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E-learning Accessibility

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E-learning accessibility involves different technologies and standards. First of all, both the e-learning content and the e-learning platform should be accessible, in order to be effective. Several standards have been defined to provide an accessible e-elearning. This page aims to describe such standards, how existing e-learning platforms and technologies are compliant with them and how they apply accessible funcionalities.


Page authors: Justin Brown, Silvia Mirri


Learning Content accessibility, E-learning platform accessibility, Learner profiling, Evaluating e-learning systems accessibility, Massive Open Online Courseware (MOOC) accessibility.


Learning and education are the enablers of social and economic change, with attainment of learning often dictating an individuals ability to enter professional careers and maintain a comfortable lifestyle. As with many aspects of modern society, the landscape of higher education has been significantly impacted by the coming of the internet age. For centuries traditional learning environments were locked in the physical foundations of buildings and places, requiring students to attend in a time and a place. With the realisation of the internet age learners can still access the curriculum of any number of higher education institutions, but now via the web, at a time and a place convenient to them.

E-learning systems provide comprehensive mechanisms for managing the presentation of curriculum and content, allowing instructors and students to interact synchronously and asynchronously from any part of the world that has a viable internet connection. Students can attend high quality institutions, receiving accredited and recognised qualifications without leaving the comfort of their own home. For learners with disabilities this is of paramount importance, as their local home and work environments are likely to be highly tailored to their specific needs, particularly in terms of physical access, transport and assistive technologies. Travelling to learn may be extremely difficult, if not impossible for learners with specialised requirements, whereas as staying home to learn could be highly achievable.

Overcoming the physical location and access issues in terms of attainment of learning goes partway to a solution for fully inclusive education options for disabled learners, but it is an incomplete progression if digital web interface is itself not accessible. How e-learning systems are designed, how their interfaces function, how communication is handled, how assessments take place and what form the learning content takes all impact on the accessibility of these system by students with disabilities.

The research literature in the field of e-learning is both broad and comprehensive, though the intersection between e-learning and web accessibility is less well developed. This symposium seeks to combine the benefits of 14 years worth of accessibility research with nearly 30 years of e-learning research so as to inform e-learning accessibility for the coming decade.


E-learning materials are often used with a specific technology, or configuration, which can make them less available to people who have limited access capabilities or who are using non-standard computer equipment. Learners with disabilities using assistive technologies can benefit greatly from e-learning, not just because it allows distance and flexible learning activities, but also because it helps students with disabilities in accessing resources which would otherwise present significant barriers for them. These barriers can include the interface elements of the Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS) in which learning materials and objects reside, and the manner in which users interact with those objects. LCMS environments typically contain a variety of components which do not always share a consistency of interface logic or interactive elements, ranging from posts in a forum, form elements in tests or timed quizzes through to playing embedded videos or downloading a variety of document formats.

An effective e-learning environment should take into account each learner’s abilities, together with learning goals, the places where learning is occurring, and through which specific devices learning is taking place [4]. In this context, it is strategic to describe learner’s preferences and needs by means of a profile. How this profile interacts with the LCMS interface and the objects it contains can impact upon the learning experience of users with different capabilities. Beyond profiling the learner and their accessibility needs, some consideration should also be given to the user role within modern e-learning environments. Whilst a significant body of literature and ongoing research exists in terms of enhancing the accessibility of e-learning from the student perspective, there appears to be little in the way of research into how those who create the content and curriculum might interact with LCMS tools. If a lecturer or teacher requires the aide of assistive technologies in order to interact with a LCMS system, and through it, their students, what barriers exist in such systems from an accessibility point of view? Do the 'management' interfaces of modern LCMS environment comply with accessibility guidelines, or are is the application of guidelines primarily aligned with the student, or, content consumer interface to the system?

Whilst LCMS environments are most commonly deployed within universities, schools and other learning environments, the coming of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has seen e-learning systems and content become more openly available in the public domain. MOOC systems aim to bring LCMS environments together with content and learning objects contributed from a variety of sources, driven by a community of learners. MOOCs offer a fee window into the types of courseware, content and assessment students might experience in university and colleges which charge significant sums of money for full degree level courses. MOOC providers are typically individual teaching and learning institutions offering a small sample of their course materials to the web community, or are a conglomerate or organisations that contribute discrete parts of the course towards an overall MOOC course. In some instances completion of MOOC learning materials can contribute to entry criteria or even course credit for some teaching institutions.

