Disrupting Education: Best Practice and Discovery for Online Education of Students with Learning Differences

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

This presentation explores evidence-based practices for creating online courses for students with LD, and offers new findings on the success of innovations for online education.


Dr. Adrienne Major has served as Academic Dean for Landmark College for the past 5 years.  As Dean, she managed and chaired the Landmark College e-learning advisory, oversaw the development of hybrid and online courses for the college, and worked closely with her colleague, Melissa Wetherby, to review and incorporate best practices for designing, developing and teaching online courses for students who learn differently. The mission of Landmark College is to provide highly accessible approaches to learning that empower individuals who learn differently to exceed their aspirations. Working with such a mission, and with a student body whose needs and aspirations constantly change and develop, has provided challenge, inspiration and its own reward. 

Extended Abstract

Online education presents us with the opportunity to "disrupt" and rethink education, bringing new ideas and methods to the table for learners. But what about the students who themselves "disrupt" education? The students with diagnosed learning differences or neurodiverse students whose access to education is blocked due to the very ways that learning is presented? This is a problem in the traditional classroom, and one that is not removed in the movement to online. Students with dyslexia and other reading-based disabilities are disenfranchised by text-heavy expectations in the online realm. Students with ADHD and other attentional difficulties have tremendous roadblocks thrown up before them by the sheer self-starter nature of most online education. And students on the spectrum or suffering from anxiety disorders, who would seem to be the best clientele for accessing education through online resources, are disrupted when online platforms are too busy, too crowded, or too flashy. The opportunity that now exists to design courses for this clientele is significant. In this session, you will learn to recognize the presentation of various learning differences, and the learning needs of these cohorts. You will leave with the tools to begin to apply universal and accessible design to your online courses, and you will have a working knowledge of what the research is telling us about what works and what may not be as effective for students who learn differently.
We will begin with an overview of Learning Differences, including DSMV diagnosis for ADHD, ASD, Learning Disability, Dyslexia. We will discuss Perfectionism, Anxiety, and Executive Function as cross-diagnostic manifestations. Included in this section of the presentation will be the opportunity to learn how each of these learning differences presents in the online classroom, and what resources you can build into your course in order to accommodate them.
We will then offer a practical guide to designing online courses to meet the needs of students with these learning profiles. We will demonstrate designing online courses using accessibility, usability, clarity and adaptability in order to facilitate universal design for learning. Many of these critical elements can be included in a course template, to aid faculty in their course design. In addition, using a templated approach will allow students to focus on the learning activities rather than the technology used to facilitate these activities, reducing unnecessary cognitive load often found in the online classroom. We will discuss how approaching building a course via the lens of Universal Design aids all students in the course, not just those who have a learning difference. We will also discuss the pros and cons of having an instructional designer build the course, as opposed to having faculty build their course. In addition to the mechanics of the online classroom we will address flipped classrooms, online tutoring, and on-the-ground mentoring as tools to sustain a successful online environment for students with learning differences and EF challenges.
At the same time, we will explore what current research related to online education of college students with LD is telling us about these methods, and some of the challenges and successes that the research is revealing. We will review breaking research from Landmark College Institute for Research and Training and the Landmark College Mathematics department on adaptive learning and on the efficacy of using gamification for conceptual learning. We will review research from the University of Georgia's Learning Disabilities center on online mentoring practices and their efficacy for students with learning differences. A literature review will be included in the materials available to session attendees on the interactive web app.
Research is clear that lifelong learning is a community based activity. To promote the development of an online learning community based on this session, inter-activities will include live online polling and an interactive website. Live Polls will be incorporated to assess the audiences understanding of Learning Differences, and an interactive web app will allow attendees to access the materials covered and to share their own materials and thoughts.