Accessibility in e-learning

Dr. Norm Coombs’ presentation on Good Distance Learning Principles describes EASI’s (National Center for Accessible e-learning) concern that students and professionals with disabilities have the same right to access information technology. Dr. Coombs has been a long-time leader in the field of distance education and accessibility issues. He is visually impaired and presents a very enlightening presentation regarding the importance of accessibility issues in e-learning at:

http://www.easi.cc/media/csundl.htm

I found several of Coombs’ points to apply directly to the staff development efforts that I am involved with. First of all, the idea that, “distance learning is not always at a distance” (Coombs, n.d.). Through the needs analysis that I conducted, I found that my volunteers, even while they all live within a fifteen minute drive from the church, would rather have the availability of participating in learning without having to travel to another location, no matter how short the distance may be. The globalization of our society as a whole I believe has a lot to due with this, as people enjoy the conveniences of everything from banking to ordering a pizza, all from the comfort of their home. As I seek to develop accessible staff development opportunities for my volunteers, the online format has proven to be an advantageous option for many adults who serve in our ministries.

As I continue to study successful models of distance education, I have become a firm supporter of Coombs’ statement that, “I urge all distance learning teachers not to try to repeat and replicate what you do in the classroom” (Coombs, n.d.). Distance learning models can provide revolutionary means by which constructivist methodologies can be utilized. This engaging learning environments can far surpass the quality of a traditional lecture-based teaching. I must admit that currently our volunteer development classes have been primarily instructivist in nature, despite my attempts to add collaborative activities to the short workshop times. I look forward to experimenting with much more collaborative environments possible via the online format.

One final key which I really identified with was the necessity for online instructors to be accessible and approachable. While these are attributes that any instructor should seek to develop, I believe they are increasingly important for online instructors. As Coomb’s mentions, a tendency exists for new online learners to feel detached from the learning environment. Online teachers must see themselves as facilitators, or “hosts” as Coombs’ mentions, and be willing to take extra steps in remaining visible and accessible within the online classroom. A simple email can make a big difference in communicating to a learner that s/he is important.

Distance learning certainly has many means of applicability, whether it be to facilitate learning across the street or around the world. As online instructional designers we should not limit our viewpoint of online instruction to such huge contexts that we overlook the myriad of more localized ones which are just as important.

– Jason

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