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In this paper, we present a new participatory design for learning, developed in the context of a transnational initiative for creating Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on Accessible Design for ICT. The core idea is creating an additional learning benefit by means of immersive learning experience. This is achieved by simulating scenarios, in which the participants in the MOOC course are prompted to take on the role of accessible media author, and user, vice versa. The approach is based on the concept of “personas”, a user centered design methodology that illustrates practical needs by portraying realistic personal profiles of hypothetical characters.
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2351-9789 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
Peer-review under responsibility of AHFE Conference
doi: 10.1016/j.promfg.2015.07.772
Procedia Manufacturing 3 ( 2015 ) 3663 3668
Available online at
6th International Conference on Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics (AHFE 2015) and the
Affiliated Conferences, AHFE 2015
A persona-based extension for massive open online courses in
accessible design
Sebastian Kelle*, Alexander Henka, Gottfried Zimmermann
Stuttgart Media University, Nobelstr. 10, 70569 Stuttgart, Germany
In this paper, we present a new participatory design for learning, developed in the context of a transnational initiative for creating
Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on Accessible Design for ICT. The core idea is creating an additional learning benefit
by means of immersive learning experience. This is achieved by simulating scenarios
, in which the participants in the MOOC
course are prompted to take on the role of accessible media author, and user, vice versa. The approach is based on the concept of
“personas”, a user centered design methodology that illustrates practical needs by portraying realistic personal profiles of
hypothetical characters.
© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.
-review under responsibility of AHFE Conference.
Keywords: MOOCs; E-learning; Accessibility; Peer-based learning
1. Introduction
MOOCs have been around for some time, exhibiting different formats, subjects and success rates. Starting out as
smart advertisement campaigns for high
-profile universities in the English-speaking world, instant popularity has
now turned into a wary curiosity of stakeholders worldwide who are looking for new ways how to teach
Indeed, they rightfully are concerned about the success rate of this type of teaching method, because only
around 13 percent of the participants ever successfully finish a MOOC [1], and this is not what translates to
acceptable figures in more traditional forms of teaching.
Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 360 406 4707.
E-mail address:
© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
Peer-review under responsibility of AHFE Conference
3664 Sebastian Kelle et al. / Procedia Manufacturing 3 ( 2015 ) 3663 – 3668
Fig. 1. MOOCAP partner institutions and country map.
Such observations notwithstanding, MOOCs provide a great environment for distance learners who wish to
engage in courses without having to make any formal commitment. Furthermore, it is an interesting method of
choice for learning environments that encompass multiple partner institutions, due to the possibility for sharing
learning resources and other reasons. Still, a minimized dropout rate, in combination with maximized learning
outcome, is a goal that remains difficult to achieve. Hence, the reproducibility of a real added benefit has remained
obscure, or limited to purely commercial aspects when MOOCs have attracted sufficient numbers of students for
enrolment in expensive degree programs. This type of problem has been described by Clow [2] as a “funnel of
participation”, with learning analytics hinting at the necessity for additional methods to engage and captivate
participants. We theorize that this cannot be solved universally, but that it always requires a contextualization of the
engagement methodology, so the method suits the topic.
In this paper, building on the example of MOOCAP (the MOOC for Accessibility Partnership) [3], we address
this issue, by introducing an extended functionality that enhances the learning experience in a manner that is
specifically tailored for the topic of accessibility
The MOOCAP project is a trans-European partnership of 9 universities with a notable level of excellence in
accessible design for ICT (see fig. 1). The aim of the project is to jointly develop and offer a series of MOOCs on the
topic of digital accessibility, from introductory level to different advanced and more technical subtopics. Due to its
thematic focus, this curriculum of MOOCs is likely to profit from enhancements that leverage the topic itself
towards a more immersive learning experience.
The idea is related to a gamified approach of learning with MOOCs, which is especially effective with respect to
a persona
-driven experiential model that contextualizes the user’s learning experience (or the learner’s user
experience, respectively). Instead of using some generic gamification patterns to engage the user, we choose a
-oriented approach, to accommodate the user-centered nature of the topic.
Accessible design (as in user experience design, in general), is putting the user into the center of everything, but
traditionally, the user is some anonymous, generic entity nobody has a very clear picture about. In this approach
, we
aim at changing this, using the very user model used in accessible design itself. Users can slip into the role of a
“persona” (in our case, a user model with a certain type of disability) in order to get the sense of a first
experience with respect to the accessibility of digital media.
Sebastian Kelle et al. / Procedia Manufacturing 3 ( 2015 ) 3663 – 3668
Fig. 2. An (abbreviated) example of a persona description. Photography: Copyright by David Schiersner under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).
2. Personas
The discipline of user-centered design advocates keeping the focus on the requirements of the end-users in every
step in the development life-cycle; it is, therefore, of particular interest who the audience is and what their traits,
preferences and goals are.
