Online Classes and Learning Disabilities: 8 Tips for Success
What do Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Charles Schwab, and Tommy Hilfiger have in common? They’ve all been CEOs of their own companies, and they’ve all had learning disabilities. In fact, overcoming those challenges gave them the resilience to become successful in business. If you’ve struggled through high school with learning and you’ve felt like giving up, you should know that plenty of successful people have struggled with learning challenges. They’ve also found success, both in school and in their careers.
Learning disabilities can make college challenging, but they don’t have to stop you from getting an education. Getting an online degree is one path to a successful and rewarding career. The online classroom might present some unique challenges when you have a learning disability. However, you can overcome those challenges and get the degree that you’ve dreamed of having by following a few simple tips.
1. Start Prepping While You’re in High School
When you have a learning disability, you might feel tempted to take lower-level classes in high school. However, even though you might struggle with digesting written information, you have what it takes to learn the material. Go ahead and take advanced classes if you know you can tackle the coursework. Even if you don’t get perfect grades, the knowledge and self-discipline that you’ll gain will prepare you for college. Plus, you won’t get stuck taking boring remedial courses once you start your online education.
2. Update Your Documentation
Before you start your college education, ask someone who has a graduate degree in special education to update all of your documentation, including your IEP. When you start your online classes, you can provide this information to your school when you ask for accommodations. Most colleges will honor documentation that’s no less than two years old.
3. Pick a University That Gets It
Many college guides offer information about acceptance rates, average test scores, and other admissions information, but they don’t offer much insight into how colleges accommodate students with learning disabilities. Look for materials that specifically address your needs before you choose a college. Some examples include guides from:
• Peterson’s. Research your university in “Colleges With Programs for Students With Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorders.”
• Princeton Review. Check out “The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities or AD/HD.”
• Shaw, Madaus, and Dukes. Read through their book, “Preparing Students With Disabilities for College Success.”
4. Look for a Universal Learning Platform
The best online courses incorporate multiple ways of delivering your course material. It’s a concept that educators call “universal design,” and it means that you can get your information via text, audio, and video. Before you enroll in a school, ask whether the school’s learning management system, which is the computer application that delivers your online courses, incorporates universal design. Some universal design-friendly learning management systems include Blackboard, Moodle, and Desire2Learn.
5. Ask for What You Need
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires all universities to make their online classes accessible to everyone regardless of disability. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of guidance telling universities what they’re required to do, which means that you have to spell out your requirements to your professors. If you need note-taking tools or special software, be ready to advocate for yourself. Tell the university exactly what you need, and be persistent until your teachers accommodate you.
6. Tap Local Resources
Online degrees offer so much flexibility when you’re working and going to school. However, it’s tough to get the same one-on-one assistance that you receive when you’re on-campus. Look for tutors or other support services in the town where you live.
7. Get Some Distance From Your Parents
Your parents have been instrumental in supporting your education. They probably helped you to get special education services when you were young, and they advocated for you through high school. However, once you start your online degree program, you’re responsible for your academic needs. Avoid asking your parents to contact professors or other university personnel on your behalf. Also, if needed, have a respectful but frank conversation with them about respecting your independence.
8. Believe in Yourself
Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Charles Schwab, and Tommy Hilfiger fulfilled big dreams and became great leaders in spite of their learning disabilities. Your online degree can give you the tools to follow in their footsteps.
Sir Richard Branson image by Jarle Naustvik from Flickr Creative Commons