Between designing and building your course is the task of actually drafting the written content. What is important to consider at this stage - and not later down the line - is accessibility and our accessibility QA Criteria.
After deciding what step types are suitable and plotting your course outline follow our top tips for writing up your individual steps.
1. Share sample content with FutureLearn
Editorial and Media specialists can review sample content and provide feedback. This can prevent any challenging issues during the Quality Assurance review. If the tone of your course is not accessible or lacks educator presence, or if your video content uses non-FutureLearn terminology this can be difficult to fix later.
2. Write your content in a conversational tone.
A conversational tone of voice ensures the course is accessible, inclusive of our global audience, and maintains the presence of an educator. When it comes to building your course you will use markdown to format text and can follow our editorial style guide.
3. Avoid large blocks of text
Learners with dyslexia struggle to read large blocks of text. Use subheadings to break up the text into digestible chunks, and include relevant in-line images and diagrams to support the text.
This is intimidating to learners. Use blockquotes to present introductory extracts within a step and then invite learners to further explore the topic by reading the full academic paper provided as further reading (see related files below). Clearly attribute copyright/origin.
4. Include top tips and further learning
Learners feel they are getting expert insights and special treatment when steps include the subheading ‘Top Tips’ or similar. If your course is introductory your top tips may focus on how to take effective notes (this is a specific skill that our global audience may not be familiar with). If your course is practical, top tips will introduce learners to “how to do” something.
A subheading of ‘Further Optional Learning’ with instructions and links allows the pitch of the course to broaden. Highly motivated learners or those already familiar with the content in the step will be grateful. Alternatively, include these in the related links and files. Optional learning resources do not count towards the course learning hours and should never take up a full step.
5. Write clear instructions
These appear when learners are being asked to complete a task, use a tool, discuss a topic or complete an exercise. Instructions assume no prior knowledge of the tool or task the first time it is mentioned in the course. Learners need to also know why they are being asked to do something and what they will gain from doing it.
Ask colleagues to read them to ensure they make sense. Clear instructions are essential to ensure the course is inclusive and accessible to the widest possible range of people.
6. Word social prompts carefully
Our default course model is on demand, meaning courses are continually available for learners. Courses often have low or no facilitation. Questions and prompts within the course need to be carefully worded to avoid misinterpretation or an expectation that the educator will respond.
Instead of writing in an early step: “we look forward to seeing your answers in the comments”, change the focus to: “share your answers with your fellow learners, and don’t forget to reply to and ‘like’ their comments.”
Writing clear and open social prompts can be challenging. They are built into the platform for you to use: social prompts.
Learners become very distracted when there are spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors or missing/broken links within a course. Before submitting your course for Quality Assurance review, ask a colleague to proofread your content. This is one of the Content Suitability QA Criteria. Editorial Specialists who conduct QA do not proofread content.
Proofreading also includes subtitle files and transcripts. Allow time for this during your course development.
Material core to learning must be presented solely within a step to enable all learners to achieve the same learning outcomes without impairment. This is included in External Content QA Criteria
Hyperlinks (inline links), related links, and related files can be used to provide optional learning and longer extracts of material for some tasks. Use the link checker in Course Creator to check all links work.
Write descriptive hyperlinks (inline links or external links)
Traditional hyperlinks can be added to text in Course Creator using markdown. They are referred to as inline links. Inline links open in the same tab, see the reasons for this below. Never include the ‘bare’ full URL within the text, this does not create a good experience for learners using a screenreader.
Prepare your content with descriptive inline links. Never hyperlink the words ‘click here’ or ‘here’. Hyperlink the text which describes what the link is referring to. Learners using a screenreader can skim a webpage (in this case a step within a course) upon arriving by having all the hyperlinks on the page read aloud. If the hyperlinks on the step are all ‘here’ they will need the screenreader to read all the content to find out what the hyperlink is for.
Good: See how much you’ve completed on [your progress page].
Poor: Click [here] to see your progress page.
