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Online learning helps caregivers do more with mobile devices

At Easter Seals of Greater Houston, they’re well aware of how touch-enabled technology, such as smartphones and tablets, along with proper training can significantly impact the lives of people with disabilities.

BridgingApps, a program of Easter Seals of Greater Houston, provides access to educational and therapeutic tools to help parents, teachers, and therapists effectively use mobile devices to help children and adults with disabilities reach their highest levels of physical and cognitive development. The organization hosts monthly in-person meetings but wanted to serve an even broader audience. This was the goal when BridgingApps connected with Udemy to offer a free online course describing the options available for preparing and protecting mobile devices.

Answering a clear need

When people can’t attend in-person events, they come to the BridgingApps website for answers, but responding to individual queries takes a lot of time. The BridgingApps staff was already familiar with Udemy because a cofounder (now working on other projects) published two courses as an instructor in 2013. They researched other options but chose Udemy because “it seemed like the most user-friendly,” according to Cristen Reat, co-founder and program coordinator of BridgingApps. “Also, the fact that Udemy offers apps on both iOS and Android platforms as well as web-based access is great. Captioning is also important to our users, so to be able to tag our course as captioned was critical.”BridgingApps device

That led to the creation of the free course “Getting Started with Mobile Devices for Special Needs: Accessories and Safety,” which is full of helpful, easy-to-consume information, vetted by experts, on accessories such as protective cases, wheelchair mounts, styluses, keyboards, and other products.  

Overcoming challenges, with help as needed

At the outset, the BridgingApps team had only minimal experience recording videos, but they had little trouble understanding the Udemy course creation platform. When they had questions, they consulted Udemy’s Help Desk and also got timely feedback directly from support staff. “We could not have accomplished producing this course without the invaluable support of Udemy experts,” says Reat. “Going through this process has helped us enormously in overall video creation moving forward.”

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Instructor Tara Rocha’s home “studio”

Their greatest challenge was producing the “talking head” video for the introduction and promotional videos. Tara Rocha, BridgingApp’s digital learning specialist, stepped up as course instructor, and while she was comfortable providing voiceover for a familiar script, the new experience of standing in front of a camera was unnerving and took some getting used to. After much practice, Rocha concluded a teleprompter app was critical for producing a successful video.

Udemy also helped BridgingApps devise ways to market their course as they prepared for launch, developing strategies to promote the content to Easter Seals’ network of followers on social media, the BridgingApps blog, and other channels, both online and off. The team also drafted a press release to spread the word and published a short podcast on the Assistive Technology Update, the top assistive technology podcast on iTunes.

Satisfying results and a view to the future

BridgingApps’ initial goal was to get 500 course enrollments in the first month, a milestone they blew past in the first two days after launch. Enrollment has since doubled, and students give the course high marks. The team considers this a great start and hopes to increase engagement with BridgingApps content over time, especially as instructor Rocha has regular interaction with students taking the course.

Student Lisa Stapp wasn’t sure what to expect when she signed up for the free Udemy course, but the experience turned out to be a valuable one. “I found some incredible treasures here that fit my needs and wants exactly!” Stapp wrote in her course review. “The instructor is well-organized and easy to listen to. The information is useful. I will gladly recommend it to others.”

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BridgingApps is excited to have students from more than 90 countries.

It’s been gratifying for the team to get positive feedback like this and see real results. Now they’ve got plans in the works to create additional courses, including an introduction to communication tools for people who are nonverbal or have motor challenges that prevent them from writing. Reat and her team are also keeping tabs on the search terms people use to find their courses, since there are so many terms for describing disabilities.

At BridgingApps, they’ve seen how an online course on Udemy can amplify their expertise and get it in front of people near and far. “We have a small international following so far, and Udemy will help us to be even more global,” Reat says. It’s one more powerful way for BridgingApps to improve the lives of those with special needs and the people who care for them.