Funka evaluates digital learning management systems

Funka has evaluated three of the most used learning management systems, LMSs, in Norwegian education; It's learning, Fronter and PedIT. The results are disappointing. Large user groups may encounter substantial problems, probably resulting in a lot of people giving up on these systems.

The survey of LMSs was made in cooperation with the Norwegian association for visually impaired, Blindeforbundet, with funding from Utdanningsdirektoratet, an authority responsible for primary and secondary schools in Norway. The mission was to assess whether learning management systems discriminate against students in the teaching environment due to lack of accessibility. The evaluation was done by an expert review, user interviews and user tests. We also checked with screen readers for users with severe visual impairments as well as individual users with assistive technology. The selection of users included both children and parents. 

Significant problems

All three platforms present a number of issues, and we found both technical errors and editorial problems. 

The technical errors are especially important for users who use assistive technology, but also for users who navigate using the keyboard. Here we saw that some functions were totally impossible to use for those who cannot use a computer mouse.

Editorial problems include the user experience and many aspects in this category are relevant for all users. It is about getting an overview, navigation, logic and consistent appearance. Even if absolute barriers are rare in this area, they will on many occasions be perceived as such by users. Especially when the number of problems is very high, as we see in several cases in the study.

Accessibility versus individual adaptation

The consequences of shortcomings in accessibility are an increased need for individual adjustments. When the student is not able to deliver the information through the proposed channel, time and resources is required to find an alternative channel. This is often done individually and is considerably more costly than making the digital interface accessible.

Related assignments 

Funka has conducted similar studies in Sweden, with the same poor results. In total we have over the last years evaluated 12 different LMSs, and all have been far from meeting the requirements of WCAG 2.0. 

As a consequence of the lack of commercially accessible LMSs, Funka has on behalf of The Swedish National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools, SPSM, developed an LMS that meets the requirements. 

In October 2014, we also received funding to see how the accessible interfaces can be used as part of the learning environment in primary schools through the project Digital School for All, funded by Vinnova, the Swedish Innovation Agency.

Funding: Utdanningsdirektoratet in Norway
Consortium: The Norwegian association for visually impaired, Blindeforbundet
Period: 2011