Attending learning institutions in terms of travel, accommodation, physical access and availability of assistive technologies are all barriers to the acquisition of traditional learning for some individuals with disabilities. For web citizens with special needs, the ability to enrol in freely available MOOC courseware could be a viable first entry into tertiary level education or training. The challenge for the MOOC concept then is one of accessibility in terms of the community it wishes to engage with, ensuring that processes such as enrolling in a course, navigating the system, accessing learning materials and interacting with their peers is achievable through the use of assistive technologies. In terms of accessibility, how is the responsibility for equitable access managed within the MOOC environment.

Regardless of its open source nature, most MOOCs are housed in traditional LCMS environments and contain content across typical media types. Even the assessment tools within MOOCs follow the norm for LCMS environments, though the emphasis is oriented towards peer to peer assessment rather than instructor lead assessment. So, whilst a course, its materials and its mode of delivery might adhere to a set of accessibility standards within a specific organisation, once these items are de-coupled the question arises as to whether a minimum standard for accessibility can be successfully applied. If the MOOC hosting organisation sets a particular standard for accessibility, say WCAG 2.0 Level A, is it then that hosts responsibility to audit and approve all content coming from external contributors to the MOOC? If a community learner has issues with the accessibility of the MOOC or its content, to whom do they address their concerns, and what level of recourse do they have in terms of the MOOC host or content contributor should the issues not be resolved? Finally, whilst most centres of higher learning will have institutional level statements as to their accessibility conformance (for their websites at least), are MOOC environments similarly making such statements about their systems and content?


Accessibility standards for Learner Profiling

Some well-known standards has been defined to answer to the need of profiling learners preferences and needs and in this subsection we are going to describe them.

The IMS Global Learning Consortium has developed a specification that attempts to address learners' profiling: the IMS Learner Information Profile (IMS LIP) [10]. Such a specification is devoted to describe general learner characteristics, by defining a set of packages that can be used to import data into and extract data from an IMS compliant Learner Information server. By using LIP [10], it is possible to define learner’s information about: accessibilities; activities; affiliations; competencies; goals; identifications; interests; qualifications, certifications and licences; relationship; security keys; and transcripts.

The IMS Learner Information Package Accessibility for LIP (ACCLIP) [11] is that subset of IMS LIP [10] which lets learners specify accessibility preferences and accommodations. Such a specification is described in the following documents:

  • Accessibility for LIP Information Model: it is the normative reference that defines the data elements needed to represent accessibility preferences in a LIP Profile.
  • Accessibility for LIP XML Schema Binding: it describes how the information model is represented as additional elements in the Learner Information Package XML Schema set.
  • Accessibility for LIP Best Practice Guide: it provides considerations and examples for using the accessibility preferences defined in the Information Model.
  • Accessibility for LIP Use Cases: it presents use cases from which requirements used as the basis for Accessibility for LIP development.

The Accessibility for Learner Information Package v1 Final Specification [11] was approved by the IMS Technical Advisory Board in July 2003.

ACCLIP enables the description of user preferences (in terms of visual, aural or device) that can be exploited in order to customize learning contents (e.g. preferred/required input/output devices or preferred content alternatives). In other words, this profile provides a means to describe how learners interact with an e-learning environment, by focusing on accessibility requirements. Learners can declare multiple preference sets according to different contexts of use of the e-learning environment. For each context, accessibility preferences can be grouped into the following sections:

