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LMS best practices: accessibility in learning management systems

Jeff Stoermer

April 22nd, 2021

Written by

Jeff Stoermer


Product-Led Growth

Accessibility is no longer just a “nice to have”, but is best practice for learning management systems – and in some cases, even required for compliance.

Accessibility has gone beyond the physical classroom or workplace. Thanks to greater education, awareness, and legal requirements, it’s become increasingly important for schools, universities, and organizations to improve accessibility to their websites, apps, and LMS platforms. With the COVID-19 outbreak accelerating the rapid movement towards online learning for millions of students and organizations around the world, the importance of enhanced accessibility has never been greater. 

But what does accessibility mean? And how accessible is your learning management system? Let’s cover some of the basics and then discuss LMS best practices that you need to consider for better accessibility.

What do we mean by accessibility?

Accessibility considers whether all potential users are able to use and access a product – in this case, your learning management system. 

A lot of the time, this means considering how the design will work for users who have disabilities. But accessible design should also consider economic, cultural, and social barriers that might prevent users from accessing, understanding, or using your learning management system.

Accessibility should make it easier and more enjoyable for all users to engage with your product as it encourages better, more innovative design.

Why is LMS accessibility important?

According to WHO, around 15% of the population is living with a disability. These can be both physical and cognitive, and can impact a user’s ability to access and interact with online platforms. So it’s well worth considering this when designing and implementing your LMS.

This consideration has always been a focus for LMS, but now the importance of accessibility is greater than ever before. Blackboard, one of the most prominent LMS systems used by the US education industry, reported record-breaking use of its EdTech solutions from August 1 through September 30, 2020. The surge in online learning over the last year requires both LMS providers and the institutions they serve to ensure accessibility in online learning environments.

Additionally, accessibility in your content is rapidly becoming a legal requirement, not just a nice to have. With more court cases happening globally, creating accessible content becomes a legal matter, and you cannot risk your product, or team, being unprepared.

6 LMS best practices to ensure accessibility and inclusion

Whether you’ve already got a learning management system in place, or you’re looking at upgrading or improving your existing system, here are six best practices to keep in mind:

1. Get to know your users

Before you build your LMS, make sure you understand who your users are. Get to know them by conducting focus groups or running surveys. Collect anonymized information on ethnicity, cultural background, language, age range, location, devices, browsers, and impairments. 

Some disabilities that may impact access and how your LMS content is used include dyslexia, mobility (difficulty using a mouse or keyboard), visual impairment, hearing impairments, and deafness.

Once you’re in the prototyping stage, you should conduct user testing to make sure your system can be accessed and used by all user groups. Even if you’ve already launched, user testing is a valuable way to understand and appreciate the way your audience accesses your content.

2. Provide content in multiple formats

It’s best practice these days to provide your content in more than one format. That way, users who can’t access video content can read the transcription or listen to the audio version. And users who learn best visually can watch the video instead of just reading the article. And always provide text alternatives for non-text based content like captions and transcriptions for videos and alt text for images.

3. Consider different devices and user experiences

Users (especially those with disabilities) access to content on a variety of devices. Some users will use screen readers, some will navigate using just a mouse, and some will only use their keyboard. Your learning management system should be responsive to different screen sizes and be fully functional via keyboard or mouse.

4. Choose colors and shades carefully

Always check your colors to ensure appropriate contrast, especially between fonts and backgrounds.

Also, consider color-blindness when choosing colors, as this condition affects around 8% of men and 0.5% of women. Red-green color-blindness is the most common type, although some people have blue-yellow color-blindness, and a small percentage only see black, white, and shades of gray. It’s a good idea to test your learning management system in “color-blind mode” to ensure the design is accessible to your color-blind users.

5. Get plenty of feedback

Be open and welcome feedback about your learning management system. Show how you’re using feedback and suggestions to make your platform more accessible. And of course, make it easy for users to give feedback and ask for help when it’s needed via chat, email, or phone.

6. Use accessible platforms and plugins

If you’re looking into learning management systems or you’re planning to upgrade your current system, look for platforms and plugins that prioritize accessibility.

Tip: LMS accessibility is quite similar to website accessibility. So if you’d like to do some further reading on accessibility best practices, you might like our blog post on 12 tips for making your website accessible.

TinyMCE and LMS accessibility

TinyMCE has many advanced features that can help improve accessibility in your LMS. These include:

  • Our accessibility checker plugin – This automatically points out accessibility issues (like missing image alt text) and can either fix the issue automatically or help your authors fix it before publishing
  • Built-in keyboard shortcuts – Perfect for keyboard-only users and we’re compatible with screen readers such as JAWS and NVDA as we follow the WAI-ARIA specification
  • Cross-browser compatibility – Which means all our text-editing features work no matter how your users access your learning management system (including Firefox, IE, Chrome, Opera, and Safari)
  • Real-time collaboration — our real-time collaboration feature can enable students and teachers to work on a document at the same time, and see what each other are doing. This allows the teacher to better help a student remotely, especially in online learning environments.

Many of the top learning management systems already come with TinyMCE built-in, including BlackboardCanvasMcGraw HillBlackbaud, and Kiddom.

Create a more effective, accessible LMS

Ready to level up your LMS? Talk to your team about accessibility best practices and see how your current implementation measures up. 

And make sure you’re following us on Twitter as we’ll be sharing more about learning management systems and accessibility over the next few months.

Feel free to reach out to us directly for more information and guidance, as well.

byJeff Stoermer

Owner of all things marketing automation at Tiny—delivering the right information, to the right people, at the right time. An avid hiker and nature enthusiast

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