The gains of remote learning for students with disabilities

Remote learning has benefitted students with disabilities during the pandemic. Is blended learning key to retaining these benefits as we return to normality?

3 min readPublished: 19 Apr 2021

Remote learning practices rapidly introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic have removed many of the barriers to education experienced by those with disabilities. While many students and teachers will welcome a return to the normality of in-person teaching, the challenge will be to reintegrate learners without losing the enormous benefits of online education for disabled students and blended learning approaches.

Benefits of online learning for students

The transition to remote learning has been incredible. By April 2020, just a month into the pandemic, 80% of children in US schools could access some form of online tuition.

Students, teachers and institutions have had to rapidly adapt, using unfamiliar (and in some cases, untested) teaching tools and technologies. It’s not always been easy, but it seems the investment has paid off.

Virtual solutions are helping disabled students to overcome many of the physical challenges they experience accessing education. Online education for disabled students provides them with equitable access at the most basic level as nobody has to jostle for space in a crowded theatre or struggle to hear a lecturer. But the benefits are much more profound.

A recent study published in the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, Nicholas Gelbar, an associate research professor with the Neag School of Education, surveyed 340 disabled students. He asked students in both two and four-year programs a series of questions designed to measure their perceptions and learn about their remote learning experiences.

Students with accommodations are benefiting from increased engagement with disability service providers. Given access to 1-1 support, students can better discuss their need for accommodations with their professors and support workers.

New technologies such as Glean are opening up greater opportunities for learning and engagement, Gelbar found

“(Disabled students) were able to change how they took notes, because they were able to watch an online lecture and then watch it over again, so they could take notes multiple ways.”

Glebar found that students felt supported by their institutions, faculty, and disability services offices. Overall, most felt that online education for disabled students was positive, improving the learning experience.

Build back better

An online-only model isn’t without its problems. The pandemic has highlighted disparities in education for students with disabilities. Disabled students still face difficulties in accessing support and accommodations, with many colleges still failing to signpost support clearly. Many also face struggles with their mental health.

The vaccination programme is picking up speed, and it won’t be long before classrooms begin to fill up again. But in a rush to return to normal, educators may miss a golden opportunity to harness the huge benefits disabled students have gained.

The future of higher education is likely to be a hybrid approach, where students are empowered to choose whether they attend in-person or online. Institutions will increasingly need to use frameworks such as the Universal Design for Learning to create flexible and fulfilling learning environments.

Driving the shift will be greater adoption of new technologies that transform accommodations from a burden into a benefit. “In the online format, we can make things more accessible to students,” says Gelbar, “and the more that we do that proactively, it’s not only benefiting students with disabilities, but all students.”

Is your college ready for digital transformation?

With plans for the future of post-Covid education taking shape, it’s time to think about how your department can make itself ready.

It’s become clear that many institutions are using this opportunity to radically transform how they operate, introducing new digital infrastructure and supports designed to future-proof higher ed.

And disability services will be no exception.

Find out how Glean for Education could help you solve common problems with note taking support while setting your students up for future success.

Time for a simpler, smarter note taking accommodation?

Glean is the online note taking tool that makes compliance simple, reduces cost and admin burden, and improves student outcomes.

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