As we migrate content from traditional learning environments to online settings and continually produce more content, we need to consider how to make content more accessible. According to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), online content is accessible when it is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. These four principles guide the recommendations for accessible content, and they are commonly called POUR.
Web content that is perceivable means that learners can see or hear the content. The perceivability principle helps make content and information available to deaf or hard-of-hearing persons and persons with language barriers. When developing perceivable instructional material, it's necessary to provide more than one way to see or hear content. For example, we can provide transcripts and captions for videos and screencasts.
The operability principle means that learners can functionally interact with the content. For example, for blind web-users to interact with the web, websites must support assistive technologies like screen readers. The website requires proper coding so that screen-reading technologies can interpret the content in a meaningful way.
To be considered understandable, content must have meaning for us to interpret and make sense of it. When creating understandable content, information must be defined clearly, presented cleanly, and oriented towards learners and learning goals. Content should also be findable and navigable to locate information efficiently.
When online content is robust, many platforms (such as web hosting platforms or other services) support and properly display content. For example, content should be available in several web browsers (not just Chrome). Additionally, backward compatibility is a significant factor in website robustness.
Use POUR Principles in Education
By considering and applying the POUR principles to online learning, information is accessible to broader and more diverse learning groups. These principles form the underlying foundation of the accessibility rules and guidelines established by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative.
Accessible content in the education field reaps many benefits, some of which include:
- Removal of learning barriers
- Improved retention of information by considering different learning styles
- Increased understanding of content through the clarification of information
- Improved usability of instructional materials and learning platforms
- Potential to increase learner engagement
While the operability and robustness principles might be out of our immediate control, we can work diligently to ensure the content in online learning is perceivable and understandable.
Make Content Perceivable
To create content that is perceivable or retroactively makes it perceivable:
- Provide captions and transcripts for multimedia (such as videos and transcripts)
- Provide text alternatives for graphics, images, and diagrams
- Properly organize and sequence information for optimal learning
- Use headings, paragraphs, sections, and lists to structure content
- Provide learners with ways to easily navigate through content or systems
Make Content Understandable
To make content that is understandable or retroactively makes it understandable:
- Author text so that it is readable and comprehensible (don’t use jargon or complex terms without providing definitions)
- Make content consistent and predictable (use repeatable patterns and parallelism)
- Provide learners with access to instructions or documentation
- Give learners the chance to edit or retract submissions
To enhance the overall delivery, usability, and accessibility of your content in online learning, consider the POUR principles. As you migrate existing content or create new materials, identify ways to make the information more perceivable and understandable.
Introduction to Accessible Education. Accessible Campus. (2017, May 29). https://accessiblecampus.ca/tools-resources/educators-tool-kit/introduction-accessible-education/.
(WAI), W. C. W. A. I. (n.d.). Accessibility Principles. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). https://www.w3.org/WAI/fundamentals/accessibility-principles/.