Video is a powerful instructional tool, but some of your students will need the extra step of captions in order to fully appreciate the message in a video-based lesson. This can be a time-consuming process, but fortunately several tools have been created to make this easier for online teachers and instructional designers.

But Wait… Is Captioning My Videos REALLY Necessary?

The short answer? Yes.

For context, the delivery of web-based eLearning content is governed by accessibility requirements that are specified in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. While Section 504 of the act stipulates general accessibility requirements, Section 508 speaks to electronic media and information technology accessibility, including the importance of captioning of videos to maximize their accessibility for hearing-impaired or international students.

(In fact, failure to make your media fully accessible may earn you some unwanted attention from the Department of Justice, like this recent issue at the University of California, Berkeley.)

Okay, So Where Do I Start?

First, it’s important to realize that including video content in your courses is a matter of solving two problems:

  • Where is your video being hosted?
  • How is your video getting captioned?

The hosting question may seem simple: just upload to YouTube, right? Well, not always. Although it’s considered the industry standard for web video, YouTube also has some user experience and accessibility challenges that can complicate the inclusion of their media in your online course. We’ll consider some of those below.

As for captioning videos, many DIY tools and paid services are available to help you make your video content more accessible. We’ll briefly review some of the most popular tools, and assess the pros and cons associated with each.

Automatic Sync Technologies, LLC

Founded over a decade ago, using a Small Business Innovation Research grant provided by the U.S Department of Education, the company’s CaptionSync service offers transcription as well as automated captioning services.

  • Pros:
    • Uses specialized teams of transcribers
    • Supports over 100 caption output formats
    • Quick turnaround options available for transcription, ranging from 8-hours to 3 business days
    • Good customer service
  • Cons:
    • Works well if you already have a transcript of the video, but if not, you may also need to engage the company’s transcription services (for an additional fee)

YouTube Video Captioning

If you use YouTube-based video content in your course, you may be able to caption your videos using the platform’s Subtitles and Closed Captioning service.

  • Pros:
    • Can be easily accessed by anyone via the Internet
    • It is a FREE service
    • Can be used in conjunction with YouTube’s vast distribution network (including specialty channels) to disseminate your courses (including wide search engine reach)
  • Cons:
    • Relies on your own expertise/patience to create and add captions
    • If you choose the Automatic Captioning option, the tool might not reproduce your content to 100% accuracy
    • Auto-Caption supports only a handful of languages (currently fewer than a dozen)
    • Poor/non-existent customer service means you’re mostly on your own
    • Has some video file-size restrictions (current max: 15 minutes)

Here is an excellent third-party guide for captioning your YouTube videos. And if you use YouTube’s auto-caption feature, make sure you double-check those captions for accuracy before you publish them.


Founded by a group of filmmakers in 2004, Vimeo is a more “specialty” video content hosting and dissemination platform compared to YouTube, since their focus is on the content and not monetization.

  • Pros:
    • Service is more content-focused, less advertisement-focused
    • Supports a much larger library of captioned and sub-titled languages (over 150+)
    • Depending on paid plan, offers liberal video size uploads
    • More professional and user-friendly interface compared to many similar platforms
  • Cons:
    • For the most part, Vimeo is a paid service; their Basic plan is FREE, but it has several restrictions
    • Only supports a few file formats (SRT, WebVTT, DFXP/TTML, SCC, and SAMI)
    • Works well only if you already have captioned your content
    • To create captions, you’ll need to use other tools or engage fee-only services such as 3Play, Amara or Rev


Positioned to appeal to online course creators, 3Play’s Express plan includes YouTube and Vimeo integration, while their Pro plan extends to a wider array of online education services.

  • Pros:
    • Preview and edit captions
    • Integrates with most web video providers
    • Professional plan allows for multiple users / reviewers
  • Cons:
    • No free service
    • Currently limited to English and Spanish languages


A community-focused translation service, Amara helps users from around the world to work together to translate videos into multiple languages.

  • Pros:
    • Access to a global network of volunteer translators
    • Highly useful if your courses or videos will have a wide-ranging multilingual audience
    • Easy-to-use interface allows you to invite collaborators (and students) to help translate
  • Cons:
    • Free service collaboration is limited to available or invited volunteers, so QC is up to you


Fueled by freelancers, Rev matches your caption needs to the talents of a skilled freelance transcriber or caption writer for as little as $1 a minute, and translations for as little as 10 cents per word.

  • Pros:
    • Affordable outsourcing solution
    • 24-hour turnaround time
    • Live phone support
    • Trusted by professional organizations, including BuzzFeed, Google, and PBS
  • Cons:
    • Source videos must be in English
    • Foreign language transcriptions are available, at a premium price ($7.50 per minute)

How Can You Guarantee Accuracy?

Different services use different methods to produce transcripts and captions, and this may result in varying levels of accuracy in the language and timing of these files. Be sure you understand which methods your chosen service will be using, so you can be aware of any potential errors. While some services use professional (human) transcribers, which is often the preferred option, others may use unskilled crowd-sourced labor or even speech recognition tools which may be unreliable. If you have the time and budget, you may want to submit your video for transcribing or captioning by more than one service, and then compare the finished products in order to find the best investment and customer experience.

At a minimum, we suggest double-checking the accuracy of any transcript you receive by sharing it with a native speaker of that language BEFORE you go through the process of turning your transcript into a captioned video. Otherwise, any time savings you may have gained by outsourcing this work will be lost when you discover inconsistencies that will require you to re-caption, re-upload, and re-integrate a hosted video into your course.

How Can CourseArc Help?

Vimeo and Amara are natively integrated as a feature of our service, so our users will have access to those tools as a starting point. However, you can also use videos hosted on other platforms, like YouTube, in your CourseArc courses.

Additional Resources

There are a plethora of other useful online resources for instructional designers to refer to when planning a video captioning strategy. The Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) offers some good guidelines for captioning media content.