Designing Digital Learning for Dyslexic Learners
For the last few decades, we have all been facing social and technical changes that impact how we approach education. With these changes and global access to training, we became more aware of the learning difficulties that many of us encounter. One out of ten adults are said to be dyslexic, so if we think of it, that is over 10% of our population. But how do we ensure that all of us have equitable access to online, blended learning? Let’s start with understanding what dyslexia is, and then look at the ways to design our learning to cater for all.
Dyslexia has often been associated with poor reading and writing skills and has had a negative connotation for a period of time. It was not until recent times that we became aware of what dyslexia symptoms look like, and there is still some confusion on the term itself (Elliott, 2020) and the definitions might vary across countries, cultures and approaches to it (Maunsell, 2020).
The Dyslexia Association of Ireland reviewed the definition in 2022 and states that dyslexia:
- Might differ on its spectrum from person to person.
- The common issues for dyslexia appear with reading, writing and spelling.
- It is connected with cognitive difficulties.
- It is very individual and depends on the environmental factors and age of a person.
- It does not impact other skills. However, dyslexic people might develop better problem-solving skills and be more resilient.
Most importantly, when well supported, learners with dyslexia are as successful when learning as regular learners.
Some facts on dyslexia
- It might be hereditary (neurobiological) and run in families. When acquired, it might be a result of trauma or stroke.
- It is not related to IQ. Famous people with dyslexia include Albert Einstein and Walt Disney.
- Dyslexic people might also struggle having dysgraphia (writing difficulty), dyscalculia (problems with numbers and maths) and dyspraxia (physical coordination difficulty).
How to design digital learning with dyslexia in mind?
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) gives some good underlying principles on how to make sure you design for all of your learners. You can use its framework at the early stage of your User Experience Design, however, you can easily ensure the following within your online or blended offerings for dyslexic learners:
1. Text-to-Speech Technology
Start with text-to-speech accommodations. Dyslexic students might need to use special assistive technology to process your content, so ensure the following:
- Font types are accessible .
- There is a clear contrast between the On-screen-Text and the background.
- Documentation/ resources are in editable formats. Do not allow your learners access any illegible documents/ scanned books or other sources.
- When providing feedback, type it as opposed to handwriting it.
- Allow your learners to produce work in multiple formats, not only written but also audio-visual or audio formats.
- Allow full-text customisation and switch on the accessibility features within the authoring tools you are using.
- Allow alternative text for all visuals you are using in your online resources/ assents.
- Use a learning platform that can be personalised and customised for the individual needs.
You can also suggest to your learners to use some of the technologies available to them for free. These include:
- Natural Readers https://www.naturalreaders.com/online/
- Amazon Text -to-Speech
- Read Speaker https://www.readspeaker.com/
2. Encourage the Use of Calendars and Notetaking
Dyslexic learners might find it difficult to manage their own time and learning so we need to support them in scheduling as much as possible. They can easily be distracted by irrelevant and confusing information. To assist them, you can consider the following:
- Use a calendar of events/classes and activities, it can be a Google Calendar or a Outlook Calendar or an inbuilt feature of your learning platform.
- If going for blended learning offering, make sure live classes are scheduled well in advance.
- Provide all assessment dates and deadlines in advance.
- Suggest some visual note-taking tools such as Miro.
- Divide your learning into smaller, digestible chunks so that learners can take notes and breaks when learning.
3. Inform and Support your Learners
Have clarity for your online offering and make sure you plan it well in terms of the learning path and its flow. Make sure you also have objectives and milestones within your digital learning courses:
- Have a clear navigation for your online courses – use repetitive structures and terminology to make it easier for your learners to find what is needed in your platform.
- Inform your learners on how they should navigate your platform. You can record a welcome video or have a course/programme handbook that will outline how to navigate and go about your courses.
- Provide access to FAQs, types of supports in your courses as well as suggesting spell-checking tools such as Grammarly .
4. Other Considerations
- Make sure all material is accessible all the time.
- When using virtual classroom sessions, make sure you record the sessions and ensure the recording is accessible to learners.
- In assessment strategies, allow for multiple ways of expression; avoid drag and drop and MCQs with similar answers.
- All hyperlinks are well described and linked to further readings.
- Provide learners with the list of reading materials that is core to their students as they might not be able to do it themselves.
- Allow extra time to read and process.
- Use visuals where possible to enhance learning experiences.
The key for dyslexic learners is the simplicity, goal-oriented learning schedules, and accessible on-screen text to enable processing with assistive technology. This, combined with UDL, can be a good starting point to design for ALL learners.
Dyslexia Association of Ireland. (2022, April 25). What is Dyslexia. Dyslexia Ireland. https://dyslexia.ie/info-hub/about-dyslexia/what-is-dyslexia/
Elliott, J.G. (2020). It’s Time to Be Scientific About Dyslexia. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S61– S75. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.333
IDA Editorial Contributors. (2020). Dyslexia Basics. International Dyslexia Association. https://dyslexiaida.org/dyslexia-basics/
Loftus, T. (2009). Supporting Students with Dyslexia. AHEAD Educational Press. https://www.ahead.ie/userfiles/files/shop/pay/DyslexiaHandbook.pdf
Maunsell, M. (2020). Dyslexia in a Global Context: A Cross-Linguistic, Cross-Cultural Perspective. Latin American Journal of Content & Language Integrated Learning, 13(1), 92-113. https://doi.org/10.5294/laclil.2020.13.1.6
Eva Kilar-Magdziarz is a Course Director at Digital Learning Institute. She has extensive experience in the educational context working on curriculum design, digital learning strategies, teaching, training and supporting in the field of instructional design, rolling out online learning. She has been working across multiple sectors as well as within primary, secondary and higher education as a teacher, teacher trainer, tutor, and director of studies.
Eva holds a MSc degree in Applied in Learning, as well as degrees in English Philology, Teaching English as a Second Language and Translation and Interpreting. Her field of research and interest would be instructional design with a focus on effective multimedia design for languages as well as accessibility in digital learning.