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Learning Center Experience
Sue Zientara, PhD, Faculty Member, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Learning disabilities are defined
as a neurological condition that interferes with an individual’s ability to
store, process, or produce information. A learning disability can impact
reading, writing, speaking, spelling, computing math, and reasoning, as well as
effect attention, memory, coordination, social skills, and even emotional
maturity (Johnson & Clohessy, 2014). For the elementary through high school
student, this type of disability is usually dealt with by a coordinated team of educators involving the classroom
teacher, reading and/or speech specialist, psychologist, social worker, and any
other professional who can support student learning (Johnson & Clohessy,
2014). This diagnosis also follows a student into postsecondary education under
the guidelines of a 504 accommodation with many support groups still in place
to support the college student as long as the student discloses a disability
and desires accommodations (Thomas, 2000). This same type of academic support
holds true for online students with learning disabilities, but here the task
becomes a bit more challenging for the student. Although there are many
supports in place for online students with learning disabilities, online
students are less likely to seek support because of certain fears associated with
learning disabilities, such of fear of acceptance and fear of the unknown.
with learning disabilities must disclose their disability in order to receive
accommodations. Faced with the decision of disclosing or fearing acceptance by
the instructor, many students fail to disclose and therefore do not receive the
support necessary for success. This could be one of the reasons why the dropout
rate for students with learning disabilities is higher than those students who
are abled (Hollins & Foley, 2013). This fear can be reduced through the use
of audio and visual technology.
Audio introductions included at
the beginning of the course are helpful in supporting all students in creating
a universal learning experience. Audio information should also be included
throughout the course in an attempt to support all students in a more welcoming
atmosphere. Students can also benefit with proper visual support in the online
classroom. Any visual that adds depth to the course and understanding of the
material is considered helpful to both abled and disabled students. English as second
language (ESL) learners also benefit from both audio and video enhancement of
course materials (Case & Davidson, 2011).
of a learning disability can determine the success or failure for an online student;
therefore it must be abundantly clear that the online classroom atmosphere
supports all students through universal design. Creating a universal design for
online courses reduces the fear of the unknown for students with disabilities.
Online instructors who design
courses that fill the needs of all learning preferences and diverse abilities
of students are more likely to meet the educational needs of all students
enrolled in class. Educational models stemming from universal design (UD) principles
provide frameworks for designers of online courses who seek to create
accessible learning environments (Rao & Tanner, 2011). To assist in
creating a welcoming class as well as reducing the fear of the unknown, the
following checklist will assist instructors in creating a welcoming atmosphere
for all students:
In considering this checklist and
considering the fear many students with disabilities face when entering an
online university, concentration and exploration of numbers six through nine
could positively impact students with learning disabilities.
With more and more students with disabilities entering
online colleges and universities and with less and less of that student
population completing college degrees, it is abundantly clear that online
colleges and universities need to readdress the needs of this population. Focusing
on the aforementioned checklist with determination to improve (a) including
technology; (b) designing methods to consider diverse learning styles,
abilities, ways of knowing, previous experience, and background knowledge; (c)
creating multiple ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge; and (d)
promoting interaction among and between students and faculty could be the first
steps in creating more of a universal design for all students. As instructors,
we need to be more purposeful and vigilant in creating a welcoming atmosphere
for all of our students.
Case, D. E., & Davidson, R. C. (2011). Accessible Online Learning. New
Directions For Student Services, (134), 47-58.
Hollins, N., & Foley, A. R. (2013). The experiences of students with
learning disabilities in a higher education virtual campus. Educational
Technology, Research and Development, 61(4), 607-624.
Johnson, E.S. & Clohessy, A. B. (2014). Identification and evaluation of learning disabilities. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Corwin: A Sage Company.
Rao, K. & Tanners, A. (2011) Curb cuts in cyberspace: Universal
instructional design for online courses. Journal
of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 24(3), 211-229.
Thomas, S. B. (2000). College students and disability law. LD Online. Retrieved from http://www.ldonline.org/article/6082/
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