How do we create ACCESSIBLE
online learning experiences?


Accessible design benefits all learners.

If our goal is to create valuable learning experiences for all our online learners, accessibility has to come first, period. If we can’t access a learning experience, how can it be useful, or desirable, or credible, or intuitive? Accessible design is inclusive — it meets the needs of all learners — and, by doing so, benefits learners in ways we probably had never considered. Transcripts of audio-visual content, for example, are valuable for learners with a diverse range of hearing, visual, and cognitive abilities, for second language learners, and for learners who prefer to learn by reading rather than watching or listening to a lecture.

To ensure that accessibility comes first, we build it in from the very beginning of a project, starting with the instructional design stage.

Designing learning experiences for accessibility

At the instructional design stage, inclusive design starts with the recognition that our learners are diverse. To address this diversity, we create flexible paths to learning, paths that give every learner real opportunities to learn. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of research-based principles designed to do just that — meet the learning needs of a diverse learner population by providing multiple approaches to learning:

UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.

(National Center On Universal Design For Learning, CAST, Inc. (2012))

UDL consists of three primary principles, each accompanied by a set of guidelines designed to reduce barriers to learning:

Provide multiple means of representation
or, present content and information in different ways

  • Provide options for perception
  • Provide options for language, mathematical expressions, and symbols
  • Provide options for comprehension

Provide multiple means of action and expression
or, allow learners to express what they know in different ways

  • Provide options for physical action
  • Provide options for expression and communication
  • Provide options for executive functions

Provide multiple means of engagement
or, offer options to stimulate interest and motivate learners

  • Provide options for recruiting interest
  • Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence
  • Provide options for self-regulation

More information about the UDL principles and guidelines, including specific implementation checkpoints and examples, is available on the UDL Center website. A PDF version of the guidelines is available below:

Universal design for learning guidelines

Developing learning experiences for accessibility

Even if we have the best intentions to design content that is accessible, it requires effort and specialized knowledge to ensure that learners are unimpeded. The following Accessibility for Online Course Design guidelines from University of Waterloo and eCampusOntario are a good place to start.

The Centre for Extended Learning strives to meet the needs of all our online learners. Our ongoing efforts to become aligned with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) are guided by University of Waterloo AccessAbility Services Policy and the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.

(CEL Accessibility Statement)