MA ODE module overview: Accessible online learning (H810)

I took several modules at The Open University (OU) as part of my master’s degree. Before I began this journey, I always wished I could understand better how the modules were organized and what specific topics they covered, so I’ve decided to share that information for the modules I took. (Here are all the summaries.)

OU’s description of this module

This online module is concerned with improving access to online learning for disabled students. We know of no other Master’s-level module either in the UK or elsewhere that focuses specifically on accessible online learning. There are increasing expectations in many countries that disabled students should be able to participate fully in post-16 education. This means that people responsible for provision in academic and support roles need to be aware of the impact of this on how courses are designed and delivered online. The module looks at the experiences of disabled students, the technical aspects of accessibility, and current debates and discussions about disability and accessibility in educational contexts. This module benefited from JISC TechDis expertise and materials in its production.

I would add…

The course generally followed this framework, which comes from the assigned book:

This model shows drivers, stakeholders, their responses, and outcomes

(Seale, 2014, p. 12)

It investigates the accessibility laws, standards, and guidelines, and looks at how all of these affect —  and are used by — learners, instructional designers, facilitators and trainers, managers, and other stakeholders.

During Block 2, we worked on individual projects, creating an accessible e-learning resource. The topic of the course could be anything at all, and we could choose from a wide variety of tools to create the resource. I chose to use Adobe Captivate to create a video about Houston’s Chinatown, and in doing so learned many of the difficulties in applying accessibility measures using the Captivate tool. You can view my video here (note that it works best in Internet Explorer).


The module required reading E-learning and Disability in Higher Education as well as a number of other readings.

Module outline

Block 1: Disabled students and online learning


Paper: This paper discusses the challenges disabled learners face in your context and outlines a more inclusive approach to learning. My paper had these sections:

  1. Challenges
  2. Influence of laws and policies on these challenges
  3. Influence of the responsibilities of key people on these challenges
  4. Influence of assistive technologies on these challenges
  5. Recommendations and next steps

Block 2: Achieving accessibility


Assignments: During this block we each created an accessible e-learning resource. It was not graded, but we then were assigned a (graded) paper that required a detailed discussion of our own resource and those of two other students. My paper had these sections:

  1. Comparison of two resources (from other students), including tables, graphics, hyperlinks, color choices, organization and layout, styles and text formatting, and readability.
  2. Accessibility of my resource, including ways to evaluate accessibility, strengths, areas for improvement in the Adobe Captivate software, and weaknesses and areas for improvement in my learning resource.
  3. Reflection: before creating the learning resource; guidelines and checklists, and models; universal design for learning (UDL) and inclusive practice, and implementing the lessons learned.

Block 3: Debates, discussions, and the future

Final paper

The final paper discusses accessibility issues in our own contexts as viewed through the lens of three different frameworks: North’s institutional change framework; activity theory; and community of practice. Here is the first paragraph of each of these sections in my paper:

[About institutional change:] North created the Institutional Change framework as a tool to analyse economies and the interplay between institutions and organisations. “Institutions” are informal constraints such as customs, taboos, and codes of conduct, and formal rules such as laws (North, 1991a, p. 97). “Organisations” are groups of people who come together for a common purpose, such as companies, regulatory agencies, or schools (North, 1991b, p. 3). He used a sports analogy to explain the difference: Institutions are the rules of the game, and organisations are the players (Wallis, 2015). That analogy gives organisations three basic options when playing the game: ‘one is to maximise under the rules; the second is to devote resources to changing the rules; and the third is to cheat’ (Wallis, 2015). This section will begin by identifying some of the rules that play a part in governing accessible training resources in corporations. It then looks at if or how the corporation may be cheating, maximising, or working to change the rules.

[About activity theory:] Activity Theory focuses on the activity as the smallest unit of analysis. Its first generation identified three parts of an activity system: subject, object, and tools. Using the first generation to understand the relationship between the instructional designer at the corporation and the objective of creating accessible e-learning does not clarify the issue. The first generation focused on the individual; the second generation expands the view to include rules, community, and division of labour, and in doing so the issues become clearer.

An activity system diagram (below) for creating accessible e-learning resources at the corporation shows that two significant components are missing: rules and division of labour. This theory helps identify the problems that occur in the absence of corporate policies and procedures. The focus of this paper is on rules, but the issue with division of labour will be touched upon at the end of this section.

Activity system diagram for creating accessible e-learning resources within my context, with a focus on tools, subject, and object

[About community of practice:] In Wenger’s writings on communities of practice, “communities” are people who come together for a specific purpose, and “practice” is the community’s focus. Seale’s (2014) discussion of six stakeholder groups can be seen as six communities of practice, although it should be noted that a community is not necessarily confined to a single organisation or corporation. For example, the instructional design team at the corporation is a community of practice, but there is a wider instructional design profession that similarly can be seen as a community of practice…. Importantly, participation and reification are a duality, always together as dimensions that interact, and they are not to be seen as opposing ends of a spectrum (Wenger, 1998, p. 63). So, what should be made of a community of instructional designers that seemingly has little in the way of reifications about accessibility? This section discusses that issue and proposes a path forward.

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