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  • Lenora Thomas

Onlea: Making Online Learning Accessible

What makes an online course engaging? That is the question that Edmonton-based educational production house Onlea is always asking. As anyone who has updated their learning in 2020 will tell you, a course can’t just be a PDF or a test, or someone lecturing online for hours on end. To truly engage, challenge and transform, online education must be engaging and designed for the best possible learning experience.


Onlea builds programs focused on their clients combining instructional design, animation, video production and application development to create an innovative and immersive approach. Onlea’s goal is to produce mindful online learning. Adriana Lopez Forero, CEO of Onlea, along with founders Jonathan Schaeffer and Jennifer Griffin Schaeffer, and their team want to make online learning flexible, accessible and interesting. Adriana has long had a passion for learning, patterns and challenges, and got her start in tech during university. She pursued undergraduate studies in computer science before completing Masters degree in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the early 2000s. In her own words, Adriana jumped right into learning advanced tech before it was cool.


Following school, Adriana joined BioWare and started learning how to deal with the challenge of how to bring code and design together. As her career grew and she interacted with Edmonton’s AI community, including Jonathan Schaefer, she was given the opportunity of taking on her biggest challenge yet—becoming the steward of Onlea.


Although I always take the time to research each company I profile, I somehow missed the fact that I was already familiar with Onlea’s work. If you are a fan of the Canadian hit series Schitts Creek co-star Dan Levy, and the boost he gave to the University of Alberta’s Indigenous Canada course when he enrolled and asked others to join him, then you are already familiar with Onlea in a roundabout way. Not familiar with that course? How about Dino 101? Both made headlines as Massive Open Online Courses that the U of A produced with Onlea.


When Onlea approaches a new program build, they work with the client to identify the best online learning experience. The team starts by focusing on who is going to be using the course. For example, one of the courses that they built for George Brown College is called Deaf Learn Now. How do you successfully engage clients if you are building a course for people with hearing impairments? Onlea started by bringing in someone who could help them understand how people with hearing impairments learn. They collaborated with an American Sign Language interpreter to help them understand how to better engage the learners. A great example is how they incorporated pictures into the course; Onlea avoided photos of someone speaking on a microphone as that emphasizes audio.


Right now, Onlea is exploring ways to approach learning for people with visual impairments. Accessibility is something that many online programs have not taken into consideration and Onlea is leading the way in improving the overall experience for people with visual impairments. As part of this, Onlea’s team of engineers and designers are examining how sound and description play a role in learning.


When I asked Adriana, why she and Onlea are here in Alberta, she said it was due to the tech community and challenges that are being addressed in our province. There are so many hidden gems in our province, and she really wants to be part of the stories that are being shared.


Here is Adriana's Story:


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