  1. display information, which describe how the user prefers to have information displayed or presented; for instance, it is possible to define preferences related to cursor, fonts and colors characteristics (by means of XML tags: <cursorSize>, <cursorColor>, <foregroundColor>, <backgroundColor>, <fontSize>, <fontFace>). In addition, it is possible to declare the need of using a screen reader (<screenReader>), specifying the interaction preferences, such as the speech rate, the pitch and the volume <speechRate>, <pitch> and <volume>), or the need of visual alerts instead of aural ones (<visualAlert>);
  2. control information, which define how a user prefers to control the device; for instance, it is possible to define preferences related to standard keyboard usage (<keyboardEnhanced>). In addition, it is possible to declare the need of using non typical control mechanism, such as onscreen keyboard (<onscreenKeyboard>), alternative keyboard (<alternativeKeyboard>), mouse emulation (<mouseEmulation>), alternative pointing mechanism (<alternativePointing>) and voice recognition (<voiceRecognition>).
  3. content information, which describe what enhanced, alternative or equivalent content the learner requires; for instance, it is possible to define how to present visual, textual and auditory contents in different modalities (<alternativesToVisual>, <alternativesToAuditory>, <alternativesToText>) and the need of personal style sheets (<personalStylesheet>).

Finally, the section "accommodations" allows the descriptions of requests for and authorization of accessibility accommodations for testing or assessment. For instance, it is possible to declare the request for accommodations and the accommodation description (<requestForAccomodations>, <accomodationDescription>).

ACCLIP inherits from LIP a meta-data category related to privacy and data protection information. This means that each ACCLIP element has meta-data sub-elements related to these information. In this context, the privacy and the data integrity is considered as very important, since the exchanged information can be strongly related to user’s disabilities. The LIP standard provides two mechanisms with the aim of offering support to the implementation of security issues in any suitable architecture. In particular, LIP supports:

  • the inclusion of information that can be used to describe the level of privacy, access rights and integrity of the data.
  • the use of learner information in order to enable the secure and/or authenticated transfer of the data. Such information is identified in the LIP standard as the Learner Security Keys and it includes learners’ public keys for public key encryption, passwords for access to the information and digital signatures to be used to ensure data authenticity (by means of the <securitykeys> element and its data structure).

The second part of the ISO/IEC 24751:2008 accessibility standards [19] (Information technology - Individualized adaptability and accessibility in e-learning, education and training-- Part 2: "Access for all" personal needs and preferences for digital delivery) is devoted to describe learners’ Personal Needs and Preferences (ISO PNP) [20], with an approach which is similar to the IMS ACCLIP one. While IMS refers to "Content Types", as visual, auditory, textual, ISO PNP refers to “Access Modes” as visual, auditory, and textual (as well as tactile and olfactory). Practically speaking, IMS defines content characteristics, while ISO defines the senses through which content is accessed.

In 2009, the IMS has released a new version of ACCLIP [12], that is consistent with the ISO/IEC PNP. This new specification is technically identical, but it combines the IMS and the ISO documentation styles. This new version of ACCLIP is called "Access For All Personal Needs and Preferences for Digital Delivery" [12].

By means of both IMS ACCLIP and ISO PNP, learners can declare which kind of adapted and/or alternative resources they prefer or need in place of a particular type of original content. Text may be preferred or needed instead of visual resources or audio might be preferred over text or images, and so on. According to both these standards, learners can explicitly declare in their preference profiles only one alternative access modes for each form of resources. For instance, a blind learner could state he/she needs to access original visual resources only as auditory or textual alternative content. Such a one-to-one relationship does not allow further choices: a blind user, for instance, might request audio files describing images, but if such alternatives are absent, he/she cannot choose a text description instead (to be read by a screen reader) [23].

The IMS Access for All (AfA) Personal Needs and Preferences (PNP) 3.0 [13] aims to solve problems like this one. A public draft of such a specification has been released in 2012 and currently comments are welcome. This version of the specification radically changes the point of view and, in particular, the learner can declare the <accessModeRequired> and the <adaptationTypeRequired>, specifying even multiple <adaptationRequest> for each <existingAccessMode>.

This improvement can be of great help in letting learners choose multiple alternatives, but some lacks in such a specification still persist. For instance, IMS AfA PNP [12] does not deal with sizes or quality of video and audio resources: it is not possible to request a degraded version of a clip or an audio file to be adapted to the device being used. Moreover, any implicit extension of the choices, so as to describe an alternative having, in turn another alternative, and so on, might produce a loop among available (and not available) forms of resources. Hence, a suitable mechanism to identify loops in one-to-many relationships among requests should be provided, while profiling of resources related to their quality should be taken into account [23], as other standards do, such as W3C Composite Capabilities/Preferences Profile (CC/PP) [28] and OMA User Agent Profile (UAProf) [24].

