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  • Writer's pictureCourseAvenue

Producing 508 Conformant eLearning at Scale

How do you scale the production of Section 508-compliant eLearning across your entire agency?


The answer is CourseAvenue - an eLearning authoring platform that generates 508 compliant learning materials - right out of the box. This capability contrasts with every other authoring product that “retrofits” Section 508 compliance into its technology and places the burden of compliance on the authors.



To explain how CourseAvenue can scale the production of Section 508-compliant eLearning coursework, it is first essential to understand three things:

  1. Section 508 accessibility expertise is built into the CourseAvenue platform

  2. CourseAvenue eLearning courseware was validated by third-party experts

  3. CourseAvenue was designed to scale from a few users to an extended enterprise


Section 508 Accessibility Expertise is Built into the CourseAvenue Platform


As described in our recent “Does Your Dog Bite?” article, most eLearning authoring tools place the burden of Section 508/WCAG compliance on the author. The complexity of compliance means this approach is a non-starter for anyone other than seasoned programmers.


After experiencing the failings of this approach, the CourseAvenue team invested a fantastic amount of time, effort, and energy on both the Section508.gov and the Web Accessibility Initiative sites. We aimed to answer these questions:


  • What does a Section 508-compliant course look like?

  • What makes one course compliant and another course non-compliant?


To answer these questions, we combined software engineering, user interface design, and accessibility knowledge and built a Section 508-compliant course. We mapped the standard eLearning features and functions to their respective “accessibility” counterparts.


We aimed to produce a fully compliant course...out of the box. What does this mean?



Consider the example of “Knowledge Checks.” A common eLearning practice is to have “knowledge checks” that let the learner “try again” if they get the question wrong.


Informing a learner who might be using assistive technology that they can “try again” is an integral part of Section 508 compliance.


Stated differently, if the course creator simply puts a message on the screen telling the user they can “try again” without “setting focus” to the message - the course would fail a Section 508 compliance review. Of course unless you are knowledgeable in accessibility - you would not know this.


CourseAvenue does not require its users to be “accessibility experts.”


For this reason, the CourseAvenue technology adds the required code IF the person creating the course sets the “number of attempts” field on the question to more than 1.


It’s that simple. Just indicate that the user can “try again” via multiple attempts and the CourseAvenue accessibility technology will take care of the rest.


Below is a screen image showing the layout of a question, then the properties panel where the number of attempts can be set.


Next - CourseAvenue automatically applies this “number of attempts” example to every element that goes into an eLearning course. This includes many elements and varying complexity. For example...


  • How external hyperlinks are handled compared to internal hyperlinks

  • How video controls are made accessible

  • How buttons for interactivity work

  • How a dynamic table of contents for the course is automatically created and made for accessibility


The image below summarizes this situation...


  • On the left is a partial list of “accessibility standards” that the user of an “authoring tool” must be aware of and apply on every page (which is why retrofitting accessibility to existing content usually fails).


  • On the right are two quick sample pages built in CourseAvenue Studio where the CourseAvenue technology applies the necessary accessibility elements consistent with Section 508 and WCAG standards.




The Difference Between Authoring Tools


Retrofitting Section 508-compliant eLearning at scale is “technically possible but practically impossible.” The course author first must learn each of the accessibility elements and then configure the “authoring tool” to have the correct elements applied to every aspect of every page of every course.


What is the big difference between authoring tools and CourseAvenue?


In the authoring tool model, per the VPATs, accessibility is achieved if “The Author can…” Meaning “its up to the author to implement accessibility."


In the CourseAvenue model, the person creating the course uses the product and the technology automatically applies the required accessibility constructs.


3rd Party Validation of CourseAvenue eLearning Courseware


How do we build Section 508-compliant eLearning at scale?


Every eLearning course contains common elements: text, graphics, hyperlinks, un-scored knowledge checks, scores assessments, surveys, audio, video, branching, and a variety of other standard and definable “interactions.”


These are the basic building blocks of every eLearning course.


We first created the “building blocks” in a sampler course to demonstrate how these common elements work together.


Then, we had the building blocks and the sampler course reviewed and validated by an external 3rd party.


By successfully validating each of the common elements, we knew our customers would be successful building their courses with CourseAvenue.


The 3rd party-validated CourseAvenue Sampler Course contains the following foundational elements:


  • Graphics-driven “home page” with options for navigating directly to either the Course Table of Contents or The “Start” page of the course

  • Dynamic Action Bar for access to the Table of contents, and Course Glossary

  • A simple “text only” page

  • A Text page with a glossary link

  • A Page with Text, Graphics, and an external hyperlink.

  • A scored exam containing a system-generated “you are about to enter an exam…” page, six different question types all with the interaction model that disables navigation to other areas of the course until one is out of the exam, provides the learner with feedback as to correct or incorrect response, provides an “explanation window” to provide learners with extended feedback about the question and correct answer. The six different question types included were Fill-in the blank, True or False, Multiple choice, Ordered List, Matching, and “Satisfaction Survey”

  • Page with a video

  • Page with text, a graphic and audio narration

  • Page with a “click here - see this” interaction

  • Branching where both branches have to be visited before the Next button is enabled.

