A good Learning Management System (LMS) should work for all types of learners. It should work for them in all types of situations. A typical person evaluating an LMS would take this to mean that it should work in a mobile context. While this is true that it should, a good LMS should follow the principles of Inclusive Design to cover learners with permanent or situational disabilities.
Inclusive Design stresses that you understand your diverse user base. A diverse user base has varying needs. When you understand this you can design for the needs of many regardless of their ability. When you design this way you see benefits that go beyond your initial plans. To illustrate this point consider the case of audio narrations on your course. When you include a narration for the deaf you also help learners that are taking your course in a loud room, or learners that do not have working speakers on their device. Those learners have a situational disability. They also benefit from the work to make your course accessible. By improving things for one group you improve them for others.
We here in the programming department at CypherWorx work hard to follow these principles. We believe that all people should have an equal opportunity to learn. When we build or improve features we review them to see if they work for all types of learners. Things that we consider include:
- Screen Readers:
- Will they read things properly? For example, “CONTACT US” may be read as “Contact U.S.”
- Will a learner be aware of the current state of interactions? Will they know when the page changes?
- Do controls give the learner a full understanding of the desired action? For example, reading “Delete record for John Doe” for a button in a table that visually reads “Delete”.
- Will the learner have a similar experience to a sighted learner? For example, will a bar graph read off the values of the graph in a meaningful way? Will it skip parts that won’t make sense?
- Do all images have descriptive text?
- Can an admin that can upload their own images include descriptions?
- Do we include landmark regions on the page?
- Audio and Video:
- Do audio and video have text narration?
- Can an admin that can upload their own audio or video add their own narration?
- Keyboard Usage:
- Can actions that can be done with a mouse be done with a keyboard?
- Do keyboard learners see a visual sign of focus?
- Does the focus return to the right place upon completion of an action?
- Do we follow best-practices for keyboard commands?
- Do we include table headers?
- Will table headers be read for each row or column?
- Do we avoid tables for layout purposes?
- Every form element must have a distinct and unique label.
- Do we have simple error messages?
- Color and Contrast:
- Do we distinguish things in ways besides color?
- Is there enough contrast between the background and text?
- Will a color blind learner get the right impression?
- Does it work when a learner puts their browser or operating system into High Contrast Mode?
- Will things work for dyslexic learners that override fonts?
- How simple are our instructions?
- Is the design intuitive?
By taking into account learners with these varying levels of need we design an experience that is more pleasurable for all. By doing this we are designing a better LMS that is makes learning easier. When it is easier to learn your users are more likely to retain what they have learned. This must be your goal when evaluating an LMS.
Thank you and keep on learning.