E-Learning Content and Assessment Accessibility

In order to improve the accessibility of e-learning content, another IMS standard has been defined: the AccessForAll Meta-Data (ACCMD) specification [14] describes learning content by identifying which types of resources are available in a Learning Object, that can be used to present the same content to a given learner, but by means of different media. By exploiting such a standard, e-learning content authors can used metadata to describe the types and the relationships among a primary resource and its available alternatives. For instance, metadata can be exploited to describe that textual alternatives are available for images, audio descriptions for videos, transcripts or captioning for audio tracks, visual alternatives for text, and a variety of other potential alternative formats. Thus, ACCMD [14] makes possible to identify those resources which match user's stated preferences or needs. The idea is that if the ACCMD specification [12] is implemented in an e-learning environment, smart strategies can be devised to select those (alternative) media resources, composing a Learning Object, which can be fully enjoyed by a given user.

ACCMD [14] is intended as the mirror of IMS ACCLIP [11], providing an interpreter for ACCLIP profiles and choosing the appropriate content, based on the previous interpretation. In other words, ACCLIP profiles can be utilized to determine which typologies of media should be provided to a given user. Based on ACCMD, these appropriate alternative media resources can be retrieved and presented to her/him. For instance, by entering an ACCLIP profile, a blind learner viewing a video for example, will automatically receive that video with audio descriptions, while a deaf learner will receive the same video but with captioning included in the presentation.

The IMS AccessForAll Meta-Data (ACCMD) specification [14] is described in the following documents:

  • IMS AccessForAll Meta-data Overview: it explains the role and the purpose of the specification, as well as the relationships among ACCMD and other standards and specification (i.e. IMS ACCLIP)
  • IMS AccessForAll Meta-data Information Model: it formally describes the relationships among the information involved in the model. In particular, it describes details about semantics, structure, data types, etc, for each part of the specification.
  • IMS AccessForAll Meta-data XML Binding: it describes the Information Model and its binding to an XML Schema. It is normative for any XML instance that claims to employ ACCMD Specification. It is released with an XML Schema Definition file.
  • IMS AccessForAll Meta-data Best Practice Guide: it provides guidance in implementing ACCMD and it responds to most common questions from implementers. It gives examples of how ACCMD is related to other specification, in particular to IMS ACCLIP.

The IMS AccessForAll Meta-data - version 1 Final Specification [14] was released in July 2004.

The third part of the ISO/IEC 24751:2008 accessibility standards [19] (Information technology - Individualized adaptability and accessibility in e-learning, education and training-- Part 3: "Access for all" digital resource description) is devoted to describe the resources which compose an e-learning content (ISO DRD) [21], with an approach which is similar to the IMS ACCMD one. Differences between IMS ACCMD and ISO DRD are primarily in the language: the IMS uses terms such as "Primary", "Secondary", "Alternate" resources, while the ISO defines such resources as "Original" and "Adapted". Both IMS ACCMD and ISO DRD group resources into two categories: original (the initial or default resources) and adapted resources (they address the same learning objective as the original resources, but offering the same meaning in alternative forms). Metadata can be used to describe the actual sensory requirements necessary to access the resource and to describe the relationships between originals and their related alternatives.

In 2009, the IMS has released a new version of ACCMD [15], that are consistent with the ISO/IEC DRD. This new specification is technically identical, but it combines the IMS and the ISO documentation styles. This new version of ACCMD is called Access For All Digital Resource Description [15].