Physical traits, like disabilities, require special attention to the user interface and the interaction paradigm, as well
as psychological traits, like the user’s resistance towards a certain product. This influences the design on several
levels. Personas [4] are a broadly used concept in the field of human computer interaction and user centered design,
to aggregate, ship and communicate the user requirements during a product’s development life cycle.
A persona is not just a plain list of requirements; it is a profile of a hypothetical user, which expresses the traits,
needs and goals of the target audience. They typically consist of a name and a photo as well as stories of daily
routines, as well as needs and goals of the target audience. Instead of talking about a generic “user”, developers can
refer directly to “John” or “Paula” (see fig. 2). This is giving a face to the nebulous term: “User”.
Personas as such are no user profiles and no tools for bundling users. Instead, Personas bundle the goals and
needs of the products’ target users. This information can be gathered through research or interviews with the target
audience or people working directly with them. On basis of this data, hypothetical users are constructed that pick up
real end-user requirements and goals in user stories.
Stories are the key essence for an authentic persona description. All the information about needs and goals is
wrapped into stories, which makes them special and easier to remember [5]. A good persona description puts a
cognitive and mental model of the persona’s behavior into the minds of the people. Personas can typically be used in
various stages of the development cycle of a product, like finding ideas for a product, prioritizing features, or the
validation process of product artifacts. Techniques that are applied here rely on the anticipation of the persona’s
hypothetical behavior.
In terms of validation, cognitive walkthrough approaches [5] are used to scrutinize features and functions, like:
“Would the user know what to do at this point?” or: “Is the information comprehensible?”. Cooper expresses this
3666 Sebastian Kelle et al. / Procedia Manufacturing 3 ( 2015 ) 3663 – 3668
concept as follows: “We are designing for Rosemary, not for somebody!” (where “Rosemary” is the name of a
As discussed in several studies [6, 7, 8, 9], accessibility and barriers are a user-centered issue where a barrier is a
condition, which prevents a user with specific traits (i.e. the need to use assistive technologies) from achievin
specific goals. Tools for testing the conformance of a product to guidelines, like the WCAG 2.0 [10] can not fully
clarify the accessibility of a product. Further studies
[11, 12] state that guideline conformance is merely a technical
property of a
n ICT product and does not take into account the specific traits of users, their devices and assistive
. However, information on end-user behavior, i.e. how people with disabilities are using ICT products
such as web applications, is crucial to develop and maintain accessible applications.
ajnik [7] introduced the concept of the barrier walkthrough. One has to anticipate the behavior of a persona
with disabilities and focus on potential barriers while testing a
n ICT product by raising questions like: “Can Paul use
keyboard navigation only to reach all elements in this web form?” or: “Is it possible for Paul to understand the
content in this chart?” This picks up the usage fashion of a cognitive walkthrough with personas but with a focus on
accessibility. In a study by Wöckl
[13] it is described in detail how to develop personas of people with disabilities.
These personas were built on quantitative data and covered elderly people from all over Europe, giving
developers and designers guidance for the development. Elderly users are not considered as disabled per se, but they
have analog impairments and face similar barriers to people with disabilities when confronted with ICT products
[14, 15, 16]. They can be used in barrier walkthrough to investigate a product for barriers and can be a way to make
developers and designers more interested for the needs of people with disabilities.
In another study, Schulz and Skeide Fuglerud [1
7] show the potential of using personas, to convey the needs and
preferences of people with disabilities. Their claim is that using personas, including descriptions of their assistive
technology and specific interaction patterns, helps web authors to focus on the user, which results in more accessible
Very importantly to the approach described in this paper, Baily and Pearson [
18] developed a platform for
teaching web accessibility to undergraduate students. They used personas to describe information about assistive
technology usage and specific interaction patterns by people with disabilities. On
e result of their work is that the use
of personas for accessibility teaching could in fact raise awareness and support knowledge transfer for the specific
needs, requirements and interaction paradigms between people with disabilities and web applications.
3. Bringing personas to a MOOC
The concept of personas is straightforwardly implemented in an online learning environment, because they
already can sufficiently be represented as static web content
. The interactive methodology is originating from
persona descriptions in the sense that these are used as entry point for a peer
-based task model. The model works in
two ways: A participant of the MOOC is prompted with a persona description and gets the task to “repair” a media
artifact, i.e. content in the form of video, text, imagery, etc., that is not meeting accessibility standards in relation to
the respective persona. The task is then to make according modifications, e.g. captioning a video or simplifying text
by applying pictographic enhancements.
Fig. 3. An example for persona-based peer learning.
Sebastian Kelle et al. / Procedia Manufacturing 3 ( 2015 ) 3663 – 3668
In the next step, a peer (or a group of peers) is prompted to take on the persona role and assess the accessibility of
the newly modified medium. This feedback can then be used iteratively
, until requirements are satisfied (see fig. 3).
