Universal Instructional Design is the design principle that instruction should be designed not for the average student, but rather for a broad range of students “with respect to ability, disability, age, reading level, learning style, native language, race, ethnicity, and other characteristics“.
For those of us working within the confines of an LMS, this type of design can be a challenge. And while using an Open Source option like Moodle means we do have some flexibility in customizing the LMS for UID (and Moodle has certainly put some thought into making the platform accessible), customizing is often easier said than done.
Which is why I am happy I stumbled across this IRRODL paper “Universal Instructional Design (UID) Principles for Moodle from Tanya Elias which makes a number of recommendations – both technical and pedagogical – on how to improve accessibility within Moodle.
Elias begins the paper by outlining eight universal design principles, based on the work of the Center for Universal Design (which, as an aside, have this wonderful printable infographic (pdf) outlining the principles). She then goes on to make recommendations on how to design Moodle courses & content to meet these guidelines.
Below is a summary of the principles, the recommendations from Elias, and a few of my own thoughts in italics.
1) Equitable use
The design is useful and accessible for people with diverse abilities and in diverse locations. The same means of use should be provided for all students, identically whenever possible or in an equivalent form when not.
- Put content online and make them accessible by screen reader, text-to-speech, and screen preferences programs.
- Provide translation to overcome language barriers for learners for whom English is a foreign language.
The takeaway here for me is make content accessible, and the most flexible, accessible content on the web is HTML. Eliminate those PDF, Word and PowerPoint files and convert them to the native language of the web – HTML.
2) Flexible use
The learning design accommodates a wide range of individual abilities, preferences, schedules, and levels of connectivity. Provide the learners with choice in methods of use.
- Make synchronous sessions optional, or make them small group sessions to make it easier to for participants to schedule.
- Provide recordings of synchronous sessions.
- Present content in multiple formats.
- Offer choice and additional information.
If you have the option to record what you are doing (which is baked into most synchronous applications), always record it & make it available to students. Not only good for accessibility, but good for review for students who can attend as well.
3) Simple and intuitive
The course interface design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, technical skills, or current concentration level. Eliminate unnecessary complexity.
- Simplify the interface.
- Offer text-only, mobile and offline options.
Most Moodle courses are built from a standard course template, meaning there may be blocks and tools you don’t use. If you are not using them, remove them. They are clutter.
4) Perceptible information
The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the student’s sensory abilities.
- Incorporate assistive technologies
- Add captions, descriptors and transcriptions
On adding caption & transcriptions, a good low cost way to do this for video is to use YouTube for hosting your video and take advantage of their transcription and captioning features.
5) Tolerance for error
The design minimises hazards and adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
- Allow students to edit their posts.
- Issue warnings using text and sound.
Moodle gives learners 30 minutes to edit their posts, by default. if your administrator has disabled this option, here is a good argument to have it re-enabled. I would also say that audible warnings are good, but there should be a mechanism to disable them if the user decides they don’t want them.
6) Low physical and technical effort
The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with minimal physical and mental fatigue.
- Consider issues of physical effort.
- Incorporate assistive technologies and multimedia, and embed links.
- Include a way to check browser capabilities
The paper notes that “extensive use of external links and external programs (my emphasis) in this way increases the technical effort required by all users.” So, not to harp on this point (but I will), but every time a learner has to open a PDF, Word or PowerPoint file, they have to load a new, external program.
7) Community of learners and support
The learning environment promotes interaction and communication among students and between students, faculty, and administrative services.
- Provide study groups and tools.
- Provide easy-to-find links to support services.
An easy win to add a block with links to institutional student services.
8) Instructional climate
Instructor comments and feedback are welcoming and inclusive. High expectations are espoused for all students.
- Encourage instructors to make contact and stay involved.
As the paper states, “Instructor accessibility is an essential component of course accessibility.” An involved instructor will recognize when a student is struggling and can take steps to intervene and help.
Many of these principles are not Moodle specific and could be easily adapted to any online learning scenario. Where the paper does get Moodle specific is where Elias notes how many Moodle modules and plugins are available to help achieve these principles. This is also where the paper falls a bit short in that Elias gives the number of modules available and doesn’t actually review, or even name the available Moodle modules. So while it’s nice to know there are 4 translator modules available for Moodle, it would be useful to have the actual names of those modules and, even better, a review on whether they met the recommendations. Still, a useful piece of research on accessibility and the LMS.