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.

Why does eLearning fail?

As an eLearning professional for the last 10 years, I have been a part of many successful eLearning courseware development projects. However, there have been many occasions when the eLearning solution does not live up to the expectations.

Undoubtedly, eLearning as a medium is very powerful. Then why do the eLearning initiatives fail? There can be numerous reasons why an eLearning project fails. Here are some reasons I have commonly seen.

 

  1. Ignored end users – When the idea, requirements and approach is driven by only the sponsors and not the end users of eLearning, there is a RED FLAG right at the start. You cannot ignore the end users. Here are some guidelines to refer to understand the end user requirement:
    1. What do the consumers want?
    2. What is their comfort zone?
    3. How do they enjoy learning?
    4. What motivates them?
    5. How can eLearning add value to their learning experience?
  1. When design takes over content – Not every eLearning course needs to be highly interactive or requires a lot of graphics and imagery. Sometimes content effectiveness is lost in the efforts of making the eLearning design heavy and visually attractive. Content is the KING and it should always get the first priority. Content presented in a simple style, properly chunked and with the right design can also make a great impact.
  1. Not creating a marketing buzz – Most of the time focus is on the development of the courseware, which is where it should be; however, similar efforts should go into creating a buzz around the release. It is important to attract the consumers and get them excited about the new courseware. Just putting the course on the LMS doesn’t help. It’s almost like releasing a new motion picture. Just a good story, some gripping acting and scenic locales is not enough. The audience needs to feel compelled to go to cinema halls. The release plan must include:
    1. Plan to create a buzz and attract consumers
    2. Plan to provide technical support during and after the release for a smooth experience
    3. Plan to update the content
    4. Plan to capture consumers’ feedback

There could be many more reasons for eLearning implementation failures like quality of content, technical limitation of the delivery environment, lack of alignment of content with the business goal.

Have you ever experienced such a situation of eLearning failure? How did you resolve it?

Please share your thoughts below.

Edumercials—tasty titbits to strengthen your eLearning diet

Edumercial or infomercial—have you heard any of these terms before? If yes, most probably you would have heard them in the context of marketing, where edumercial stands for ‘education + commercial”.  Generally, it is a commercial advertisement that offers education to its audience with a hidden objective of promotion. In this blog, I will be talking about using edumercials in eLearning, which is one of Harbinger Interactive Learning’s unique and pioneering offerings.

So what is an edumercial in the eLearning context? It’s an innovative instructional approach that brings the benefits of television commercials (TVCs) into the learning experience. These are bite-sized micro-learning nuggets that put across a concept in a captivating way.

Like for commercials, the critical element in these 5 to 6 minute videos is to grab learner’s attention in first 3 to 10 seconds. This is done through compelling audio, imagery and animation. One can also add interactivity to enhance learner engagement. The concept or the piece of information is often woven into a story or a scenario to let learners relate to it and be interested to learn more. Edumercials usually do not have knowledge checks or assessments.

You must be curious to know why are edumercials required and when should one use them? Basically, edumercials can be used as standalone ‘just-in-time’ learning pieces or they can also be integrated within an eLearning course to make it more engaging. They can be used for a variety of purposes such as:

  • Introduction to a course
  • Product demonstration
  • ‘Show Me’ simulation
  • Rapid recall exercise
  • Quick synopsis
  • Job aids

As edumercials are quick and to the point, they go a long way in grabbing and mainlining learners’ focus. They can be quickly recalled and align well with the Cognitive Load Theory. According to this theory, our short term or working memory has a small capacity to retain 4-5 bits of information at a time. Edumercials help reduce the amount of load that is being placed upon the learners’ working memory and help to effectively integrate the information into his/her long-term memory.

Using edumercials in the right way is a systematic instructional approach that delivers the message or information across learners efficiently. They certainly motivate distracted or stressed learners or learners who struggle to manage their time to learn. What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Putting Augmented Reality to Use with an Interactive Brochure

You probably have heard a lot about Augmented Reality (AR) and how it helps to create highly engaging, interactive and meaningful learning experiences for users. If you haven’t, you can go through my earlier blog – Augmented Reality for Learning – Digging Deeper. This is something that will interest you especially if you are related to learning, development or education in any way. The blog also lists some use cases and interesting examples of using AR for learning.

