Demystifying Closed Captioning: Guidelines and Best Practices - MRCC EdTech

Nov 6 2023

Demystifying Closed Captioning: Guidelines and Best Practices

Samir Padte: VP Content & Delivery Solutions
Samir Padte

VP Content & Delivery Solutions

The primary purpose of videos in higher education is to increase student engagement and knowledge retention. In the online environment, almost 100% of the courses include video content. However, how much of the videos actually deliver value for all students, regardless of their disabilities? The reality is that videos without captions are not accessible to everyone. Interestingly, captions and subtitles are not just preferred by students with hearing problems. A study by 3PlayMedia showed that 98.6% of students prefer videos with captions. So what can you do to boost student engagement in your learning videos? Include closed captioning!

Understanding Captioning

Captioning provides an alternative representation of the audio in the language of the listener. It includes speech and a description of the sound effects and music used in the video. Subtitles and captions are often used interchangeably. However, captions are added to the video with the assumption that the listener cannot hear the audio and needs a textual alternative to speech and sound. Subtitles, on the other hand, are added, presuming that the listener can hear the audio but doesn’t understand the original language used in the video.


The caption added to the video must be a verbatim version where each word uttered in the audio is displayed in text form so the audience can follow along. The caption must synchronize with the audio used in the video content.

Benefits of Captioning

Captions enable the accessibility of visual content by screen readers because students who use screen readers spend 211% more time interacting with data visualizations. Some of the benefits of captioning are:

  • Allows deaf or hard-of-hearing audiences to access speech and non-speech audio information
  • Allows audiences who are not fluent in the original language to follow along with the video
  • Captions can be translated into native languages using subtitles
  • Enhances comprehension and retention of information for people who need visual aid
  • Accommodates learning styles that need both visual and auditory input
  • Increases focus on the video content
  • Avoids distractions due to background noise
  • Allows the audience to watch videos in multiple environments with the sound off
  • Enables audiences to navigate, search, and review video content using interactive transcripts

Why Closed Captioning Is Better Than Open Captioning

Open captions are burned into the video file, and they are always visible when videos are played. Users can’t turn them on or off. However, open captions result in accessibility challenges such as:

  • Pre-rendered captions can’t be translated into subtitles for native language translation.
  • Open captions are not customizable.
  • Some users may prefer not to have captions on their videos.
  • Screen readers can’t access videos with open captions as text is rendered as a part of video.

Closed captioning addresses all the above accessibility options.


WCAG Guidelines on Closed Captioning

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of best practices for web accessibility. The latest guideline is WCAG 2.0. There are 3 compliance levels: A, AA, and AAA. Level A is the easiest to achieve, while AAA is the hardest. The web accessibility laws require you to create video content compliant with level A or AA.

Audio Only Content

  • Pre-recorded – Transcripts are a level A requirement. Captions for audio are not required to meet WCAG.
  • Live – Live text stream is required for WCAG-level AAA.

Video-Only Content Without Audio

  • Pre-recorded and live – Captions are not needed as there will be no audio information.

Video With Audio Content

  • Captions are not needed when audio content is not important, such as only background music.
  • Pre-recorded – Captions are required to meet WCAG Level A.
  • Live – Captions are required to meet WCAG Level AA.

How Can MRCC Enable Closed Captioning Accuracy?

Creating high-quality captions for education publishers requires skills to identify the right speech and non-speech audio information to include in the captions to meet WCAG guidelines. MRCC has the software, people, skills, and experience to create closed captioning with the highest accuracy. Some of the ways MRCC can help in creating closed captioning are:

  • Using AI tools to automate and improve quality, accuracy, and speed of captioning, especially for live video content—AI tools can also translate captions into multiple languages
  • Integrating captioning with video search, findability, indexing, and search engine optimization
  • Creating fully searchable archives where users can interact with video content using interactive transcripts
  • Expanding captioning to mainstream audiences and uses


Captions are an accessible requirement for students who are deaf or hard of hearing to follow along with the video content. People with learning and cognitive disabilities can better understand the content when captions are included. Students who want to enforce focus also use captions while watching videos. As online educational material can be accessed anywhere at any time, captions allow students to quietly watch videos in loud or silent environments with captions enabled. Captioning also improves retention, comprehension, and engagement for all types of users. Furthermore, captioning can be creative to include humor, commentary, or subtitles to videos.

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