07 December 2016

17 ways closed captions open up more learning opportunities


The words that appear at the bottom of a video screen aren’t just great for watching Netflix while on a noisy commute, or watching TV while you sit in a quiet waiting room with a queue ticket.

Overview - closed captions

Captions are the text equivalent of speech or other sounds presented at the bottom of a screen with moving visual images. They enable viewers to comprehend a video while not necessarily being able to hear it.

While open captions are always visible on the screen and cannot be turned off, closed captions refer to the text that can be turned on or off by the viewer.

That choice is an opportunity to overcome situational or other limitations that make it difficult to hear or understand the audio part of a video, usually because of one or more of the following reasons:

  1. The viewer is hearing impaired.
  2. The viewer wants visual cues that help with understanding a language they are not fluent in.
  3. The video is being viewed in a noisy environment.
  4. The video is being viewed in an environment that needs to be quiet.
  5. The video supplier is required by law to provide ‘reasonable alternatives to time based media’ as part of the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy.
Closed captions in education (and business)

In the learning field, close captions are a low-cost strategy that can open up more learning opportunities to benefit the following:
  1. Learners with a dominant visual learning style.
  2. Learners who are easily distracted or have a language delay.
  3. Learners who are emergent readers.
  4. Learners of English as a Second Language (ESL) or an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D).
  5. Learners who can see but can’t hear well.
  6. Video content creators who want to increase user engagement by providing searchable closed captions.
  7. VIdeo content creators who want to improve SEO to increase the number of views for online video content (up to 13.48% in one study).

Research on university students (80% of whom reported no difficulty with hearing) suggests that:

  1. 98.6% of students find closed captions helpful for learning,
  2. 75% use them as a learning aid,
  3. More than 50% say it helps improve comprehension,
  4. Closed captions help people focus and retain information better, and
  5. Closed captions make up for poor audio quality in videos.

Therefore, for trainers and training managers, closed captions hold the potential of expanding your reach to new audiences and improving learning outcomes, far beyond what you might expect. It is an important yet often overlooked option in the quest for better comprehension through a wide array of measures including online videos, articles, quizzes, team learning and microlearning.

While it may initially seem daunting because it is something new, adding closed captions doesn’t take a lot of effort or add a lot of training costs, especially when your learning management system (LMS) supports the technology, but the gains to your learners more than outweigh your investment.

Closed captions provide a new dimension in allowing anyone to gain access to training anytime anywhere.

AccessibilityOz suggests the following best practices for using closed captions:

  • Appear at the same time as the sound they are captioning;
  • Ensure all important audio information has been captured;
  • Appear on the screen for enough time for them to be read;
  • Ensure the contrast between background and caption text colour is sufficient;
  • Have no periods without captions; and
  • Attribute speech to a particular speaker.

What next?

With the rise of accessible legislation and the obvious benefits for all learners, adding closed captions to your video learning resources is a worthy thing to pursue.

To make informative video content accessible to as many stakeholders as possible (especially in organisations that embrace diversity), here are some things trainers and LMS providers could do:

  • Explore how to add closed captions to your training, support and marketing videos on YouTube.
  • Investigate how to increase accessibility options including closed captions in your LMS.
In so doing, workplace learning could be made as accessible and enjoyable as that Netflix movie or your favourite TV show.