Why Closed Captioning? What the Research Says

Comic Fox thinking "What does the RESEARCH say?"
What does the research say about captions? Captions benefit all learners and people use captions for different uses. Morton Ann Gernsbacher provides an excellent review of literature in "Video Captions Benefit Everyone"  that summarizes studies on this topic. As expected, captions benefit D/deaf and hard of hearing users by improving comprehension but the effect has been found to be similar for hearing children. In particular, there have been numerous studies demonstrating how captions benefit children learning to read with early literacy skills. Additionally, captions help improve comprehension and promote memory retention. There has also been numerous studies on how captions support learning a second language.

More recently, Karen Linder, Ph.D., published a national study looking at Student Use of Captioning and Transcripts in College today. This study I find particularly interesting because the 2/3 of the 2,839 respondents were age 24 and younger meaning they grew up in a time when captioning was readily available on television for both recorded and live broadcasts and YouTube went live when they were in middle school. Only 26% of respondents said they never used captions, with 35% saying they always or often use them. And 70% of respondents with no hearing difficulties said they used captions some of the time. When asked the reasons why they use captions, they said they help them focus, improve retention and help overcome the poor audio quality of videos. Students self-reported using captioning to aid in note-taking, capture important vocabulary, and review material. 

This is merely a short summary of some of the research supporting the display and use of captions. Both clearly make the case that captions are not just for the learners who are D/deaf or hard of hearing but rather benefit a range of learners. Think about the students who are currently sitting in our K-12 classrooms.  Our current seniors graduating in June were in kindergarten when YouTube was founded. Video and media has always been part of their lives. We can't ignore this fact when planning instruction the students currently in our classrooms. With captioning technology readily available and research supporting the use of closed captioning to support learning, quality, accurate captions need to be more present both in the display but also as part of the creation process for educators and students creating their own content.

Linder, K (2016). Student uses and perceptions of closed captioning and transcripts: Results from a national Study. Corvalis, OR: Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit.

Gernsbacher, M (2015). Captions benefit Everyone. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Vol 2(1) 195-202.

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