[Study] How Captions and Transcripts Impact Student Learning and Comprehension

Updated: July 8, 2019

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP) is making significant strides to create a more accessible campus and is dedicated to providing accessible tools that are conducive to educational success for every student.

Karla Morris, M.Ed., Lyman Dukes, Ph.D., and Casey Frechette, Ph.D. from the USFSP accessibility committee recently joined us in a webinar to discuss their research on the impact of captions and transcripts on student learning and comprehension.

Below is a summary of the full webinar.


Infographic with findings from the USFSP captioning and interactive transcript study. Overall, captions and transcript show to improve students online learning experience in many ways, and after one semester, exam scores improved by 3-8% after using captions and interactive transcripts. The information in this infographic is also written throughout the content of this blog.

Please email us to request an accessible format of this infographic.


The Pilot Studies

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The USFSP accessibility committee was established to advise on accessibility best practices, create accessibility awareness, and explore accessibility initiatives for online learning. The team, which is comprised of faculty and staff with expertise and interest in accessibility, decided to take a closer look at various online instructional practices that they believe will benefit all students in online courseware, whether they have a disability or not.

Before the current study at USFSP, which is still in progress, there were two previous pilot studies. The first pilot study examined the cost and benefits of captioning all online course content and found that clarification and comprehension were improved by captions. The second pilot study looked at the benefits of interactive transcript use compared to closed captions and showed that students perceive both captions and interactive transcripts as helpful to their learning.

After discovering that the students who participated in the two pilot studies outputted an increase in a letter grade, the committee decided to take a closer look at how captions and interactive transcripts benefit students taking online courses.

The New Study

The two pilot studies sparked the idea to investigate captions and interactive transcripts further, leading to the current research project which examines the uses and perspectives of captions and interactive transcripts from a larger sample of students.

The new study specifically addresses the use of captioning and interactive transcripts in online university courses at USFSP and analyzes online course features that provide the best access and understanding of course content for the greatest number of students.


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The goal of this study is to build on the findings from the two pilot studies and to examine learning in three ways: content retention, comprehension, and application or the ability to take information and apply it in standard scenarios such as exams.



The new study looks at seven courses from nine sections across the three colleges at USFSP: the College of Education, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the College of Business. Students were able to opt into the research in the early semester and were randomly assigned to one of two groups. In one group, students were provided with the closed caption tool only, and in the other group, they were supplied with both the closed caption and interactive transcript tool.


Research Instrument

All students were required to take a pre-test to establish their baseline knowledge in the class. After watching course video materials, the students were given checkpoint quizzes. At the end of the study, the students were prompted to take a post-test and to complete an attitudinal survey in which they would express their thoughts on the video tools.

The accessibility committee also observed student behavior and gathered observational data throughout the study using research management tools.

Preliminary Findings

So, what did the committee find? Although the research and analysis are still ongoing, the group discussed the preliminary findings from the study.


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Captioning Group Qualitative Findings

The students who were in the group with only the closed caption tool reported that they benefitted from using captions in many ways.

Overall, students expressed that captions helped with their comprehension and understanding of the materials. With captions on, they were able to maintain a better focus on the online lecture and retain more of the content.

The students reported that having both audio and visual outputs simultaneously playing was helpful for their learning styles. International students who speak English as a second language expressed that the visual aspect of captions helped them to comprehend material that was not spoken in their first language.

Students also found that captions allow them to watch online courses and course material in environments that are both quiet and noisy, as it does not require them to rely on hearing the audio to consume the content. Captions also aided students in learning technical terms and new vocabulary.


Interactive Transcript Group Qualitative Findings

Similar to closed captions, students in the interactive transcript research group reported that there were many benefits to using interactive transcripts for learning.

The interactive transcripts display the transcript on the screen while the video plays and highlights the word as the professor speaks. Students reported that this feature allowed them to easily find any part of the lecture which they needed to revisit. This shows that interactive transcripts encourage a more active and tactile approach to learning.

Like captions, interactive transcripts allow students to watch course materials in many environments. They assist students who speak English as a second language and make it easier for all students to follow along with the information from the lesson.


Quantitative Findings

Overall, there was an improvement in students scores in both groups. For the closed captioning group, the committee saw a 3 percent increase in scores from pre- to post-test. In the interactive transcript group, they noted an 8 percent increase in scores from pre- to post-test.

In two particular courses, the interactive transcript group notably improved by 15 and 16 percent from pre- to post-test.

Going Forward

Learn more about ACCESS, October 3, 2019, Boston, MA

The study is still ongoing, and the accessibility committee at USFSP plans to examine the data further and to explore other connections through the summer of 2019. Some of the questions they aim to address are, “What does this mean for online course design?” and “Is the impact significant enough to make design changes?”

In the fall of 2019, USFSP will release a full report which will be available on the 3Play Media website. They will also present the conclusive findings from the report in a second webinar with 3Play Media and at ACCESS in Boston on October 3, 2019.

Watch the Full Webinar

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