With the rise and boom of technology has come the rise and boom of e-learning. E-Learning comes in all different shapes and sizes, whether it’s helping school-level students with their general education, or helping the general public learn new skills and get experience about topics they want to pursue or are interested in.
With the rise of e-learning has also come the rise of related technologies, equipment, and software that is changing the game for everybody. One of these technologies is screen reading (or a software application known as a screen reader).
While this technology isn’t new, today we’re going to explore the connection between screen readers and e-learning, detailing everything you need to know about what it could be doing for you.
What is a Screen Reader?
So we’re all on the same page, a screen reader is a piece of software installed on a computer, smartphone or tablet. The software then reads the text content written or highlighted on the screen and relies on it through the speakers into an audio format.
This, of course, can be incredibly helpful for those who have trouble reading, are learning to read, or have a sight condition that means they can’t read the screen of a computer device so easily. However, it’s important to make sure you’re not confusing screen readers with similar text-to-speech software.
This is because the user has a lot more control over the device, especially since it can help them type and interact with the computer through a specially designed keyboard, which can mean it’s quite difficult to use originally. However, once mastered, the user will be able to use a computer just as quickly as an abled individual.
The Current State of Screen Readers and e-Learning
Of course, the term ‘e-learning’ refers to the learning content and materials that are available on the internet, which is why it’s so important to see what screen readers are capable of. Currently, a screen reader will go into the coding of a website and pull out the information (reads the information) within the HTML code of the web page.
“While this is effective for many websites, there are several problems with this. For example, there are still plenty of e-learning platforms, especially those designed for children, that use the Adobe Flash platform, since this is not HTML, a screen reader is unable to read it, and thus cannot provide the user with the information they’re looking for” explains Jess Gross, an e-learning blogger for Next Coursework and Australia2Write.
What’s more, screen readers cannot read the subject of an image, only the image title, but not any text from within the image. For example, the term ‘three men standing in a group’ is not an accurate definition that will help someone in an e-learning environment. Instead, using highly detailed file and image names will but more appropriate, or if the course is designed for people using screen readers, you should probably avoid using images altogether.
Creating a Screen Reader-Friendly e-Learning Platform
Continuing on from what we were speaking about in the last section, if you’re creating e-learning material, there are two ways you can approach it. You can create your e-learning course with screen readers in mind to make it friendlier, or you can create a screen reader only version.
While the latter will be more expensive and time-consuming to develop, it’s perhaps the most beneficial because you’ll be able to give anybody who wants to use your learning material the best possible experience because it’s optimized to those people, rather than spreading yourself too thinly across one package or module.
“This should be simple to achieve because the content is the same, it’s just the layout and functionality that will be adjusted to suit the user. For example, in the screen-reader friendly version of your course content you will need to avoid images, or name them in a detailed way, and consider the layout of your content to make it keyboard-operation friendly” explains Terry Anderson, an educator for WriteMYX and Brit Student.
You should also make sure that any video content you use has an audio transcript and all buttons to use and navigate your content are labeled clearly and simply, such as ‘Next’ and ‘Submit’ because then anybody using your course will find it easy to know what they’re looking for.
Katrina Hatchett, a health and wellness blogger at Academic Brits and writer for Origin Writings, is involved in many e-learning projects. She enjoys identifying project problems and find solutions for these, and her goal is to improve the effectiveness of our communication. She also writes for PhD Kingdom blog.