In this blog, I am going to share niceties about an innovative brochure created by our team at Harbinger, using AR technology. This brochure gives readers information, demos and deeper insight into Harbinger’s learning solutions and competencies, in a stunningly interactive way.

Why a brochure in the first place?

Conventionally, chances of grabbing reader’s attention with a short and visually appealing printed material are higher than an email or a web link. Our team at Harbinger follows a culture for innovation. Hence, instead of creating a plain brochure, we thought of bringing it alive using AR. The idea was to create an immersive experience for readers, who can explore different sections of the brochure in a stimulating way.

Like to see how this brochure works?

Anyone with access to Harbinger AR app and the brochure can experience the unique AR interactivities. You can also watch this short video that demonstrates how the brochure works.

How did we do it?

We developed this interactive brochure with a modular framework called Metaio SDK. The broad process we followed was:

  1. Conceptualizing the brochure
  2. Developing AR image marker with Metaio SDK
  3. Printing the brochure with AR marker image
  4. Integrating interactive assets with the Harbinger AR app
  5. Publishing the app on the App Store

And the outcome?

With this brochure, we have been demonstrating our pioneering capabilities of AR based learning solutions at client meetings and conferences. It has proved to be an icebreaker for conversations, and centerpiece to maintaining reader’s attention.

As a next step, we worked on couple of more AR projects for our clients. These clients have had very encouraging feedback from their customers and learners. 

What are your thoughts on this brochure and experiences of using AR for learning?

I would love to hear from you!

Approaches to Adaptive eLearning Design

Adaptive e-learning Design

In my last blog, I introduced you to the concept of Adaptive eLearning Design (AED). Today, I’ll talk about a few approaches we follow at Harbinger to create AED based courses for our healthcare and pharmaceutical customers.

These approaches are easy to follow and implement and designed to ensure great ROI.

1.    Design Models

The most commonly preferred approach is incorporating the AED strategies while designing the course.

It could either be implemented through Strategic Chunking of the software simulations or through a Flipped Classroom model. In Strategic Chunking, the design is instructionally chunked into several self-contained small units so that it becomes easy to implement changes across the required unit rather than disturbing the whole system.

In the flipped approach, you could design the system in a way that there are multiple short instructional videos for people to see. The training content doesn’t include many activities or interactions. This part is handled in the training room. So, the amount of changes to be done in the content reduces.

2.    Show Me, Try Me, Test Me

An interesting paradigm that could be followed for creating AED is by carefully modifying the typical Show Me, Try Me and Test Me model. These three steps should ideally be followed in a sequence for a perfect AED enabled system. On a higher level, it involves showing something to the learner and then letting them try it themselves and finally, testing them on what was shown and tried.

 Here are some tips for designing Show Me – Try Me – Test Me:

In Show Me, the system needs to be designed in such a way that it incorporates multiple closely knit images that give the illusion of a video. It is adaptive in the sense that you could simply change the image when required without recreating the complete video.

Try Me can be considered an analogy to ‘Learning by Doing’. In this particular model, the course is heavy on instructions. This approach performs best when the instructions are textual and not audio/video based. That enables you to just replace the instruction text quickly when demanded and need not get into the cumbersome process of re-recording audio/video.

 3.    Training Instructor Guide

Another approach that you could choose for AED is, opting for training with your eLearning partner. In this approach, partner provides you with an Instructional Guide Manual of the system and also trains you at the end of the project delivery. The training would be on the package design as well as maintenance. In such cases, strategically selecting a rapid authoring tool that is not complex and can be easily operated by your team is the key. We have been designing such instructor guides for our customers which they have found useful once they own the responsibility of maintaining the content.

Apart from the above options, if companies have limited resources and budgets, they may even ask for an annual maintenance contract (AMC) with their eLearning partner. AMC works best when there are constant changes planned.

These changes could be at an instructional design level or simply at screen level. They key to a successful AMC is a partner who is willing to go an extra mile to understand the changes you are anticipating in future as maintenance. The partner team should be able work out a strategy for a cost effective AMC based on your needs.

Many of our clients prefer going the AMC way due to the complimentary instructional and authoring skills we bring in.

Each approach has its own benefits and limitations. The best suited approach can be decided after a thorough analysis of client requirements and expectations. I hope you enjoyed reading this blog. I would love to know your thoughts. Do share your comments below.