IMS ACCMD and ISO/IEC DRD have got the same aim: providing information about alternatives to original resources: by means of them any resource presented in an e learning content can be identified as having a primary, original form and one or more adapted forms, depending on its media type. E-learning content may be made up of many resources, a simple example is an HTML document containing pieces of formatted text and digital images. Complex and aggregated e-learning content should be disassembled in different parts to be identified as primary form or alternatives. Each of those part has to be taken into account as an atom. A limitation of this approach arise whenever e-learning content authors want to provide alternatives both to the whole original assembled content and to each single part that composes the entire resource. Let us take into account, as an example, the previously mentioned HTML document made up of formatted texts and digital images. At the atomic level, metadata can describe each digital image by defining its visual nature and possible textual alternatives. But, according to the definition of ISO/IEC DRD and IMS ACCMD, it is not possible to declare those pieces of formatted text as original resources, if they are not in separated files. In other words, it is possible to provide accessibility metadata only to external textual files (such as .pdf, .txt, .rtf, etc.), which may be linked to the HTML document. Defining the whole aggregated content as an atom is not a feasible solution, because this means giving up the idea of providing alternatives to each single file which compose the entire content. Moreover, the more different kinds of media are involved in the assembled resource and the more providing appropriated alternatives to it as a whole would be difficult. Finally, on the one hand, when set of resources are recognized as an aggregate one, metadata cannot let declare subsets of single resources as an atom and define alternative to individual atoms. As an example, a sequence of audio files cannot be identified as a single auditory resource and a video with sign language cannot be defined as an alternative to it. On the other hand, a subset of adapted resources cannot be declared as an alternative to a single resources. As an example, a sequence of images cannot be declared as an alternative to a video [23].

The IMS Access for All (AfA) Digital Resource Description (DRD) 3.0 [16] aims to solve problems like the one described above. A public draft of such a specification has been released in 2012 and currently comments are welcome. This version of the specification radically changes the point of view and, in particular, for each resource it is possible to declare one or more <accessMode> (as visual, auditory, textual, etc.), if it has adaptions (<hasAdaptation>), or if it is an adaptation of a specific original resource (<isAdaptationOf>), its <adaptationType> and its access mode (<accessModeAdapted>).

Another interesting and recent IMS specification is the Accessible Portable Item Protocol (APIP) [17], which is related to the accessibility of e-learning assessment. It provides assessment programs and question item developers with a data model for standardizing the interchange file format for digital test items. The main goals of the APIP specification are:

  1. porting digital Tests and Items across APIP compliant test item banks;
  2. providing a test delivery interface with all the information and resources required to make a Test and an Item accessible for those students with disabilities and/or special needs.

The APIP standard involves and expands other IMS specifications, allowing and supporting their interoperability. In particular, APIP is based on the IMS Question and Test Interoperability (QTI) v2.1 specification [18]. APIP expands the QTI model into a framework, answering to the need of creating accessible tests. APIP adopts the IMS Access For All Personal Needs & Preferences (AfA PNP) v2.0 specification [13] as the basis for supplying the user preferences when using an APIP-enabled system. It is these accessibility preferences that are used by an assessment system to customize the presentation of the question items to fit the accessibility needs of the user.

The current version of this specification does not provide information about the end-user interface, which supports the users in requesting the accomodations they need, according to their PNP. The idea is to leave the delivery interface to vendors, encouraging differentiation. Actually, this can represent a potential problem, since there is no guarantee that vendors will implement item interactions in a consistent way across different products. This means that conflicts with user expectation and experience may occur, varying from vendor to vendor and from assessment to assessment. As a consequence, the users could face significant challenges when needed accomodations and interactions differ in a consistent way from the features and the functionalities of the assistive technologies the users are already familiar with, forcing them in training with the delivery platform and in particular with the specific assessment [9].

Accessible interfaces in current Learning Content Management Systems

Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS's) are the engines of web based e-learning and provide mechanisms for organising academic curriculum, delivering various modes of assessment and allow for synchronous and asynchronous communication between instructors and students. As with most types of web applications, LCMS environments have become progressively more complex as instructors and students demand more features and more capability from their learning environments. In terms of the interface elements, such as logging in, logging out, navigating to courses and content and communicating with instructors and other students, modern LCMS environments typically have multi-layered structures across which users must be able to navigate [26]. Whilst the LCMS core environment has its fixed interface elements, instructors have the ability to add further navigation issues in the form of multi-layered content folders, hyperlinks, html content, all of which can typically be mixed together in any number of ways. Whilst this creates flexibility for instructors and course designers, it can leave users of assistive technologies learning not just how to interact with the core LCMS features but with the individual courses as built by the instructors. Whilst most modern LCMS environments make claim to varying levels of accessibility compliance, there would appear to be an inherent assumption that this accessibility is aimed largely at the student user role, rather than the instructor or administrative level roles. The main websites of some of the most prominent LCMS tools provide resources as to the accessibility of their products, primarily from the perspective of how-to guides for students using assistive technologies (screen readers predominately). The websites for the Blackboard [2] and Moodle LCMS tools both address the issue of accessibility, with the Moodle site offering authors a basic accessibility overview and some do's and don'ts in terms of course design and content format, whilst Blackboard offers comprehensive instructions to students in terms of using the system with assistive technologies.

