This post is co-authored by Chris Aldin, Product Marketing Manager for Blackboard Ally and Blackboard SafeAssign.

The LMS: From Monolith to Lego Block

20 years ago, the Learning Management System (LMS) was a black box that didn’t play well with other tools and applications, but developer standards like IMS Global Learning Consortium’s Learning Tools Interoperability® (LTI®) and Caliper Analytics® have been helping change that paradigm. Now, the LMS has begun to resemble a “multi-sided Lego block”[1] with seamless integrations with 3rdparty applications that allow for increased customizability and personalization. For instructors and students, this means learning environments that are responsive to rapidly changing needs and student preferences, including for those students with disclosed disabilities.

Sparking a Culture Shift

IMS standards are at the core of the Blackboard Ally accessibility solution. They play a central role in how we provide institutions around the world insight into the overall accessibility levels of digital content in the LMS as well offer instructors and students seamless engagement with Ally features from within the LMS. Blackboard Ally is honored to have recently received a 2018 IMS Global Learning Impact Award Platinum medal in the area of Educational Accessibility and Personalization. More than just a technology product, we believe Ally is helping spark a culture shift that not only raises awareness about the importance of accessible content to student success, but also provides institutions and instructors with the tools to effectively implement their accessibility initiatives and UDL strategies.

Accessibility is a Prerequisite of Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

An accessible learning environment is a necessary first step toward a more inclusive experience for all students. By addressing accessibility issues up-front, instructors can also move toward implementing UDL principles in their courses. The UDL guidelines emphasize providing students with multiple means of representing learning content, multiple means of engaging with course content and each other, and multiple means for expressing their understandings. Accessible content is more flexible, usable content that can be quickly transformed into different formats like audio and HTML, supporting instructors represent learning content in diverse ways and allowing students to engage content using different modalities and devices.

These kinds of personal needs and preference settings are also a point of emphasis in the IMS Global accessibility standards. Interoperability, for example, can allow for preference settings to be applied across the LMS experience without interruption. With a robust analytics architecture, instructors can make informed recommendations to students about the kinds of content and activities that might work best for them, and offer students more options in exploring different learning pathways.

Standards support Accessibility Initiatives

An integrated system supports accessibility by allowing tools that aid inclusive design practices to impact the course-creation process so that accessibility isn’t an after-thought. While accessibility workshops and trainings can help, for instructors with limited experience about accessible content authoring, raising their awareness about accessibility issues within their existing workflows can be crucial to their success. This allows instructors to take a more proactive approach to improving the inclusiveness of their course experiences, and can help ensure students have equitable access to content regardless of need or ability.

As various kinds of tools and media flow into the LMS via LTI, universities face a growing challenge in managing a “wild-west” of applications and content. Standards will play a crucial role in being able to assess and monitor the accessibility levels of applications and content residing in the LMS. If we only replace a big black box with many smaller ones, instructors and institutions will be in a limiting position in designing and maintaining accessible digital learning experiences for all students.

Join us on the pathway to more inclusive learning experiences for all students by signing up for the Blackboard Ally User group to participation in the conversation.

[1]https://library.educause.edu/~/media/files/library/2015/4/eli3035-pdf.pdf

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