EdX’s Best Practices for Developing Accessible Online Course Content

February 21, 2017 BY ELISA LEWIS
Updated: February 2, 2021


Settlement: edX, Inc. and US Department of Justice (DOJ)

On April 2, 2015, edX entered into a voluntary settlement with the DOJ, agreeing to make their web-based content accessible.

As an early adopter of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), edX, developed in collaboration by Harvard and MIT, is a pioneer in e-learning, making this case instrumental in setting precedent for the application of the ADA to educational uses for online media.

In the settlement, edX agreed to make substantial adjustments to their online content including their website, platform, and mobile applications to meet the standards set forth by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA. In addition, they would be required to provide information on accessibility best practices for others in the industry.

Why Captioning Is Important for Online Courses

First and foremost, captioning for online video is important in order to provide Deaf and hard of hearing individuals with the same access to online video content as a hearing individual has. But, providing captions on online courses is helpful for hearing students as well. In fact, when we conducted a research study with Oregon State University, we discovered that 71% of students without hearing difficulties use captions at least some of the time, and 75% of students who use captions use them as a learning aid to help with comprehension, accuracy, engagement, and retention.

Best Practices for Developing Accessible Course Content

As part of the lawsuit settlement agreement, edX provides guidance and accessibility best practices to the entities that create and post courses on www.edx.org to assist them in creating accessible course content.

Content Must Be Perceivable

One of the overarching principles of web accessibility is that the content must be presented to users in ways that are perceivable. In most cases this means that the content is available as text so it can easily be transformed into a format that is perceivable to all audiences.

Content Must Be Understandable

Content must also be readable and understandable. EdX courses have a global and diverse audience. Learners will be more likely to succeed if concepts are presented in clear and straightforward language. This means avoiding jargon and explaining any unfamiliar words that are relevant to the topic.

Use Best Practices for Describing Images

When using visuals in your presentations, remember that best practices for describing images include providing text alternatives. The general rule for accessible images is that the text alternative should provide the same amount of information that a sighted viewer would get from the content.

Create Accessible Course Materials

When putting together your course syllabus, carefully consider how accessible all materials are before making them available through your course. All teaching materials should exist in several different formats to be conducive to the needs of all students.

Use Best Practices for Mathematical Content

Math in online courses can be difficult to present in a way that is accessible to individuals with vision impairments. EdX uses several special programs to render math content in a clear and readable way which is accessible to those who use screen readers.

Use Best Practices for Custom Content Types

Utilizing a variety of content types in your courses can allow you to customize your course in ways that make it accessible for all individuals.

Create Accessible Media

It is important to remember that while media-based course material can bring information to life, it is crucial that all of these materials are accessible. All videos in edX courses are required to include timed text captions in SRT format. These timed text captions not only make the videos accessible to hard of hearing or Deaf individuals, but students with learning disabilities or whose native language differs from that of the course, benefit as well.

Use Best Practices for HTML Markup

HTML is the best format for creating accessible content. The information in HTML markup allows assistive technologies (e.g. screen readers) to provide information to those with vision impairments.

Apply Universal Design for Learning

When creating course content, the principles of Universal Design for Learning should be applied. The three most important aspects of Universal Design for Learning are:

  1. Present information and content in various ways
  2. Provide more than one way for learners to express what they know
  3. Stimulate interest and motivation for learning.

Captioning online videos is crucial to ensuring that online educational materials are accessible to all individuals. Learn more about 3Play Media’s captioning services and get started captioning today!


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