Make Your eLearning Content More Accessible, Understood, and Remembered With This One Tip!

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There’s recently been a lot of interest in captioning online video content. With over 48 million Americans having some degree of hearing impairment, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued rules requiring more video to include captions.

Many online education sites have taken note. In addition to staying one step ahead of the regulatory curve, these sites have realized that adding captions to video aids in the learning process. That’s why closed captions will make your content more easily accessible, understood, and remembered.

What are closed captions?

Captions are intended for deaf or heard-of-hearing viewers. They communicate the video's spoken content and "atmospherics," which are music and sound effects that help tell the story. Captions can be ‘open’ or ‘closed.’ Open captions are burned in to a video and so are always displayed to a viewer. Closed captions exist as a separate track from the video, enabling a viewer to turn their display on or off. Closed captions are much more popular than open captions, since a viewer can decide whether they are helpful or merely a distraction.

Captions are different from ‘subtitles’. Subtitles are intended for viewers who can hear the audio, but can't understand the language spoken. They usually translate the video's spoken and written language into the viewer's language.

Why should I add closed captions to my videos?

  1. Regulatory compliance. There are a number of moving pieces:

    • Any institution receiving federal funds must provide equal opportunity for persons with disability. Some universities, including the University of California, have faced lawsuits from students.
    • The FCC has expanded the definition of video content shown on the web that requires closed captions. The FCC has focused on feature-length films and TV programming.
    • The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) won a lawsuit against Netflix in 2012. Now in 2014 all major streaming entertainment players—including iTunes, Hulu, and Amazon Instant Video—require all content submissions to include captions, regardless of whether the content officially falls within the definition given by the FCC’s mandate. DREDF is rumored to be turning its attention soon to the online education space. 
  2. Accessibility. Many content creators who are not mandated by the FCC to include captions still do so because they fundamentally care about viewers having equal access to learning content. Over 48 million Americans alone have some degree of hearing loss. Today, 25% of OpenSesame courses include accessibility features.
  3. ESL (English as a second language). Viewers who are not native English speakers often struggle to fully comprehend educational video content. They are still trying to understand the English, let alone the content trying to be taught. They prefer to see captions to both improve their English and their understanding of the course material.
  4. Memory retention. When you both hear and read a piece of information, you are more likely to remember it. That fundamentally aids in learning. Many learning websites caption their videos because have viewers asked for it, to improve their comprehension and retention.

How can I create closed captions?

If you’re trying to teach someone new knowledge, it’s incredibly important that the captions are accurate. Otherwise you’ll confuse viewers and potentially steer them down paths of false understanding.

Numerous options exist, with different pros and cons:

  1. Do it yourself. You can find a number of free tools to create your own captions. However, be prepared to spend significant time; a 1 hour video will typically take 10 hours of your time to caption.
  2. Crowdsourcing. A variant of do it yourself, crowdsourcing means you ask a group of volunteers to create the captions for you. However, managing the process still takes significant effort. For example, Khan Academy had a large group of enthusiastic volunteers, but they found that caption quality varied greatly. Khan didn’t have systems and processes in place to effectively manage the crowd.
  3. Automation. Machines are getting better at accurately captioning single-speaker audio, in which the machine can be trained to the voice. Think of Apple’s Siri and Google Voice. However, automated caption creation quickly falls apart with background noise, niche terminology, and multiple speakers.
  4. Caption vendor. Numerous companies specialize in creating captions and subtitles as a paid service. If you’d like to learn more about one such service, visit We provide highly accurate captions at a surprisingly affordable price of $1 per video minute.

Rory Everitt is a product manager for Rev operates the captioning and subtitling service found at Rev is venture-backed, based in San Francisco, and helping content creators caption more video.