us learn better.

Stories Are Attention-Grabbing
The reaction of the brain while engaging with stories is very different to reading or listening to information.
Paul Zak, an American neuroeconomist, has extensively researched the effects of storytelling on the human brain. In a study, he showed participants a video of a father and his young, cancer-ridden son. He then drew the blood samples from the participants before and after watching the video. The research found that two chemicals, oxytocin and cortisol, are released in the blood of the participants who watched the story. Cortisol is the “attention” chemical; it helps you to focus your attention.

Paul Zak mentions in an article that, “Scientists liken attention to a spotlight. We are only able to shine it on a narrow area. If that area seems less interesting than some other area, our attention wanders.”

Stories manage to “hook” you and retain your attention long enough for you to get involved in the story.

 

Stories Engage More Parts of the Brain
When you read a story, your imagination is in the driver’s seat. The brain readily supplies you with the complete picture of what is being said in a story.
For example, if I tell you a story about a Medical Representative, who is waiting nervously in a hallway of a busy sub-urban clinic, anxious that he is about to make his first call. The visual and auditory sections of your brain have already created a snapshot of this bustling place. Now if we add that he sat clutching a steaming cup of coffee, the olfactory sensory areas of the brain would evoke the smell of the coffee. Then if the story continued saying that when the person heard his name being called out, he jolted, spilling the coffee all over himself, the motor and sensory areas of the brain would light up, as you imagine the movement of the person and hot coffee spilling.

This shows that stories use more parts of the brain and give you a richer brain experience. Since you are enjoying the stories, you understand the content more deeply and this helps you learn and remember it for a longer time.

Stories Engage Empathy for Teaching
When you listen to or read a story, you get drawn into the action and connect with the characters in the story.
In the same study that Paul Zak found cortisol in the bloodstream of participants who watched a narrative video, the research also found that Oxytocin was present. Oxytocin is the “empathy chemical”. It makes you emotionally connect with the story and “feel” what the characters are feeling. So if you were watching Harry Potter, your heart rate will increase and your palms will sweat as you watch Harry confront Voldermort.
This immersion into a story is explained by psychologists Melanie C. Green and Timothy C. Brock in their theory of narrative transportation. The theory proposes that when we listen to stories we are ‘transported’ into its world. Even though you know you are watching or reading fiction, your brain stimulates the emotion you imagine the character must be feeling. You experience the incident without actually going through it yourself.

 

Stories Are Remembered Longer
In a study, researchers at Emory University found that stories caused neural changes in the brain that remained for several days after reading the story.
This illustrates the power of the story and why we remember them longer. So if your sales training include stories of actual incidents and anecdotes of what worked and what didn’t, it would be more impactful than learning “sales techniques” in a course.

 

Stories Add Meaning and Context
Unlike a string of facts or a large chunk of information where the reader has to construct the meaning and the internal connections, stories present us with information in a coherent form.
Stories bring information within a context and make it more real and memorable. They transform the abstract ideas into concrete, relatable examples.
“Through story, students can take data and facts that might seem to be disjointed pieces of information and tie them all together in one picture.” (Simmons, 2007; Green 2004).
Here is an example illustrating the effectiveness of “storyfying” information.

 

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Source acknowledgments:
Chaos theory. (2016, June 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 04:37, June 22, 2016, from
https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chaos_theory&oldid=726366272
Story based on: http://morning-glory.skynetblogs.be/archive/2005/05/14/the-butterfly-effect.html

Thus we see that stories affect us deeply; they engage us at an emotional and cerebral level. Stories are tools that can be leveraged to make learning more powerful and engaging.
The young professor, who used a story to get the classes’ attention, used the power of the story to make learning more memorable.

To quote from an old proverb:
“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”

7 Ways to Present Learning Objectives Creatively

Every Instructional Designer (ID) understands the importance of specifying clear learning objectives for an eLearning course. One of ID’s jobs is to set the focus of learning and stating the objectives right at the outset of a course helps learners achieve them. Learning objectives define the purpose of learning or in other words, what you want your learners to learn or be able to do. Knowing the objectives is also motivating for learners to know what they would achieve from the course. Course creators and IDs can use the learning objectives as a basis to decide what to include in the course, how to design learning activities and for course evaluation.

Most of the times, the focus is on creating the right learning objectives and the aspect of presenting them effectively may be overlooked. The most common way of presenting learning objectives is in the form of a bulleted list. However, this may not always be effective, and there could be a need to communicate the value of learning objectives in a more meaningful way. Especially, if this is the first screen learners are going to view, and you want to hook them or bring about a change in their thought process.

With this thought, our ID team at Harbinger Interactive Learning brainstormed and collated a variety of innovative ways to present learning objectives, which they have been using to create ‘learner-centric’ trainings. I am sharing a few of them here in the form of an infographic.

An infographic presenting innovative ways to present learning objectives

Creative and/or visual representation of learning objectives makes them more meaningful and interesting for learners. What do you think? Any more ideas on how you present learning objectives? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

A Comprehensive and Easy to Follow Storyboard Template for Free Download

In my previous blog – Storyboarding – A Primer and Current Perspective – I identified common barriers and challenges to storyboarding. Based on my experience, I believe that storyboarding is central to eLearning course development. For any course, a comprehensive storyboard set provides a clear and approvable plan to all those involved in its creation. A great storyboard set defines the desired learning experience, structures key content, and links each screen to learner needs and course outcomes.

So is there a standard template for storyboarding?

A e-learning storyboard broadly specifies the onscreen text, narration script, audio and visual elements, and navigation and interaction instructions. While there are many options that you may find online, there has yet to be a consensus about a standard template for a storyboard. However, a good storyboard should include the following information per screen (or interactivity, depending on the level of detail):

  • A numbering scheme for the storyboard set (that helps you understand sequences and branching paradigms
  • A representation of the screen itself (sometimes a sketch)
  • On-screen text
  • Audio narrative
  • Explanation of interactives, transitions, etc
  • Branching and navigation guidance
  • Learning outcomes addressed or contributed to by the screen

Click here to access a sample storyboard template, which includes these elements.

Storyboarding TemplateYou can pull all/specific sections from this template to suit your needs. Happy storyboarding!

About Author

Todd KasenbergWith career stints in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors, Todd Kasenberg, Principal of Guiding Star Communications and Consulting, brings years of experience and expertise in group processes, adult learning, online learning and marketing communications to his clients. Todd first dipped his toes into the e-learning pond in 2005, and since has used some of the best available e-learning composing tools, including Raptivity, to delight a number of clients in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. Todd’s work has reached and delighted thousands of online learners, in both formal and informal learning contexts. He is an often invited speaker and workshop facilitator, loves to talk apps, mobile learning, and job aids, and is a software entrepreneur. Know more about Todd at http://raptivity.com/toddkasenberg.html