Intrigued by studies showing that most people who use closed captions and transcripts when viewing video content are not hard of hearing, researchers at University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP) decided to investigate the benefits of using these aids. Moving beyond self-reported data on improved focus or engagement, the study zeroed in on key metrics at the heart of learning: whether adding interactive transcripts would improve learning comprehension, retention, and ability to apply the content in novel scenarios.

Students who had access to both captions and interactive transcripts of eLearning videos showed significant improvement in these essential areas.

Tools improve video usability

Closed captions present all dialogue in the video and also describe ambient sounds. They are designed to appear on screen as learners watch a video.

An interactive transcript presents a written record of the sound—in this study, this was primarily an instructor’s lecture—that also serves as a navigation tool. The transcript appears at the bottom of the screen, and words are highlighted as the video proceeds and a word or phrase is spoken in the audio. Clicking on a word in the transcript jumps the learner to that spot in the video.

Previous research has demonstrated that many hearing people use captioning and transcripts to improve their ability to use video in very noisy locations, in places where they cannot play audio, or to help them follow along, especially when the audio language is not their native language or the video introduces unfamiliar vocabulary. Many indicate that the captions improve their ability to focus on the video content. And some users say it helps them understand the speaker, particularly if the speaker has an accent or the audio is of poor quality.

Beyond accessibility

In a webinar presenting preliminary data collected in the spring and summer terms of 2019, researchers Karla Morris, Casey Frechette, and Lyman Dukes said that, in some courses, learners with access to transcripts improved by as much as 16 percent. They suggest that instructors reframe captioning and transcripts by encouraging students to use them as study aids, aiming to dilute the association with accessibility and learners with disabilities.

Many managers, instructors, and university administrators see closed captions and transcripts only as accessibility aids and are reluctant to include them in materials unless and until they receive a request for accommodation. This approach is flawed for several reasons, Frechette said in the webinar. These include:

  • Many students with disabilities, and, likewise, many employees, do not request accommodation and do not “go public” with their disability. They would undoubtedly benefit from more accessible content.
  • The majority of people who use these and other accessibility tools when they are available do not have disabilities; they simply find using and understanding content easier when the content is presented in two modalities.
  • Creating captions at the same time video is produced is easier and less expensive than “retrofitting” the content later.
  • Designing to maximize usability is a key tenet of UDL or universal design for learning.

Strategies for IDs

In addition to encouraging all learners to use captions and transcripts as study aids and to improve focus while watching videos and retention of the material, Frechette and Morris suggested additional strategies that instructional designers could adopt:

  • Create a short tutorial or orientation video to teach learners how to use the interactive transcripts and mention the potential benefits.
  • Find a “champion” among institutional leaders who will encourage the inclusion and use of these tools.
  • Consider a pilot study to demonstrate the benefits.

USFSP conducted the study with students who had access to captions only and students who had captions plus transcripts, because the researchers could not deny any students in the studied courses access to captioning. However, a workplace pilot study could compare results for learners using existing materials without captions or interactive transcripts and “upgraded” materials featuring either or both of these tools.

In terms of getting management buy-in once the results of the study are widely available, Dukes was optimistic. “Accountability metrics are very much in play in our state,” he said. “Student success is really job one here at this time, so my expectation is that the institution will be very interested in the findings.”

Likewise, in corporate training settings, the ability to demonstrate the value of training is highly prized, and a tool that can bring a measurable ROI is likely to be well received. A pilot showing a boost in retention and application of eLearning content simply by adding captioning and interactive transcripts to video could be an excellent way to get the attention of C-suite executives.

Create accessible eLearning

Many L&D professionals have embraced principles of UDL as a way to make their content more usable, more engaging, and more effective. The eLearning Guild explored what leading eLearning developers are doing in Creating Accessible eLearning: Practitioner Perspectives, a free research report available to all Guild members.