AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
Creating inclusive environments in education & employment for people with disabilities.

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AHEAD is delighted to release 'Learning from Home: Placing inclusion at the heart of online learning and support' A Survey of Irish FET and HE Students with Disabilities - a report gathering the findings of the AHEAD survey of learners with disabilities which has followed up on the findings of the 2020 Learning from Home report. Learning from Home 2020 report available here.

The Learning from Home 2021 Report includes:

  • How Students Coped
  • Accessibility
  • Digital Divide
  • Supports
  • Hopes for the Future
  • AHEAD Recommendations

This survey aims to shine a light on the reality for students with disabilities on the ground who are doing their best to continue learning ‘as normal’ in a situation that is still in flux. The report hopes to authentically gather the experiences of learners with disabilities and bring their voice to the decision-making process about our response as a sector and a nation. It seeks to use the use the voice of learners to highlight key challenges and issues which we can collectively address together – government bodies, institutions, ETBs, teaching staff and independent bodies like AHEAD all have a role to play in responding effectively.

We hope that this research, alongside the many other valuable pieces of work being conducted by others in the sector, can contribute to informing the response of the sector and help to create better outcomes for learners with disabilities on the ground.

findings at a glance

  • More students coping well one year on, but 42% still reacted negatively (24% “disagreed” and 18% “strongly disagreed” to the statement 'I am coping well learning from home'.
  • Half find on-campus learning more accessible, but one third find learning from home more accessible.
  • Increase in AT use and sole laptop ownership, but more AT training needed to maximise its effectiveness. The use of Assistive Technology (AT) increased from 26% to 40% of students, representing a 54% increase in usage.
  • Majority had good experiences with support services and implementation of recommended supports, but significant minority had negative experiences and cite long response times and needs assessment delays.
  • Mixed preferences regarding modes of learning, but 88% of students want recorded lectures, 78% want more choice in assessment, and 77% want more disability awareness training for staff.

 

 Policy Implications/Recommendations

  • Recorded and captioned lectures/classes should be retained across all departments and disciplines. Across this report and a range of national research, students have expressed a clear desire for the retention of recorded lectures/classes, with the flexibility it provides students in when they engage in learning highlighted in the qualitative data, as well as the benefits for students with disabilities in terms of reviewing at their own pace and utilising captions for comprehension.
  • As colleges/centres devise contingency plans for any potential return to fully remote learning due to any additional imposition of Covid restrictions, these plans should not be solely focussed upon academic performance/practice, but also consider mental health, well-being and the broader third FE/HE experience. While it is impossible to predict the potential changes that may be advanced by Covid, it is possible to be prepared for a return to learning from home. Every effort should be made to facilitate an academic year that does not place undue mental health difficulties on participating students, such as those highlighted in the qualitative data that accompanies this research.
  • Institutions should make a commitment to provide more variety and choice in the modes of learning within their offerings, by implementing more fully online, blended and hybrid learning programmes. Our research has revealed that 49% of survey participants would prefer on-line teaching/activities to remain a part of future learning, (39% blended learning, 10% to remain exclusively at home). This finding has been corroborated by a number of major Irish research projects that were conducted during the pandemic. (HEA, 2021; IUA, 2021). If this cultural shift is to become a reality, a strategic commitment must be made by institutions, underpinned by resources, oversight and quality assurance.
  • This research has demonstrated tangible and commendable progress in addressing of the pre-pandemic digital divide, primarily as evidenced upon greater laptop/PC access and an increase in the use of AT evidenced in this report. However, qualitative comments in the research highlight the need for more bespoke training for students in the use of AT to maximise their effectiveness and provide better return on investment in these technologies.
  • The findings in this report highlight the huge diversity of experience of students with disabilities of online learning, as well as the significant diversity of views and desires for how they wish to experience teaching and learning. Pandemic teaching and learning has inadvertently highlighted the value of providing more flexibility and choice in pedagogical practice to ensure we reach all learners; all of which are central to a Universal Design of Learning (UDL) approach. As an evidence-based framework of teaching that fosters inclusivity, agency, flexibility and choice, a UDL approach will support quality and equity as blended and hybrid learning becomes embedded the pedagogical landscape. UDL is effective in both a high-tech and no-tech environment and this versatility should be harnessed and become embedded in the teaching practices of all FE and HE institutions regardless of remote learning.

Download Learning From Home 2021 Report