Learning Together – the challenges and possibilities of learning differences

By | 2019-03-28T11:05:51+00:00 August 17th, 2018|0 Comments

Over the years of running Learning Together courses we have found that many of our students have questions around possible learning difficulties and note that sometimes differences in learning styles mean they have trouble accessing some of the materials, or writing the essay at the end of the course.

At the heart of Learning Together, is the idea that bringing all of our differences together makes our learning more transformative. We that realising this ambition requires careful thought, which includes careful thought about specific learning differences (SLDs). We understand that learning can be difficult and even frustrating, where insufficient thought is given to the diverse ways in which we all learn, and the different forms of support we may all need to realise our learning goals. We also acknowledge that each learner may not know exactly why they find some things harder than other people seem to, and that this can lead to low self-esteem and negative feelings towards learning. This may be for a number of reasons, including a lack of funding for assessment and diagnoses, which can have the knock on effect that the necessary support isn’t put in place.

So what are ‘Specific Learning Differences’?

On behalf of the Learning Together Team, I attended a briefing put on by the University of Cambridge to learn about SLDs and see what help might be available to support the LT community, and enrich our practices.

What we have learnt so far, is that the term SLD is an umbrella to describe a range of learning differences, which include dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism spectrum disorder. There is often an overlap in symptoms between these specific diagnoses, and all share difficulties in information processing. The Venn diagram below, about neuro-diversity, and the SLD overview handout below, provide further information about individual diagnoses.


A RESOURCE FROM THE BRIEFING, ORIGINALLY SOURCED FROM DANDA

Importantly, an SLD diagnosis does not demonstrate a lack of capability; just that the individual may process and learn differently from others. No two people with SLDs present their symptoms or learning differences in the same way; many develop strategies throughout their life that allow them to complete tasks and excel in their learning.

We acknowledge that it is early days in our thinking, but we want to use what we have learned about SLDs to make the whole learning Learning Together environment and experience as accessible and inclusive as possible – helping us to fulfil a key value of Learning Together – nurturing talent wherever it is found.. We also want to promote understanding of SLDs within the Learning Together community.

What might this mean for Learning Together?

As a result of the briefing, I created some LT and SLD-friendly resources which we intend to share with course conveners next year to help them think about how to build a more inclusive learning environment.

Our use of technology to support learning has huge potential for increasing the accessibility of the learning experience. We are actively exploring ways in which we can strengthen our existing practices in this area and hope to implement innovations in time for the start of this academic year. This will include developing further audio-visual resources to complement written content and hopefully upgrading our Digital Learning Platform to include text to speech or speech to text software. We also hope to include an SLD resource page on the Platform, which we hope may be helpful for students who might be encountering challenges in their learning and are looking for good strategies that may help. Into the future, we plan to deepen our understanding of SLDs and will continue to work hard as a team and with our students to think about ways to develop our content and delivery so that everyone’s learning can be transformed by the skills of each and every student. Watch this space!

Izzie Rowbotham

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