Personalized learning requires attention to the unique needs of all students—particularly students with learning difficulties or physical disabilities—so that all students have equal access to learning experiences.
Many educators turn to accessible technology to create inclusive learning environments and provide each student with the tools they need in order to learn best.
Accessible technology is a technology that's been designed with the needs of many different users in mind. It's technology with built-in customization features so that the user can individualize their experience to meet their needs. The term covers a wide range of different technologies, from voice-to-text and text-to-voice assistants to screen magnifiers and talking calculators. While the technology may seem simple, the results can be profound. NWEA recently integrated accessibility and accommodations capabilities into its MAP assessment, giving students with visual disabilities the opportunity to take the test and show what they know. This groundbreaking work is paving the way for conversations about how accessible technology can be used to personalize education and remove barriers, addressing one form of equity in the classroom.
While accessible technology is a must for students with physical disabilities, educators often overlook the value of using accessible technology to benefit all students. When students personalize technology to fit their unique learning styles, they not only position themselves for success in their educational experiences, but also develop a lifelong learning partnership with technology. For example, text-to-voice assistants can help remove barriers for English Language Learners or students with reading difficulties and thereby allow for increased comprehension in grade-level texts.
Using accessible technology doesn’t necessarily require expensive purchases or complex restructuring of the way you currently teach. A recent report by UNESCO entitled Accessible ICTs and Personalized Learning for Students with Disabilities outlines some practical solutions to make the most of your existing technology and ensure accessibility for all students, including those with disabilities:
- Maximize use of accessibility features in current school technology. Mainstream computers and other technology used in schools often include settings and features that enhance accessibility. Check with your school’s technology leaders to learn more about built-in accessibility features that may help students without requiring new technology.
- Facilitate learning the life skill of using personalized technology. This skill will benefit students as they progress through the educational system and into the workforce.
- Consider students’ accessibility needs early in curriculum development. And create teaching materials that are accessible to students with disabilities. When teachers understand how to adjust curriculum and create accessible technology materials, they are better able to successfully integrate students with disabilities into learning activities.
- Inquire about training, curriculum resources, and accessibility contacts. Teacher training and support is critical. For teachers to be able to help students personalize their technology and adjust accessibility settings, teachers must first have the necessary knowledge, skills, and resources themselves. Also, accessibility is a complex subject that requires an understanding of how learning style differences and disabilities impact computer use. Inquire about who to contact within the school or local community for information about accessibility.
What are some best practices as we strive to personalize learning and be inclusive of all students, including those with special needs? Join the conversation and let’s learn from one another.