If you are including inline links consider:
- the purpose and intent behind using external content and communicate this to learners.
- what is the most appropriate page to link to - not the home page.
Hyperlinks open within the same tab
Inline links always open within the same tab a learner is viewing. It can be helpful to warn learners of this, and instruct them to use the back button to return to the course content.
Web and accessibility research indicates that:
- users rely on the browser back button, it is the second most used navigation function (source: Nielsen Norman Group). We should avoid breaking this trusted interaction
- anything that takes control away from the user is a bad experience; users should be able to decide whether they want to open a link in a new tab
- users can become disoriented when the website opens in a new tab
- users who prefer external links to open in a ‘new tab’ can still do this (by using a right-click or a keyboard shortcut)
- breaking the workflow for users who browse the web using assistive technologies is not recommended
- opening a new tab on a smartphone makes it difficult for the user to return to the original website.
Communicate clearly to learners if additional material is optional. Optional material should not be the sole content within a step and must not count towards the learner's progress or eligibility for a Certificate of Achievement. One way to include optional content is using the related links function.
Article, exercise, and video steps allow for related links to be added at the bottom of the step in a discrete section below the main content. Related links are predominantly used for optional further reading. Add a related link to a step on the screen before clicking ‘edit article’. You will be prompted to include a brief description of the relevance to the topic. Related links which appear at the bottom of the step open in a new tab.
Related links must:
- be accessible across all devices and use responsive design
- be accessible without payment
- be clearly relevant to the course and step
- direct to the relevant webpage - not a homepage requiring navigation
- consider that Learners on FutureLearn may be as young as 13
- Be aware that we have no control over externally hosted links, it is important to regularly check they are working and directing learners to the correct site.
- be very clear if the site forms optional or core content within the course
- be descriptive - the title and description files should be clear and explicit
All attached documents (essential and optional) added to steps (e.g. newspaper articles, illustrated transcripts etc) must adhere to the same accessibility criteria as the content within the steps of the course, or accessible alternatives must be provided.
- Remove markup and personal data
- If you use Word for Windows, you can use a tool called Document Inspector to ‘clean’ your document of personal information and other hidden data.
- If you use Word for Mac, there is no Document Inspector. So, there are two different things you need to do. 1) To remove all ‘markup’ (tracked changes and comments), go to the ‘review’ panel, and under ‘changes’, accept all changes (or reject them if you want to undo any that you have made). 2) Then, under ‘comments’, highlight a comment, select ‘delete’ and delete all.
- In case of viruses, you should also delete any macros from the document.
- Follow WebAIM’s excellent guide to creating accessible Word documents.
- Headers help readers understand how tables are organised into columns and rows. Read more in Colorado State University’s tutorial Indicating Table Headers in Word.
The basis for creating accessible PDFs is to start with an accessibly structured and tagged document. Please refer to the guide to creating accessible Word files first, as saving to PDF will simply maintain these accessible features in the new format.
For instructions on how to create a PDF from a Word document, see the WebAIM guide to converting documents to PDF.
- Have you ensured that your PDF is saved as searchable text (not as images of text)? The easiest way to check is by trying a text search in your PDF reader.
- Does the document use default fonts that can be extracted from text?
- Has the document language been specified (e.g. English)?
- Have you made sure security settings do not restrict assistive technology (ideally copy and paste should be allowed)
- Has your starting document been properly structured and tagged – using in-built styles for titles, etc?
- Does it contain alternative text descriptions for all images?
Creating PDFs of other file types
It is possible to create PDFs from other applications, for example, Adobe InDesign or Microsoft Powerpoint. In these cases, you should still follow accessibility principles to create tagged PDFs. See the PDF association’s list of accessible PDF creation tools.
Please note that PDFs containing mathematical notation may not work at all with screen readers.
Find out more in step Refining your content in week 3 of How to Create a Great FutureLearn course. Ask your Partnership Manager for access.
Terminology on this page that you aren’t familiar with? Check out our glossary.