An Investigation Into The Accessibility Of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Iniesto, Francisco (2020). An Investigation Into The Accessibility Of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). PhD thesis The Open University.



Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are an evolution of open online learning that enables people to study online and for little or no cost. MOOCs can provide learners with the flexibility to learn, opportunities for social learning, and the chance to gain new skills and knowledge. While MOOCs have the potential to also bring these benefits to disabled learners, there is little understanding of how accessibility is embedded in the creation of MOOCs. The goal of this research has been to understand the accessibility barriers in MOOCs and to develop processes to identify and address those barriers.

In the extant literature, the expectations of disabled learners when they take up MOOCs are not discussed and studies on MOOCs that report demographic data of learners do not consider disabled learners. However, disabled learners can face difficulties in accessing MOOCs, and certain learning designs of MOOCs may affect their engagement, causing them to miss out on opportunities offered by MOOCs. Technologies and the learning design approaches for MOOCs need to be as accessible as possible, so that learners can use MOOCs in a range of contexts, including via assistive technologies.

This research has investigated the current state of accessibility in MOOCs. It has involved the following:
Interviews with 26 MOOC providers; including software developers, accessibility managers, inclusion designers, instructional designers, course editors and learning media developers;
Comparative quantitative survey data involving disabled and non-disabled learners participating in 14 MOOCs;
Interviews with 15 disabled learners which have captured their experiences; and
An accessibility audit was devised and then used to evaluate MOOCs from 4 major platforms: FutureLearn, edX, Coursera and Canvas. This audit comprises 4 components: technical accessibility, user experience (UX), quality and learning design; 10 experts were involved in its design and validation.

This research programme has yielded an understanding of how MOOC providers cater for disabled learners, the motivations of disabled learners when taking part in MOOCs, and how MOOCs should be designed to be accessible for disabled learners. A range of barriers to accessibility in MOOCs have been identified, and an accessibility audit for MOOCs has been proposed.

An open online learning environment should take into account learners’ abilities, learning goals, where learning takes place, and the different devices learners use. The research outcomes will be beneficial to MOOC providers to support the accessible design of MOOCs, including the educational resources and the platforms where the MOOCs are hosted. The ultimate beneficiaries of this research project are MOOC learners because accessible MOOCs will help support their lifelong learning and provide re-skilling opportunities.

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