The benefit of such an approach is that th
e peers are immersed in their roles as authors and consumers of
(in)accessible media, establishing a productive dialogue, which leads to reflection
an important element of the
learning process [19].
Technical aspects also play a role in terms of requirements on the MOOC platform. There needs to be appropriate
user management functionality for enabling a peer based interaction, which is possible in most, but not all platforms.
4. Discussion
In terms of assessment, the specific features of a MOOC learning environment pose both advantages and risks.
The advantage is that depending on the (large) number of participants
, a high degree of fairness can be achieved
when peer
-based grading is applied [20]. In this case it is important to have contributions rated by not just one peer,
but an appropriately sized group of peers, which requires a scalable task model.
The risk is that a critical mass of participants may not be reached to enable such a model. In this case the risk can
be mitigated by using automated assessment functions in quizzes and a final exam, instead of a peer
assessment that would count into the final grade. In turn, less impulse would be given in order for participants to
actively engage in this type of activity.
Another aspect with respect to this persona
-driven approach finds its origins in an entirely different problematic
of more legal nature. Although personas are by definition purely fictive, the desired level of realism demands for use
of photographic material (as shown in figure 2), where it is important to ensure avoiding the pitfalls of intellectual
property. It is therefore mandatory to track the provenance of all used media, as well as scanning for potentially
coincidental infringement of personal rights.
Summing up, reviewing literature, it becomes clear that the concept of personas has been proven to be of
powerful impact in various contexts that are related to understanding and illustrating accessible design, by making
people getting a better idea on barriers and helping them to change their perspective in different ways throughout the
design process. This is generating a large benefit for learners. It is
, therefore, a confident assumption that also in a
MOOC environment, this benefit will show.
This research has been supported by the MOOCAP project, funded by the ERASMUS
+ grant program of the
European Union under grant no. 2014
-1-DE01-KA203-000679. This publication reflects only the authors’ views
and the European Union is not liable for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.
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This paper argues that web accessibility is not an intrinsic characteristic of a digital resource but is determined by complex political, social and other contextual factors, as well as technical aspects which are the focus of WAI standardisation activities. It can therefore be inappropriate to develop legislation or focus on metrics only associated with properties of the resource. The authors describe the value of standards such as BS 8878 which focus on best practices for the process of developing web products and include a user focus. The paper concludes with a case study that illustrates how learning analytics could provide data to support the improvement of the inclusivity of learning resources, providing a broader perspective beyond the digital resource.
Conference Paper
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Accessibility and usability are well established concepts for user interfaces and websites. Usability is precisely defined, but there are different approaches to accessibility. In addition, different possible relationships could exist between problems encountered by disabled and non-disabled users, yet little empirical data have been gathered on this question. Guidelines for accessibility and usability of websites provide ratings of the importance of problems for users, yet little empirical data have been gathered to validate these ratings. A study investigated the accessibility of two websites with 6 disabled (blind) and 6 non-disabled (sighted) people. Problems encountered by the two groups comprised two intersecting sets, with approximately 15% overlap. For one of the two websites, blind people rated problems significantly more severely than sighted people. There was high agreement between participants as to the severity of problems, and agreement between participants and researchers. However, there was no significant agreement between either participants or researchers and the importance/priority ratings provided by accessibility and usability guidelines. Practical and theoretical implications of these results are discussed.
Conference Paper
Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are growing substantially in numbers, and also in interest from the educational community. MOOCs offer particular challenges for what is becoming accepted as mainstream practice in learning analytics. Partly for this reason, and partly because of the relative newness of MOOCs as a widespread phenomenon, there is not yet a substantial body of literature on the learning analytics of MOOCs. However, one clear finding is that drop-out/non-completion rates are substantially higher than in more traditional education. This paper explores these issues, and introduces the metaphor of a 'funnel of participation' to reconceptualise the steep drop-off in activity, and the pattern of steeply unequal participation, which appear to be characteristic of MOOCs and similar learning environments. Empirical data to support this funnel of participation are presented from three online learning sites: iSpot (observations of nature), Cloudworks ('a place to share, find and discuss learning and teaching ideas and experiences'), and openED 2.0, a MOOC on business and management that ran between 2010--2012. Implications of the funnel for MOOCs, formal education, and learning analytics practice are discussed.
Article Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have the potential to enable free university-level education on an enormous scale. A concern often raised about MOOCs is that although thousands enrol for courses, a very small proportion actually complete the course. The release of information about enrollment and completion rates from MOOCs appears to be ad hoc at the moment - that is, official statistics are not published for every course. This data visualisation draws together information about enrollment numbers and completion rates from across online news stories and blogs. How big is the typical MOOC? - while enrollment has reached up to ~180,000, 50,000 students enrolled is a much more typical MOOC size. How many students complete courses? - completion rates can approach 20%, although most MOOCs have completion rates of less than 10%. Clicking on data points on the chart will display further details about each course, including a link to the data source.