Our Findings

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Study outline

We recruited participants through calls to universities and to organisations supporting adults who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (DHH), are neurodiverse, particularly for dyslexia (DYS), or speak English as a Second or Other Language (L2).

We created two versions of online learning materials across two content areas using University of Reading materials on FutureLearn Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC): Begin Robotics; and Understanding Anxiety, Depression and CBT.  These were a mixture of online written texts and video clips. The latter included both ‘talking head’ type material and Powerpoint slides with voice-over.

One version of the materials was ‘unenhanced’ – in other words, it appeared in exactly the same way as it did in MOOC on FutureLearn. We called this version MOOC.  The other version was ‘enhanced’, that is, modified to try to offer greater support to those in our three participant groups. We called this version DEAL.

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The main modifications included: 

  • adding Advance Organisers ( signposts given to students before they undertake an activity to help them structure the information they are about to learn and to direct their attention to key points);
  • pre-viewing explanations of difficult vocabulary;
  • breaking some of the information down into smaller segments with summaries;
  • adding British Sign Language to video clips;
  • drawing participants’ attention to how to modify and use captions.

Although captions were available in both versions, with on/off and speed control, these features were not explicitly highlighted to the MOOC group. By contrast, they were highlighted in a pre-viewing document for the DEAL group.

Participants were randomly allocated to either the MOOC or the DEAL condition, across all three participant groups, giving the following numbers:

Condition DHH DYS L2
MOOC 22 10 25
DEAL 21 9 22
Total 43 19 47

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We gathered information from participants regarding their proficiency in reading of English and their existing knowledge of Robotics and CBT-related topics.

Participants then met online with a member of the Project Team and viewed one version of the two sets of online materials. After viewing, they completed quizzes to assess what they had learnt, and a questionnaire and interview to find out what they had focused on while viewing, what they had found helpful and unhelpful.  A sub-sample of participants had their eye movements tracked as they viewed the Robotics materials.

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Summary of findings

Learning – was the MOOC or DEAL version better for helping participants learn the online content?

For both CBT and Robotics materials, taking into account participants’ reading proficiency and pre-viewing knowledge, after viewing the materials the scores for both MOOC and DEAL were very similar. The only statistically significant difference was for the L2 group, who performed worse after viewing the DEAL materials for CBT.

On the more complex Robotics materials, the DHH DEAL participants had higher average scores than  DHH MOOC participants. This gives some further indication that the DEAL modifications helped the DHH participants. Similarly, although overall DHH quiz scores were the lowest of the three participant groups, they only did worse than the other two groups when they viewed the MOOC version, giving indications that the DEAL version had some equalising effect on learning.

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What did participants think about the presentation of the online content?

Across all three groups of participants, modifications made in the DEAL versions of materials were found helpful in respect of the tasks that accompanied the videos, the texts that introduced the videos, and bullet points/summaries of key learning points.  These features received more positive ratings in the DEAL version than in the MOOC version.

There was however a lot of individual variation in respect of what was helpful and what was not. Several participants expressed the desire to be able to personalise their viewing: for example, to be able to move the captions or the BSL to a certain area of the screen.  This was reflected in the large amount of variation regarding the areas of the videos they looked at, which we captured using eye tracking software.  Many DHH participants found having BSL and captions hard to process together.

The overriding message for online learning is that one size does not fit all, and personalisation of modifications is key.