  • Thank you page with text and a graphic




What happens if "My Course" fails a Section 508 Review?


Short answer: CourseAvenue will be there with you. Our support includes defending our users in a discussion, review, or audit situation of their courses. Put another way, if you built a course using CourseAvenue and get “flagged” for Section 508 violations - we will work with you (and the reviewer) until the issues are resolved.
Longer answer: As noted elsewhere, the core eLearning features and functions have all been pre-validated as being Section 508 compliant. As users add their content, they have access to the integrated “Accessibility Analysis” tool to constantly access their course materials.


As a result, when combining the baseline CourseAvenue features with your specific content that has a “clean report” (e.g. all accessibility items errors addressed, and warnings and informational items are addressed) - the likelihood of a material Section 508 compliance issue with your course(s) is absolutely minimal.


Of course not all Section 508 reviewers are equal. Over the years, CourseAvenue has mitigated a number of Section 508 questions and concerns expressed over what is or what isn't compliant. In the end, over 10 years, there has never been a material defect in any course produced by any of our users.


What is an example of a Section 508 “violation” that we have had to help one of our users navigate?


Consider this example of a real interaction with a Section 508 Reviewer. The reviewer wrote this:


“The keyboard interaction in a CourseAvenue course is inconsistent. When on a CourseAvenue button I can press either the space bar OR the Enter key to activate the button.


But when NOT on a button, pressing the spacebar will scroll the content on the page until it reaches the bottom of the page. This is inconsistent and a violation of Section 508 3.2.3 “Consistent Navigation” clause.


CourseAvenue’s Response:

“The above ‘inconsistency’ is not inconsistent at all. The keyboard described is exactly how every website functions. How a “button” works on a web page is defined by W3C and WAI which are the technical underpinning of both WCAG 2.x and Section 508 standards. The CourseAvenue “button” strictly follows the definition of a button from these standards and again is consistent with how any other button on any other website functions.


More broadly, the CourseAvenue functionality is directly in line with Section 508 2.1.1 which states “...do not remove standard keyboard accessibility behavior from native HTML interface elements (such as links, buttons, form elements).


Put another way, if the reviewer describes that the CourseAvenue page's button did NOT support the keyboard as it does, that would be a violation of Section 508 compliance.


Next Step:

CourseAvenue recommends that the reviewer perform the same “keyboard review” of sites such as Section508.gov and/or the Access Board. Doing so, one will experience that the keyboard interaction on buttons and scrolling on these sites are precisely consistent with all CourseAvenue-built courses.


Result:

The Reviewer agreed with CourseAvenue’s assessment and the course in question went into production as being Section 508 compliant. As mentioned above, CourseAvenue invested in becoming experts in Section 508 compliance so our users did not have to. We stand behind our work and our confidence comes as a result of 10+ years of Section 508 compliant eLearning success on a very large scale.


Designed to scale from a few users to your extended enterprise


The secret to enabling enabling large-scale development of accessible eLearning is to involve as many people in the process as possible.


How does one organize all of the people who might be able to contribute to the eLearning development and/or maintenance?


CourseAvenue’s answer is to model the entire enterprise in the Studio product - from departments all the way down to individual teams.


Can your authoring tool do that? ;)


Here’s a real-life example.


The University of Wisconsin’s (“UW”) Agriculture Education group builds eLearning for the USDA. In CourseAvenue, “UW” is called an “Affiliate Organization” to the USDA. Meaning, that when people on the UW team log in, they are logging into their own “organization” under the broader USDA “parent organization”.


This is important for many reasons:


  • UW inherits all USDA-shared Assets for use in their courses: From the USDA’s branding to their specific rules around Section 508 compliance, the UW team starts with all these assets already in place.

  • UW has its own “Administrator” to manage its team: The UW team can manage their team, projects, courses, etc.

  • The USDA maintains overall control over learning assets: Since the USDA ultimately pays to develop the courses, why shouldn't they have access to all of the content during the development process?

  • UW and the USDA can collaborate in real-time, during the development process: By adding USDA employees to their UW “team” - USDA and UW can view courses they are developing. That's right - no need to publish to an external site and review from there. CourseAvenue Studio enables everyone to be on the “same page” - literally!

  • Upon contract completion, the USDA team can maintain all courses: Unlike “authoring tools” - in this model, UW, when complete with the contract, simply “logs off”. The USDA then has complete access to edit, maintain, and re-publish and courses that were created.



In other platforms that rely on “authors” to retrofit section 508 compliance, all of the assumed expertise in building a course falls on the author. This forces the author to know and do everything: accessibility expert, instructional designer, graphic artist, media creator, copywriter/editor, assessment creator, etc.


Conclusion

Creating Section 508-compliant eLearning at scale is practically impossible when using a traditional "author then retrofit" approach.


The limitations imposed on creativity and design, along with the complexities of programming for assistive technology, are nearly impossible to manage at scale.

CourseAvenue solves this problem.


With CourseAvenue, eLearning teams can overcome accessibility barriers and ensure that their eLearning content is inclusive for all learners.


If you are trying to solve the challenge of accessible eLearning at scale, we encourage you to try CourseAvenue and review our Sampler Course. Of course, don’t hesitate to contact us for help or questions.





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