Online Learning Strategies for Students with Disabilities

Online learning gives you access to education without leaving home.

Online learning is becoming an ever more popular method of education. You can study whatever you want at your own pace or take structured lessons that are often touted as ‘anywhere, anytime’. Which means this way of learning is often more inclusive and accessible than bricks-and-mortar classroom learning.

A variety of tools from apps for learning with a disability to courses and degrees are available online. This makes it easier to find a learning solution that suits the individual needs and schedule of every learner.

Before we get into distance learning benefits, questions and strategies lets answer the following question:

What is online learning?

Online (distance) learning is a form of education where the student learns online. Because of the rapid way in which technology and the internet develop, new online learning solutions are constantly introduced and existing offerings are regularly updated. Which means that online learning is more user friendly now than it was ever before.

A major benefit of online learning is that the student doesn’t need to be in the same place as the teacher. They can be anywhere and can still learn and access the material they need provided they have an internet connection.

Some other names for online learning are:

  1. Distance education
  2. E-learning
  3. Distance learning
  4. Digital learning

Read more about digital accessibility in our article on Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

Online learning can benefit kids with developmental delays.

Online learning benefits for people with disability

Online learning can be helpful for all manner of students, including those with developmental disabilities, invisible disabilities, and physical disabilities.

For example, if you’re a person with autism then being in a school or university environment might not suit your learning style. However, many online learning tools allow you to learn the same material in different ways – when you want and how you want. (You might also be interested in our article that explores myths about Asperger’s syndrome.)

The same applies to those living with invisible disability that causes chronic pain. Working to one’s own abilities on any given day rather than a set timetable can be much more effective and a much more positive experience overall.

Not only is it less stressful, but it also reduces the chance of falling behind in coursework. For instance, if you wake up in pain, you can work at a later stage when the pain recedes. Without the added emotional weight of being absent and following a group timetable.

Online learning can be a great benefit for people with limited mobility too. For example, if you’re in a wheelchair, having access to online study means not worrying about parking, stairs, and classrooms.

Online learning research

If you plan to do a distance learning course, whether a Cert I or an honours degree, take some time to research your options beforehand.

Find out which courses suit your needs and availability. Explore the reputation of each educational institution as well as the program offering and the teacher behind it (you will very likely need to deal with them at some stage). And so on…

Here is a set of questions to ask yourself before you settle on a course.

1. What type of course do you want to do?

For example, there are free courses, courses where you get a certificate, or a diploma or a degree. Ask yourself why you’re doing the course to help you decide on what you’re hoping to achieve.

Think about what you can achieve within the timeframe set for each course. Can you jump straight in or should you test the waters with a shorter course first?

2. Can you do the course at your own pace?

Often courses have a set timeframe from when you begin, to attend online classes, do assessments and submit assignments or projects. Some courses allow you to shift your deadlines later if you need to. Some don’t, but still let you learn and prepare your assignments in your own time as long as you submit them on the due date.

Also be sure to know how you can go about asking questions when you’re unsure of something – who can you contact, how and when? 

3. Are there online classes to attend?

Distance learning options can include a blend of reading material, pre-recorded tutorials (you can access anytime) and set, ‘live’ classes and discussions. Find out if classes are uploaded online afterwards so if you can’t make these, you can still watch them in your own time. Then investigate whether you’ll be marked down for not attending any live sessions.

4. What is expected of you?

Research what your obligations are and what will be expected of you. This includes what you’ll need to learn, what resources you’ll need and what kind of feedback is expected of you. Find out how many assignments, portfolios or exams you need to complete (and when). Make sure all of them are online.

Importantly, take a good look into your financial obligations. How much the course costs, when payments need to be made and if you get any discounts. Are there any others costs involved, e.g. for course materials?

Also explore how the marking system works – what percentage of your overall course rating/result comes from where?

There are no doubt many other questions you might want to ask, these are just a few to help guide you on your learning journey.

This Blue Badge Insurance customer is doing a degree via online learning.

Successful online learning strategies

There are several easy steps to take to make learning online easier. Most of them include preparing yourself in advance to have the time, space and equipment to do the work needed.

Here’s a list to help you prepare for distance learning:

1. Create a schedule

Scheduling helps because even if you need to adapt it along the way you’ll have a good sense of what your responsibilities are and when. This will go a long way to helping you stay motivated and achieve your study goals.

2. Set up a workspace

Good work is always easier to achieve if you have a comfortable space to work with and a good source of light. Make sure anything you need is set up in your workspace, so you have fewer distractions. Ensure you have all the equipment you need – computer (with camera?), mouse, mousepad, etc. Will you ever need your phone? They’ll all need to be in easy reaching distance.

3. Use a calendar

Use a wall calendar or a scheduling app to help you keep track of important dates for lessons, assignments and exam deadlines. Check it often and update when needed.

4. Make a contacts list

Have a ready list of the people who you can contact if you have any difficulties with the course. From administrators to teachers, knowing who you need to contact in advance can save you time and frustration. Contact your teacher (if there is one) to say ‘hi’ and let them know you’ve joined the course and how you’re finding it. This will set up the line of communication with them and make you feel connected.

5. Take breaks

Don’t push yourself harder than is good for you. Different work routines work well for different people. You may develop your own technique, or you may find the Pomodoro technique works for you. The Pomodoro technique suggests you take a five-minute break for every 25 minutes worked. Read about some other techniques too.

6. Minimise distractions

Take some time to think about how to minimise distractions in your workspace. For example, closing curtains to reduce brightness and noise, or using noise cancelling headphones to block out sound.

7. Work when you can

If you find you have some time to work but you’re only scheduled to work later, try working ahead of schedule. Then if you need to take a break later when you were planning to work, you’ll have used your time well.

8. Get familiar with settings

Spend time familiarising yourself with your set up. Try out all your navigational tools and visit the different online areas. Test your phone and your chat areas (if you have these) to see how they work. Ditto with any apps or special software that’s helping you complete the course. Do this well ahead of your study start date, so you know you can hit the ground running.

Mobility insurance online

Another great online resource is Blue Badge Insurance – not just this blog but our whole website. Because you can access your mobility equipment and car insurance online whenever you need to and wherever you are. And of course, if it’s preferable, you can call us and speak to a customer care person too.

Through us you can access wheelchair insurance or mobility scooter insurance and car insurance for disability parking permit holders with well-priced premiums. If your mobility equipment is lost, damaged or stolen we’ll help pay the cost to repair or replace it. And that’s only one benefit of our coverage.

With Blue Badge Insurance, you can rest assured when you’re insured.  

Online learning – over to you

Have you tried online learning before? Tell us how you benefited from learning in this way and share any tips you have with our readers in the comments below.

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