Blog Post

5 Best Practices for Creating Accessible eLearning Content

Jordan Hopkins, MEd
February 12, 2024
accessible e-learning content photo

If you’re in the business of workplace instructional design, you understand the importance of accessibility. When you design education, you aim to engage your audience and enhance their understanding of your offerings. Serve up the right learning, and you can successfully enable anyone—from a partner looking to perfect their sales motion to a client choosing to renew.

But, audiences are not a monolith. All people learn differently, as evidenced by the sheer diversity in user behavior, socioeconomic background, and physical and mental ability. Neglect to make inclusive learning part of your broader education strategy, and you risk alienating potential champions of your product and brand.

Accessible eLearning makes that inclusivity possible. In this article, you’ll learn what makes for an accessible education experience, complete with tips and expert thought leadership.

What is Accessible eLearning?

Accessible eLearning is the creation and distribution of online training (including courses, certifications, articles, and videos) designed to make the learning experience as inclusive as possible. Accessible eLearning tends to prioritize usability, accommodating learners with disabilities such as visual impairments and hearing issues so that anyone can learn effectively.

Tips for Creating Accessible eLearning Content

Accessibility in eLearning doesn’t happen by accident. Creating inclusive, user-friendly education starts with an equally inclusive education strategy—one that considers the breadth of your audience and the diversity of their personal goals. 

“Accessibility is not just about screen readers and closed captions or transcripts, although those are indeed important,” said Helen Bailey, Education Program Manager for Intellum’s Evolve Content Authoring Tool. “It’s about ensuring that everyone has a good experience using your content.”

Here are five tips to help you design content that accomplishes just that:

1. Get familiar with standard accessibility guidelines.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the foremost authority on internet standards. Their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide a detailed playbook for any education team looking to design an equitable online learning experience. You can read up on WCAG 2.1, here.

Compare the 2.1 playbook to your current education efforts. Which web components and plugins meet accessibility standards, and which fall short? Take inventory of your current accessibility gaps, and use that knowledge to prioritize what areas to address first.

Following accessibility guidelines isn’t just good practice—it’s often mandatory. UK law stipulates that all public sector websites and apps meet WCAG standards. The US, similarly, requires agencies to ensure people with disabilities have equal access to digital information, as stated in section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Tip: Intellum Evolve is one of the most accessible eLearning authoring tools on the market. Our team recently created a sample course that was audited and certified as WCAG 2.1 compliant by Online ADA. The majority of our components and extensions are vetted for accessibility, giving you more tools to design inclusive education.

2. Deepen your understanding of your audience.

The WCAG serves as a critical starting point, but those guidelines alone don’t guarantee success. Accessibility starts by including everyone; however, it certainly doesn’t end there. You should be deeply familiar with your learning personas, so you can deliver personalized education that guides the user and supports their goals.

“Many creators assume they can just add alt text, test some keyboard shortcuts, and call it a day,” explained Helen. “Yes, those are vital, but accessibility is more than that.”

Here are other ways Helen recommends instructional designers build accessible eLearning:

  • Avoid jargon, language, and terminology that may confuse the learner. This is especially important to consider if you have a global audience where idioms may not translate.
  • Be culturally aware and provide diversity in your imagery and references.
  • Use color and text formatting appropriately for clarity and understanding.
  • Minimize flashing imagery, lengthy or repetitive animations, and other visual distractions.
  • Ensure brevity, relevance, and clear instruction.

3. Communicate accessibility needs to your team.

A comprehensive customer education program isn’t built in a day. It also isn’t built alone.

To create accessible eLearning, you’ll likely need to update existing web assets, design new imagery, and write fresh copy. And that takes a team of web developers and designers who are equally bought in on the importance of inclusion. 

“Always start your design or development requests by specifying accessibility needs,” said Helen. “Consider what interactions you’re designing and whether they’re fully accessible. Style guides and templates can make this process easier.”

Offering a variety of different learning activities helps too. Always strive to provide learning materials in multiple formats—from printable documents and drag-and-drop elements to video captions and audio explainers for diagrams.

4. Perform usability tests to validate accessibility.

Even when you design with accessibility in mind, you’re bound to hit some snags. No matter how standardized your learning course or certification, human error is inevitable. Expect to create content with bugs, broken links, and the occasional inaccessible moment.

Usability tests are great opportunities to pilot your educational content and catch these moments in front of a live learner. Schedule time with a small subset of your audience, and ask these individuals to walk through the user experience. Observe what works well and what could be refined—and leave plenty of time for feedback.

“Test as much as possible with as wide a pool of reviewers as possible,” says Helen. “Consider reviewers with a range of tech-ability and subject matter familiarity. Ask pertinent questions about their experience, and continue to look at feedback from the course once live.”

Tip: For more on accessibility in eLearning, check out our guide to building accessible courses using Evolve.

5. Save time with an accessibility-tested content authoring tool.

Of course, the above tips all require the same thing—and that’s time. Usability tests can take weeks, if not months, to prepare, and learning WCAG standards can be a job in and of itself. If your team is already at max capability, accessibility will only add to the stress level.

Top eLearning authoring tools are designed to make the accessibility process easier. These tools tend to offer handcrafted design elements you can use right out of the box—from expandable accordions to interactive quizzes. The best platforms will ensure these components meet accessibility standards, so you can focus less on compliance and more on teaching.

Make Accessible eLearning Easy With Evolve.

Intellum’s Evolve Content Authoring Tool gives every instructional designer the tools to create accessible eLearning. Design courses right within our inline editor, then manage and track your content using Intellum’s learning management system. Choose from more than 40 different components—from flow charts to flip cards—that are certified for accessibility based on WCAG 2.1 standards.

Don’t take our word for it. Try Evolve yourself with a free 21-day trial.

About the Author

Jordan Hopkins, MEd Speaker Headshot
Jordan Hopkins, MEd
Education Program Manager
Jordan Hopkins is a self-described "learning design nerd" and is passionate about putting the learning first. For the last 16+ years, Jordan has practiced education through a unique blend of corporate enablement, training, consulting, and learning design.