E-learning is a method of education that requires the learner to use a device to access content or a curriculum online. This method of education can consist of the ability to research, complete games-based activities, receive homework, watch videos, take lessons and more. E-learning makes any curriculum much more convenient and accessible, granted that the learners have a device to learn on and an internet connection. In addition, many e-learning platforms are free and compatible between learners and their institutional curriculum. Instructors can analyse their learners's progress and can adapt content for the benefit of the learner(s).
Learners with a neurodiversity experience education differently. Dyslexic learners often demonstrate difficulties with reading, spelling, phonological awareness, verbal memory and processing speeds. Similarly, learners with ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may be more hyperactive and impulsive resulting in difficulties with conforming to classroom norms such as rule-following or task completion. However, these learners are often misunderstood as inattentive, lazy, unmotivated and having poor attention spans. Such stigmatising language places immense social and academic pressure on these learners making them feel inadequate, anxious and can cause low self-confidence and self-esteem due to their behavioural and academic divergence.
In a neurotypical educational environment, it is incredibly difficult to alter the blanket teaching method to suit each individual in the class, thus learners with neurodiversity are often placed in lower sets. This creates a huge oversight where neither learners nor their instructors are unable to realise their full potential, when in reality all they need are learning methods catered to their needs and ways of thinking. However, in recent times many have advocated the adoption of neurodiversity paradigm in the education system (Victoria Honeybourne, 2018, Aitken and Fletcher-Watson, 2022). Simple ways to integrate time management and sensory sensitivity into classrooms do exist to make neurotypical learning more accessible. Raising hands to answer questions, maintaining routines, or harnessing sensory differences are some of the many different ways that can soothe the learner.
However, struggling to be understood by their peers combined with targeted bullying and social exclusion can cause frustration and anxiety in learners' social relationships. Learners consequently tend to mask their differences to fit in causing further stress, and lower self-esteem.
The fact that the COVID-19 pandemic pushed learning online meant that any additional support provided by institutions for neurodiverse learners was lessened and placed within the responsibility of this same support, attention and environment on the parent/guardian at home. Contrarily, the move to online learning was received differently too. One learner with Asperger's found it easier to engage in smaller groups in virtual breakout rooms than in large classrooms. On the other hand, another learner with Asperger's and ADHD expressed that they struggled to retain and provide feedback on what they had learnt online (Bali & Caines, 2020).
Consequently, e-learning has the potential to support neurodiverse learners in the specific ways they may require. One of the theories of learning styles suggest that people learn through one of the following learning methods - visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile, and olfactory (Laird, 1985). Multi-sensory learning techniques make use of two or more of these learning methods, and is becoming increasingly popular amongst students who have ADHD, Dyslexia. E-learning software can offer multi-sensory learning techniques spanning visual, auditory and kinesthetic methods, so that the same content can be taught to learners in the modes they respond to best. For instance, when learning to count, some learners would respond when they are shown the number. Other learners may benefit from additional stimuli, such as sound, to grasp the concept of numbers and counting or use these as modes of encouragement. Such multi-sensory associative cues increase the interactivity and stickiness of the content. Camera access also allows learners to merge e-learning with the world around them, with possibilities to create digital art and interact between dimensions. This is of great benefit to learners with dyslexia and ADHD, and allows for the personalisation of learning styles to all learners.
E-learning platforms which also apply Machine Learning technology can also allow the flow of teaching, such as lesson plans and quizzes, to be specifically tailored to each learner. For example, if the software is able to identify not only the mistakes, but also the patterns of mistakes made by a learner, then future content on the app/tool can be tailored to re-enforce the rules the learner has been unable to grasp. Enforcing rule-based learning will allow the learner to target their weaknesses and break habitual learning patterns. Even when reviewing old information, there can be a targeted focus on areas which the learner struggled with in the past.