ATutor LCMS (as well as AContent, its learning content authoring system) has been designed and developed with the accessibility in mind, from different points of view, as its Web site states. In particular, a wide range of features are provided so as to ensure that assistive technology users can participate in learner, instructor, and administrative activities. Different themes are available so as to invite users to choose the interface layout which better meets their needs. ATutor is compliant with accessibility standards, not only related to the Web interface (i.e. the IMS/ISO AccessForAll, so as to support learners in configuring the environment and the learning content according to their needs and preferences).

The Blackboard website did address the accessibility from an instructors point of view [3], however this was a statement of audit and conformance for specific features (instructor and student), rather than a set of instructions as to how to accomplish such tasks with assistive technologies. Whilst the research literature in the field of e-learning accessibility justifiably concentrates on the student experience as learning consumers [6], there seems to be a gap in terms of work focussing on how instructors using assistive technologies can use these systems as learning creators. In terms of tasks performed by instructors and course authors, creating modules (typically folders), then adding content into these modules such as images, videos, links, documents, html element and perhaps sub-folders are amongst the most common. As managing content can include editing the names of items, deleting items or setting the sequence of items. Whilst most of these tasks can be achieved using assistive technologies, not all of the approaches are necessarily intuitive or quick to use. In particular, module and content sequencing (as in the order the content appears on the page) have moved towards a drag and drop modality in modern environments such as Blackboard and Moodle, though keyboard alternatives are possible. However, how usable these non-mouse alternatives are for large amounts of course management, or where complex content arrangement is required, remains unclear at the present.

This is just a simple example of how a relatively mundane task required of a course author in a modern LCMS might be accessible in principle, but would likely be extremely time consuming and frustrating to use in practice. In an earlier versions of LCMS tolls the arrangement of content was usually achieved by simple drop-down lists or numbered field values being attached to each module or content item within a module. By navigating to the item, and then activating the drop-down list or altering the field value the instructor had a somewhat easier way of contextualising the location of the item in the sequence, and then selecting where they wish it to be moved in the sequence. In many ways, the evolution of LCMS tools into more media rich, graphically interactive web applications could have seen something of a devolution of the accessibility of some elements of the systems due to increases in interface complexity [1].

Accessibility of MOOCS environments

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are a recent phenomenon in e-learning, seeing learning systems and content being made freely available on a large scale to the internet community. The MOOCs model sees learning content taken out from behind the closed doors and inherent cost of academic courses sand placed into the public arena for mass consumption. A trade off exists in the form of the course materials typically being a smaller selection of the more in depth materials that exist within the contributing institution, plus the face to face experience between instructor and student is mostly absent. For the most part the MOOCs model focuses on student self-learning and interaction with other learners in a peer-to-peer modality, with engagement coming in the form of frequent assessment items.

As MOOCs courses continue to gain popularity and more and more educational institutions clamour to establish their own MOOCs or contribute to existing ones, the issue of accessibility in these environments becomes important if the MOOCs are to meet their goals of large scale inclusivity. Unlike traditional learning environments, MOOCs typically have no limit on student age, expertise or prior educational achievement. Whilst traditional learning usually has its roots in physical locations, such as campuses and buildings, MOOCs offer a completely virtual learning environment. For students with special needs who might have issues with educational attainment, ability to travel or socio-economic restrictions, MOOCs offer an opportunity for self development from within a physical space that is already tailored to their custom needs [25].

