‘Access’ in Online Learning

While reviewing Bates (2015) SECTIONS model (framework for making effective decisions about the choice and use of media for teaching and learning), I found myself nodding in agreement to his identification of the broad categories:

  • Students
  • Ease of use
  • Costs
  • Teaching functions
  • Interaction
  • Organizational issues
  • Networking
  • Security and privacy

I didn’t get very far before I hit a topic I have not given a lot of thought to in the past: ‘access’, under the Students category. Bates notes: ‘Of all the criteria in determining choice of technology, accessibility is perhaps the most discriminating.’ And it’s true: no matter how useful a particular medium or technology may be, if students can’t access it they can’t learn from it.

Two factors that may affect accessibility to online learning are convenient and affordable access and access for students with disabilities.

BCCampus Open Textbook Project

BCcampus: Checklist for Accessibility

The focus of many open textbook projects is to provide access to education at no cost. But what does access mean? If the materials are not accessible to each and every student,  they do not fulfill the mandate to deliver fully open textbooks.

The goal of BCCampus’s  Accessibility Toolkit is to provide the needed resources needed to each content creator, instructional designer, educational technologist, librarian, administrator, and teaching assistant to create a truly open and accessible textbook. As part of the toolkit, BCcampus provides a checklist to help professionals build in accessibility (see right).

Universal Design (UDL)

Online learning may not be accessible to students with learning or other disabilities. A set of standards and practices designed to address ‘universal’ needs has been developed. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is the deliberate design of instruction to meet the needs of a diverse mix of learners. Universally designed courses attempt to meet all learners’ needs by incorporating multiple means of imparting information and flexible methods of assessing learning. It includes multiple means of engaging or tapping into learners’ interests. Universally designed courses are not designed with any one particular group of students with a disability in mind, but rather are designed to address the learning needs of a wide-ranging group (Brokop, F., 2008).


Author: kathleenlegris

I am an academic specialist working with the Centre for Higher Education Research and Development at the University of Manitoba. Interested in teaching and learning and all things EdTech.

7 thoughts on “‘Access’ in Online Learning”

  1. Any idea if there are generally accepted minimum requirements in place provincially or federally regarding accessibility at higher learning institutions? The organization I work for isn’t an educational institution. However we receive federal government funding and one of the requirements we are moving towards is for our website and client learning tools to be accessible for persons with visual and hearing disabilities.


    1. Post-secondary institutions are required by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and provincial statutes to be accessible to students with disabilities. However, no specific federal or provincial governmental standards exist, which means policies and procedures for accessing accommodations vary by college or university. Essentially, institutions are still figuring out what best practices look like and how to implement them, but I think all offer some form of accommodation.

      I find this additional layer of accommodation for online learning quite fascinating. How is your organization making client learning tools more accessible?


  2. Accessibility is something that I had not though of too much with regards to online learning. but I have noticed there is a ‘listen’ button on the introductions to the lessons, and did think that this is a wonderful idea. We have made great inroads in becoming more accessibly in many areas of teaching, and living in general and it’s great to know that we are now thinking of online learning as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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