The scope of machine learning can be utilised in more subtle and nuanced circumstances as well. From assessment styles, auditory or visual prompts, the time taken to complete tasks to design preferences such as font sizes, font styles, line spacing, sounds, colour schemes can all be tailored manually but also through interaction history. Neurodivergent learners have difficulty with specific font styles and read better if the text is changed to their preferred font style. This can easily be done on e-learning platforms. Colour coding, visual aids, coloured overlays are all proven to be useful and even soothing to learners with neurodiversity, but particularly learners with ADHD, autism and dyslexia. Alongside this, studies have also shown that neurodivergent students prefer certain colours or respond well to specific colours. For example, according to Rogers and Short (2010), neurodivergent learners prefer tranquil greens and blues. Hence, while developing study materials for neurodivergent learners, one needs to be sensitive to these factors. Therefore, by using the flexibility of e-learning, it allows each learner to alter the material according to their preferences and have a unique experience on the same platform. Most importantly, it allows learners to work in a non-judgemental environment, from a classroom or from the comfort of their home, independently or even with a guardian's supervision.
These preferences can be gained through gamified techniques and can also tailor the types of games learners are presented with for their learning. Game-based learning also increases the interactivity of the app/tool; it can present real-life scenarios to capture the learner's interest, create a sense of predictability and consistency to support learners with ASD or ADHD. Games can also stimulate learners to think logically through problem-solving formats; for example reaction games, puzzles, and matching games. Additionally, e-learning which makes use of conversational AI technology can also develop communication skills. The possibilities for gamified, structured and personalised learning are endless and having sensory references in games invoke a greater sense of discovery and motivation to learn.
E-learning can utilise creative rewarding strategies to further incentivise and motivate learners either visually, materially or through sound. Research has demonstrated that if a learner is able to see and track their own progress, they will be more inclined to return to the learning platform, challenge themselves and use self-reflection as a form of intrinsic motivation to improve (Glover, 2013). The integration of e-learning into a neurodiverse learner's education is incredibly dependent on each user. How they should utilise their e-learning tools will depend on their emotional status, their physical environment and whether their e-learning experience should be independent or guided. However, e-learning grants the scope to set and monitor each learners tasks.
E-Learning also maintains the scope for emotional regulation. This has been demonstrated by recent technology and software focusing on prompting interventions based on talking, listening, breathing and establishing routines by setting reminders for the users real life. Particularly, the use of an animated interactive character can act as a peer mentor and offer cues, confidence boosters, all in a manner which suits the user best.
Teddy AI is here to help! Teddy AI is a conversational study buddy for kids, with real-time interactive conversational AI, research-based learning techniques, constructive reward methods, and neurodiverse-friendly gameplay. It's designed to help kids learn and revise school subjects in an interactive manner. It also helps improve spoken communication skills and vocabulary as well as build confidence in social settings by giving kids constructive feedback on their performance during games.
We conducted a survey to gather people's thoughts and views about the user-friendliness of presenting information for people with a neurodiversity or a learning disability. People who have a neurodiversity and/or a learning disability, and who were 16+ years were eligible to take part in the study. Participants were asked to complete a short, online questionnaire which started with some demographic questions followed by some specific questions about different ways of presenting the information. The focus was on the following variables:
Participants were asked to rate their preference when showing sentences which varied on the above mentioned variables. The results were used to feed into the development of Teddy AI and the way information is presented on the app.
Learning and reward strategies are also important elements in the continuous development and enhancement of Teddy AI. Below is a list of several of these strategies and steps that we have taken in Teddy AI to support learners:
Rewards strategies can be very useful in creating good habits for learners through positive reinforcement. Alongside verbal praise, Teddy AI has the capacity to provide interactive rewards to encourage long-term positive attitudes to education and inspires a motivation to complete their activities and return to the app.
Aitken, D., & Fletcher-Watson, S. (2022, December 15). Neurodiversity-affirmative education: why and how? BPS.https://www.bps.org.uk/psychologist/neurodiversity-affirmative-education-why-and-how
Dugan Laird. (1985). Approaches to training and development. Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.
Glover, I. (2013, June 24). Play As You Learn: Gamification as a Technique for Motivating Learners. Www.learntechlib.org; Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). https://www.learntechlib.org/p/112246/
Honeybourne, V. (2018, May 20). Neurodiversity in education. Www.autism.org.uk.https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/professional-practice/neurodiversity-education
Kasuya, Y. (2011). Musical attention control training influences on sustained attention of a child with ADHD in a continuous performance test.
Rogers, J. & Short, J. (2010). Sensory differences [Online Training Module]