Whilst the modality of the MOOCs approach may remove physical and economic barriers it can pose the same accessibility roadblocks seen in any number of complex web based systems. Can students using assistive technologies readily navigate the MOOC environment, access and utilise the learning content contained in the system, participate with largely automated assessments [22] and engage with their fellow students? The field of e-learning has seen a significant body of literature develop over the last decade in terms of e-learning accessibility, with a heavy focus on both LCMS tools and the learning content they contain. In many ways the MOOC model is simply e-learning en masse though with the added element of multiple content providers and a heavier reliance on peer-to-peer learning exchange. The challenge for the MOOC providers and their consortium partners is how to bring together disparate course materials and learning objects that are consistently accessible across the duration of a MOOCs course. Is it the responsibility of the MOOC host to instruct the content providers as to the requirements of accessibility, and in situations where those requirements are not met, is content to be rejected? Conversely, do MOOC hosts place the onus of accessibility on the content authors, whilst they themselves are primarily responsible for the LCMS in which the content is housed? Where do the lines of responsibility lie in terms of accessibility, as students using assistive technologies will be unlikely to care about the distinction between host and content provider.

Whilst the usual accessibility barriers may exist in MOOC systems, perhaps the MOOC model of large scale participation and crowd sourcing could be used to support special needs users by providing peer assistance in terms of study skills, content adaption and remote assistance with interactive elements (such as quizzes and animations). If the LCMS environment in which a MOOC system is housed allows for sufficient interaction between users, or for content to be downloaded and then uploaded again in another form, students within the system could be learning from their fellow students and make a contribution by assisting those fellow students in benefiting from the course materials.

MOOCs courses are very popular, with some MOOC hosts seeing hundreds of thousands of students participating in their freely available courses. As well as high levels of participation, MOOCs tend to demonstrate high levels of attrition, with non-completion rates of 80-90% [5] not being considered uncommon. This may be due to the initial appeal of a free course being replaced with the reality of motivation for doing the course in the first place. Do students enrol in MOOCs offerings out of general interest, or for the specific goal of attaining some level of certification [7] or perhaps even entry or credit into an actual paid course at a reputable institution [27]. When students are paying for a course, or studying a course to gain qualifications that allow them to enter into a specific discipline or work domain, their level of motivation to continue is likely higher than if the course costs nothing and contributes nothing to their future prospects. In terms of disabled learners, will they feel more motivated to persevere with a MOOCs course if it is the only form or structured learning they can readily access, or will the accessibility of the MOOC environment be the defining factor in their MOOC experience?


  • What are the accessibility issues related to user roles in e-learning systems (including accessibility of authoring tools and of admin features in e-learning environments)?
  • Experiences in learner profiling (including privacy issues).
  • Relationships and integration between content accessibility and interface accessibility.
  • Authoring tool features and constraints with the aim of supporting authors in creating accessible e-learning content.
  • Mechanisms to import-export content packages, taking into account accessible metadata and interface characteristics.
  • Evaluating accessibility of e-learning environments: mechanisms to evaluate accessibility of content packages and e-learning environment interfaces; mechanisms to evaluate the process of content creation and delivery within a specific e-learning environment.
  • Accessibility of e-learning assessments (including complexity of automated assessments, time limits, presentation of scores and answer feedback).
  • Accessibility of synchronous communication tools in e-learning environments.
  • Accessibility in m-learning (using mobile devices) and t-learning (using smart TVs) as well as e-learning environments by means of non-conventional devices.

  • Where are the gaps in the accessibility standards at present?
  • What work needs to be done in learner profiling, in content accessibility metadata and in the Accessible Portable Item Protocol?
  • How do standards from other domains contribute to accessibility issues (i.e. device capabilities descriptive standards)?
  • Experiences and examples of standards implementations in e-learning environments.
  • Different standards, compliance and integration.

  • Experiences and examples of accessible MOOCs?
  • What kind of issues should be taken into account in the design and management of accessible MOOCs?
  • Who is responsible for content auditing and approval for content coming from external contributors to the MOOCs?
  • What are the most common problems, if any, in adopting accessibility solutions for MOOCs?
  • Does the Peer to Peer learning model in MOOCs present extra challenges to participation for learners with disabilities?


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  2. How to Use Blackboard, (2013).
  3. Learn Accessibility Conformance Statement, (2013).
  4. Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST): Universal Design for Learning, (2013).
  5. Clow, D. (2013). MOOCs and the funnel of participation. In Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK '13), Dan Suthers, Katrien Verbert, Erik Duval, and Xavier Ochoa (Eds.). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 185-189. DOI=10.1145/2460296.2460332
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