Online learning provides an alternative to the traditional classroom structure, which is one reason why it can have such positive outcomes for students with disabilities, especially for those with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, and disorders that might impact learning, such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD). Here are a few common learning disabilities and attention disorders that can potentially benefit from the online learning format:
- Reading Disabilities, such as Dyslexia: Online classes allow students to complete their reading and writing assignments at their own pace, an important feature for those who require additional time.
- Information Processing Disorders: The ability to re-watch lectures numerous times can be an immense help to those who have difficulty processing large amounts of academic content in one sitting.
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders: Online learning allows students to integrate educational software into their learning process, such as screen magnification software for those who learn better when they can focus on one or two pages at a time.
Data on Students with Learning Disabilities
These facts and figures indicate the increasing amount of students with learning disabilities and attention disorders earning their degrees, many of them at online institutions:
- The number of students with disabilities who completed their post-secondary education tripled between 1978 and 1998, according to ASHA.org, the website of the American Speech-Hearing Association.
- According to the US Department of Education, there are roughly 700,000 undergraduate students with disabilities, including: Specific learning disabilities (31%), ADD and AD/HD (18%), physical health conditions (18%), mental or psychiatric conditions (11%), difficulty hearing or seeing (7%), and other (11%).
- The Sloan Consortium reports a significant increase in the number of total students attending online classes. As of fall 2006, the number of students enrolled in at least one online course hovered at just under 3.5 million, an increase of nearly 10 percent from the previous year. Note: this data is not specific to students with learning disabilities.
Featured Online Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities
While all college and universities are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to make some accommodations for people with learning disabilities, in our estimation the following 10 schools go above and beyond, with programs and services designed to improve graduation rates for those who learn differently.
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The Academic Support and Access center is a resource that supports all students needing extra help, including those enrolled in online learning courses. Support is provided through supplemental instruction, peer tutoring and access to assistive technologies, such as text-to-speech software.
Disability specialists, advanced peer tutors, and graduate assistants at Arcadia University offer a host of services for students with disabilities, including instruction on time-management, organization, and other learning strategies.
A network of disability service coordinators and peer mentors aid students participating in hundreds of online classes and academic programs offered at IU. Administrators also work to improve their online offering for all kinds of learners by collaborating on course design with relevant organizations, such as the Access Technology Higher Education Network.
Learning strategies instruction through the Office of Disability Services provides individualized academic coaching to all students, including those completing one of the ten credit online degree programs and certificates.
Marshall University students have the option of choosing over 150 e-courses every semester, and they are also given access to the Higher Education for Learning Problems (H.E.L.P) center that provides support services and academic accommodations for students with specific learning disabilities and/or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
By offering three class formats (traditional, online and hybrid) Mitchell University aims to meet the needs of a variety of learning styles. Their learning resource center, known as the Bentsen Learning Center Program, takes those efforts one step further by developing individual support programs for students with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders. Their staff also works with students to develop career readiness and self-advocacy skills.
The Online Accessibility Committee at Rutgers University has planned and implemented best practices for accessibility based on rubrics from the Quality Matters Program, a national benchmark for online course design. These require that each course contains equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content, facilitates readability and minimizes distractions, and accommodates the use of assistive technologies.
When it comes to providing alternative learning strategies for those who are not best served by brick-and-mortar institutions, The University of Arizona Outreach College, which offers online courses and degree programs, has it covered: Their Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques Center (SALT) provides tutoring and strategic learning resources for students with learning and attention challenges.
Students with learning disabilities and attention disorders can earn their Bachelor's degrees online at University College, and also enlist in the help of the Learning Effectiveness Program, a fee-for-service program that includes academic counseling, subject specific tutoring, time and organizational management and mentoring.
The mission of the Global Campus is to "bring education beyond geographic boundaries," but they also aim to bridge learning boundaries by integrating support for students with disabilities into their offering. WSU Testing Services administers Learning Disability and Attention-Deficit assessments, as well as providing guidance on how to reduce test anxiety. In addition, their Access Center provides peer-mentoring, text-to-speech software and time management coaching.
In the end, only you know your unique learning profile, and what accommodations you need to excel. As such, it's important to conduct your own research into what online learning programs may be right for you.