Captions & Interactive Transcripts Boost Student Performance, Study Finds

November 11, 2020 BY JACLYN LAZZARI
Updated: March 16, 2021

Instructors often search for out-of-the-box ways to improve student performance in the classroom. These days, due to the pandemic, many classes are conducted virtually and remotely. What strategies or tools can instructors incorporate into their curriculum to support student success and keep them engaged in online settings?

One breakthrough study, entitled “How Closed Captioning and Interactive Transcripts Impact Student Learning,” shows that closed captions and interactive transcripts in online courses boost students’ focus, information retention, and test scores.


How Captions and Interactive Transcripts Impact Student Performance


Captions (CC) are the time-synchronized text of media content (such as video) and include non-speech elements like sound effects.

Interactive Transcripts (IT) are time-synchronized transcripts that play along with videos, highlighting the words spoken. It’s also interactive; viewers can type keywords in the search bar and jump to different spots in the video.

About the Study

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP) established an accessibility committee to advise on accessibility best practices, create accessibility awareness, and explore accessibility initiatives for online learning. In 2019, the USFSP accessibility committee released a report* giving insight into students’ uses and perspectives of captions and interactive transcripts in fully online courses. Karla Morris, M.Ed., Lyman Dukes, Ph.D., and Casey Frechette, Ph.D. of the USFSP accessibility committee, were integral to the study’s success.

The study’s goal was to understand the value of captions and interactive transcripts in online courses by measuring the qualitative impact on student performance. The study looks at nine (9) USFSP online courses in multiple disciplines, with participation from 199 students who voluntarily opted to participate. The nine courses collectively had over 200 hours of video course materials.

The methodology included randomly assigning opted-in students to a captioning-only track or an interactive transcript track that included captioning. Students completed a pre-assessment at the beginning of the course, three quizzes at regular intervals during the course, and a post-assessment at the end.

Usage data were collected throughout the courses to assess how students interacted with the video content and accessibility features. Students grouped into low, medium, and high usage groups based on their use of the study features.

Research Questions

The study aimed to answer three main research questions:

  • How do students use captions and interactive transcripts to support their learning?
  • Does a higher usage of tools have a greater impact on student performance than a lower usage?
  • Does a higher usage yield better student performance and content comprehension?

The Findings

As you read through the following findings, keep in mind that there are two separate groups within the study: the captioning-only group (CC) and the interactive transcript group (IT).

How Students Use Video Accessibility Tools to Support Learning

When asked how often they utilized captions within the course, 55% of students within the CC group and 49% of the IT group reported using captions often, always, or sometimes. When referring to the tools’ helpfulness, 45% of the CC group and 53% of the IT group found the tools moderately to extremely helpful for their online courses.


 Why Did Students Use Captions or Interactive Transcripts? 
🖥 CC Group IT Group
They help me focus 42% 21%
They help with info retention 37% 38%
They help when the audio is poor quality 28% 29%
I use them as a study guide 11% 29%
They help me find info I need 12% 29%
I’m unable to watch video with sound on 25% 21%

In the CC group, closed captions did the best at improving student focus. One student in this group said, “I can focus better when I read what is being said.” In the IT group, interactive transcripts helped best with information retention. One student in this group reported, “Because the class uses technical law terms, the transcripts help grasp what the professor was talking about.”

High-Level Usage vs. Low-Level Usage: Assessments

To measure the impact of high-level usage of the tools versus low-level usage, we turn our attention to the overall assessment results. Did students who used the tools more outperform those who used the tools less frequently?


 Pre- and Post-Assessment Results: Overall 
CC Group (Score) CC Group (Change) IT Group (Score) IT Group (Change)
Pre-Assessment Score (Avg) 64.24 63.60
Post-Assessment Score (w/ high use) 79.64  +15.40  76.62  +13.02 
Post-Assessment Score (w/ medium use) 70.06  +5.82  74.58  +10.98 
Post-Assessment Score (w/ low use) 64.90  +0.66  66.78  +3.18 

The change in assessment scores in both groups suggests several potential conclusions: At all levels of use, high and low, captions and interactive transcripts positively impacted assessment performance with 13-15 point increases for high usage. In the IT group, low usage of interactive transcript yielded a more significant impact on student performance than in the CC group. Interactive transcripts may pack a greater punch; they provide multiple interactive features, including closed captions and searchable, time-synced transcripts. This may suggest that with more accessible features present, such as providing both closed captions and interactive transcripts, students perform better across the board.

High-Level Usage vs. Low-Level Usage: Comprehension

To analyze the impact of captions and interactive transcripts on student comprehension of course materials, recall, and transfer of knowledge, we again turn to assessment scores. The assessments measured students’ level of comprehension, recall (memory), and transfer at the beginning and the end of the course.


 Post-Assessment: Comprehension, Recall, Transfer of Knowledge 
✏️ Recall (CC) Recall (IT) Comprehension (CC) Comprehension (IT) Transferability of Knowledge (CC) Transferability of Knowledge (IT)
High Use of Tool  +5.26   +8.33   +3.94   +13.33   +5.61   -2.78 
Medium Use of Tool  +5.88   +4.17   +4.31   +6.66   +12.16   +28.33 
Low Use of Tool  +6.63   -5.56   +6.91   +8.72   +4.05   +3.33 

Generally, any level of use of the tools improved the three factors at hand, except for two instances: Low use of the tool for the IT group showed a negative improvement in recall (-5.56), and high use of tool showed a negative improvement in transfer of knowledge (-2.78).

High, medium, and low levels of caption use showed a steady yet positive improvement across the board. Perhaps the most standout surfaced under transfer of knowledge, for which a medium use of captions yielded a 12.16 score improvement.

When used at a high level, interactive transcript use positively impacted comprehension (+13.33) and recall (+8.33). At a medium level of use, interactive transcripts yielded a 28.33 improvement in scores. Even low levels of use of the interactive transcript tool improved scores for comprehension (+8.72). These particular findings bring to light the powerful impact that interactive transcripts have on student performance, both at a high and low level of use.


Get Free Access to the Full USFSP Report ➡️

Conclusions and Future Opportunities

Students are likely to use captions and interactive transcripts frequently when presented with the option to use them. The study shows that both captions and interactive tools can improve student performance in many areas, including comprehension, memory, and knowledge transfer outside the classroom. Higher usage of both tools yielded greater returns for student improvement compared to lower usage. Students displayed improvement through quantitative data from pre- and post-assessments. Students also expressed positive reactions to and use-cases for the tools through qualitative feedback, supporting the idea that accessibility tools benefit various learners. One student said, “I am a visual person, so having the text there helped me better memorize the material.”

The study’s results present supporting evidence that universal design for learning (UDL) principles are beneficial when applied in online settings. Moving forward, instructional designers have the opportunity to:

  • Use and advocate for assistive technology, such as captions, in online courses and other learning environments.
  • Devise learning methods and course materials that incorporate UDL principles.
  • Consider the various ways students learn best and design courses to support different learning styles.

The study, “How Closed Captioning and Interactive Transcripts Impact Student Learning,” is a significant stepping stone to understanding the benefits of assistive technology for everyone, those with and without disabilities.

Want to read the full study? Get free access to the full report by the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.


Want more insight into the USFSP study? Download the report for full access.

*Disclosure: The report from the University of Florida St. Petersburg, “How Closed Captioning & Interactive Transcripts Impact Student Learning,” was sponsored by 3Play Media. Due to our sponsorship of this study, 3Play Media received live results from the study during public webinars and presentations. We now host the study on our website indefinitely.

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