Autoplay? More like Oughtta Play, amirite?

In the web design world, it’s getting harder and harder to get media files set to autoplay to actually autoplay.

Many of the major browsers have taken steps to reduce or totally prevent media files from automatically playing when a web page loads.

For some in the elearning world, it might feel like we’re collateral damage in this campaign.

But it’s actually an issue dominKnow has been solving since 2011, when we first rolled out Claro.

Why the recent clampdown on autoplay media files?

It’s all about trying to make the Internet less annoying.

Here’s a scenario. You’ve just searched for an answer to a question you have and so you click a recommended search result. The page opens but even before you can start to read the article, there’s a video advertisement playing. You had your speakers on, and now it’s blasting all across the room. You stab at the video player trying to get it to stop, but by then you’re pretty much done with that page any way.

Sound familiar?

In fact, Google says it has data from usage of its Chrome browser that shows, “a significant number of autoplays are paused, muted, or have their tab closed within six seconds by people who don’t want them.”

So Google and Apple have been taking steps to reduce this issue in Chrome and Safari, respectively, by (genrally speaking) blocking media files with sound from autoplaying.

Want more-specific details on what Chrome and Safari are doing?

 

Here’s a blog post with the details for Chrome as of May 2018.

Here’s an article written by Apple on the WebKit site in June 2017.

What’s dominKnow doing about this?

Well, we’re doing what we’ve already been doing for the past six years or so.

You see, blocking the autoplay of media files has long been on our minds because many mobile devices (especially Apple) have suppressed media autoplay from the earliest days.

The basic requirement on say an iPhone is that a user has to actively do something to play the media file. To address that, we long ago added functionality in our Course Player so clicking the forward button to go to the next page serves as this “user activation” and when the next page loads the audio narration will autoplay. In other words, clicking the Next button is like clicking Play on the audio file.

Now, if that doesn’t end up working for some reason (sometimes there are loading issues due to Internet bandwidth or speed, for example) we have a fall-back notice that tells the learner to click to begin the page audio.

The Next button solution doesn’t work on the first page of a course, though, since when it loads the user hasn’t yet done anything. So if you have autoplay media on the first page, learners will see the fallback notice if they’re on many mobile devices or using Chrome or Safari. Because of this, we often advise designers to not include audio narration on the first page. Maybe make it a splash page with the company logo. It could even have a Start button with our ContentGoNext Player Control applied so learners know what to do to get started rather than wondering if they need to click the Next button on the Player Controls.

One other situation to consider with this - if the learner uses the menu or your design uses Page Links to jump to a page that has auto-play then the fallback “touch to play” notice will get shown. The Player Controls only work for going to the Next or the Previous pages.

What else should you be thinking of for this issue?

Most likely, other browsers will also follow suit rather than lose market share to Chrome and Safari. So we’re not likely to see this issue go away.

Plus, we can’t predict what additional future changes the browsers might decide to implement. Relying on media autoplay seems like a risky design approach in general.

I really feel this is actually an opportunity to consider other design approaches for your elearning content that could also improve the learning results.

For your upcoming projects, maybe consider using narration more selectively and moving to more learner-driven actions to engage them in the content and to help them acquire and move the new information to long term memory.

It could actually be a win-win design approach!

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