How Closed Captions Improve Student Learning

Rheannon Ketover

In recent years, particularly since the pandemic with the surge in online schooling, the use of closed captions has become increasingly popular and important in education. Closed captions are a textual representation of the audio content in a video or multimedia presentation that appears on the screen, providing the viewer with the ability to read along with the audio. Closed captions have numerous benefits for both hearing and deaf individuals, and they have become an essential component of educational materials. 


Accessibility for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

One of the primary reasons closed captions are essential in education is for the accessibility they provide for deaf and hard of hearing students. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million) report some form of hearing loss. Closed captions allow deaf and hard of hearing individuals to access the same content as their peers, providing them with equal opportunities to learn and participate in educational activities.

Improved Comprehension and Retention

Closed captions have been shown to improve comprehension and retention for all students, not just those with hearing impairments. In a study conducted by the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP), 85% of teachers reported that closed captions increased student comprehension, and 76% reported that captions increased student retention. Closed captions help students to focus their attention on the content and provide an additional layer of support for language acquisition, especially for English Language Learners (ELLs).

Accommodation for Different Learning Styles

Closed captions can also accommodate different learning styles, as they provide a visual representation of the audio content. According to the VARK model (Visual, Aural, Read/write, Kinesthetic), there are different types of learners. Some students learn best through visual or reading/writing activities. Closed captions allow these students to engage with the material in a way that works best for them, increasing their engagement and overall learning outcomes. 

In the same way, captions also facilitate multimodal learning, which involves multiple modes at once. Multimodal learning has been shown to improve learning outcomes and increase engagement. Closed captions allow students to engage with the content through both visual and auditory modes, enhancing their overall learning experience.

Language Learning and Literacy Development

Closed captions can also facilitate language learning and literacy development. Many studies have found that students who used closed captions in their language learning classes had higher test scores than those who did not use captions. Closed captions provide an additional context for language acquisition and help students to develop their literacy skills, including phonemic awareness, decoding, and vocabulary acquisition.

Similarly, students learning a foreign language can greatly benefit by watching videos in the target language with same-language captions. It has been shown to improve listening comprehension and vocabulary acquisition. Time and time again, it has also been concluded that foreign-language students are able to recall content from captioned media much better than when not captioned. 


Closed captions have a wide range of applications in education, and can be used to support student learning across various subjects and settings. Here are some specific examples of how closed captions can be used in education:

  • In lectures and presentations: Closed captions can be used to enhance the accessibility of lectures and presentations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. This can also benefit students who may have difficulty understanding the speaker's accent or speaking style.
  • In online learning: With the rise of online learning, closed captions have become increasingly important for ensuring that all students can access and engage with educational content. Closed captions can be added to videos, webinars, and other online resources to make them more accessible to students with different needs. It’s important to note here that, in most instances, it is also a legal requirement to provide accurate captions in these settings.
  • For foreign language learning: Visual cues provided by captions can be an effective tool for students who are learning a second language, especially those who may struggle with unfamiliar vocabulary or pronunciation.
  • In special education: The use of captions can be an effective support for students with learning disabilities, like dyslexia, who may have difficulty following audio content. Captions provide a visual aid that can help these students understand and remember the material.
  • In multimedia projects: Including captions in multimedia projects, such as videos or animations, can provide students with a greater understanding of the content and context. This feature can help enhance the learning experience and make the material more accessible.

These are just a few examples of the many applications of closed captions in education. As technology continues to evolve, it is likely that new and innovative uses for closed captions will continue to emerge.


Despite the growing use of closed captions in education, there are still improvements that need to be made to ensure that they are fully accessible and effective for all students. One of the main challenges is the variability in the quality and accuracy of closed captions. Inaccurate or poorly synchronized captions can actually hinder comprehension and negatively impact learning outcomes.

A study conducted by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) found that many educational videos with closed captions were of poor quality, with errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Additionally, some videos did not include captions for important audio content, making it difficult or impossible for deaf and hard of hearing students to fully understand the material. These findings highlight the need for increased attention to be paid to the quality and accuracy of closed captions in educational materials. In many, if not most, educational settings, auto-generated captions just don’t cut it.

Another challenge is the lack of consistency in the use of closed captions across different platforms and formats. For example, closed captions may be available on one streaming platform but not on another, making it difficult for students to access consistent closed captioning across different educational resources. This variability can be particularly challenging for students with hearing impairments, who may need to rely on closed captions to access and engage with educational content.

Overall, while closed captions have made significant strides in improving accessibility and inclusivity in education, there are still challenges and areas for improvement. Ensuring consistent and accurate closed captioning across different educational platforms and formats, as well as providing additional accommodations for students with different needs, are important steps that can be taken to further enhance the accessibility of education through closed captions.

In conclusion, closed captions are an essential component of educational materials, providing accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing students; improving focus, comprehension, and retention; accommodating different learning style; and facilitating language learning and literacy development. As technology continues to advance, closed captions will become even more prevalent in education, providing students with the support they need to succeed in their academic pursuits.

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