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The objective of this article is to examine the impact of E-learning pedagogy at the primary school level from the point of view of students with dyslexia. It will aim to provide foundational knowledge that will lead to a firmer understanding of the fundamental characteristics of students with dyslexia and how the students can cope up with new technologies used in an e-learning environment. A better understanding of students with dyslexia is important in e-learning and will help primary school teachers understand and evaluate possible instructional interventions to help their students succeed in the classroom. This study aims to provide practical support to school educators and teachers how to impart e-learning programmes for primary schools students. E-learning in a blended learning approach will help dyslexic students.
Keywords: E-learning, Dyslexia, Learning Disabilities, primary school students, Problems and solutions
The World Wide Web is being increasingly used in schools, at work and for leisure. It has started captivating very young minds and as early as 6 to 7 year old children. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have developed at enormous speed and changed societys expectations of the role of these technologies in education. These technologies that are involved in the continuing evolution of elearning are happening at a very astonishing rate (Chadha & Kumail, 2002). This phenomenal growth of such technologies is putting increased pressure on primary and higher educational institutions to implement e-learning applications and networked learning programmes. The increasing presence of informational communicational technology in education has brought considerable changes in learning and teaching processes (Matthew Etherington, 2008).
In a traditional setting the teacher and the teaching style are the center of learning in the classroom. This traditional teaching style is no longer adequate for learners because of the fast pace at which information is rapidly spreading. Over a decade ago computers were used to teach but it was one-way learning. Currently, students are able to gain more knowledge from the internet and computer assisted teaching can only supplement regular teaching. There is more interaction between the students and the computer. However, this may not be the case with all primary school learners, especially students with dyslexia.
There is currently much discussion about e-learning in schools, especially in the primary, secondary and higher secondary levels. It can be argued that the all-encompassing technology will inevitably have an impact on traditional learning.
E-learning is the instructional content or learning experience delivered or enabled by electronic technologies (Ong, Lai and Wang, 2004). It assists and augments learning through the use of electronic devices based on computer and communications technology. E-learning can be defined as:
the use of electronic technology and media to deliver support and enhance teaching, learning and assessment. It includes elements of communication within and between communities of learners and teachers, as well as provision of online content, which may be locally generated or developed elsewhere (Bristol University - OLeary et al, 2003).
Modern day students are technology driven and wish to be efficient and successful. These learners would like to access information faster and easier. They welcome e-learning technologies. It can be argued that only computers and the related software can deliver instructional programs and information faster covering virtually any area of the curriculum and geared to any age or ability level (Westwood, 2008). Higher education institutions increasingly include courses on entrepreneurship and innovation in their curricula. E-learning is therefore being welcomed by many educational institutions as a constructive step towards improving performance, learning, speed, flexibility, versatility, interactivity and eventually enabling learners to be more autonomous (Chen, