What are closed captions, and why are they essential for training videos?


hether it’s at your doctor’s waiting area, your friend’s living room, or at a foreign film festival, chances are, you’ve seen closed captions before.

Closed captions are a critical tool that should be included in every training you create - a non-negotiable on your video creation to-do list.

But before you get started, there are a few important things to know.

What is closed captioning?

Closed captions are written text lines at the bottom of a video that communicate what can be heard in the video.

Closed captions are designed for people who may not be able to hear the video. Because of this, closed captions will include any spoken words or lines, as well as descriptions of important sounds such as background music, a sigh, or an explosion.

Why are closed captions important?

Closed captions are a critical tool for making videos accessible to people living with disabilities including hearing impairments, deafness and sensory issues.

Digital accessibility is vitally important for learning designers and corporate trainers. With as much as 1 in 5 people living with a disability, it is essential to provide learning content that is usable and accessible for all your learners.

As well as being a moral imperative, digital accessibility can also be a legal mandate. Many government organizations around the world are required to comply with legislation to ensure that any ICT-related assets are accessible to people with disabilities. In the United States for example, this falls under Section 508.

Lastly, closed captions can also greatly benefit many abled people. By adding closed captions to your training videos, your learners can easily watch your videos on crowded trains, or while the kids sleep without missing out on important information.

Closed captioning vs subtitles

If closed captioning sounds suspiciously similar to what you’d call subtitles, you’re not wrong. However, there are some small differences between closed captions and subtitles.

While closed captioning was developed to meet the needs of hearing impaired individuals, subtitles were created to help people watch videos in a language they aren’t fluent in.

As a result, subtitles focus exclusively on translating and displaying spoken words. They do not include descriptions of unspoken sounds, such as sound effects or music.

Young woman watching a video on her phone on a couch.

Closed captions vs open captions

If you’re a little more familiar with captioning, you may have also heard of open captions. So what’s the difference between closed captions and open captions?

Put simply, closed captions can be turned on or off by the viewer as they watch the video. Open captions cannot be turned off.

Open captions follow the same text protocols as closed captions, but they are embedded into the file of the video, becoming part of the video itself. Closed captions are not embedded - they exist as a separate file (usually .vtt or .srt files) that is used alongside the video file.

On the HowToo platform, you can upload closed caption files alongside your videos to enable them on your training videos quickly and easily.

Because they offer greater flexibility for viewers, closed captions are typically more widely used than open captions.

How to create closed captions

There are several ways to create closed captions, with different options based on your time, budget and preference.

Some video creation programs may include an auto-generating captioning service, but if yours doesn’t, or you’re working with a completed video, you can try some of the following low-budget methods.

Closed captioning services

Voice recognition has come a long way in the past decade, and online services now provide exceptional automated closed captioning services.

Closed captioning services typically allow you to upload videos to their platform, where their technology will automatically transcribe (and sometimes also translate) any spoken words that are detected.

Once the video has been transcribed, the captions can be edited and downloaded. However, these services often do not capture effects or other non-spoken sounds.

At HowToo, we use Subly to caption the videos we use in our training courses. Subly offers 7 days completely free, along with a range of plans suitable for freelancers and businesses, with both transcription and translation services available.


If you’re willing to replace a budget with a little hard work and patience, Youtube can be a viable option for auto-generating closed captions.

To auto-generate captions with Youtube:

  1. Upload your video to your Youtube account.
  2. Don’t opt to add subtitles during the upload process. Select Done when finished.
  3. Select ‘Subtitles’ from the left-hand menu of your Youtube Studio.
  4. Find and select the video you just uploaded.
  5. Wait until a second set of subtitles with the label ‘(Automatic)’ appears. This may take a number of minutes to hours, depending on the length of the video.
  6. Select ‘Duplicate and Edit’ under subtitles and use the pop-up to edit the generated subtitles.
  7. Select the options button next to ‘Edit timings’, then select ‘Download subtitles.’
Man watching a video on a laptop in a study.

From scratch

If neither Youtube nor a captioning service are available options for you, you can create a closed captioning file from scratch. However this can be an extremely time consuming and tedious process.

For complete instructions (with images) on how to write a closed captions file from scratch, check out this wikihow guide.


Closed captions are a vital tool for ensuring that training videos are accessible for learners of all abilities. They should be considered a non-negotiable aspect for every video used in a training course or setting.

It can be easy to assume that your learners do not have issues with hearing, however many people with hearing impairments choose not to disclose their disability, or may not even be aware of their disability. Learning designers and trainers should always assume that their learning cohort includes people who are hard of hearing, and design their training to be as accessible as possible.

At HowToo, enabling the easy upload of closed caption files for videos is just one of the ways that we’ve made it easy to create accessible digital learning experiences.

Featured Resource: Everything you need to know to make your content accessible.
May 19, 2022

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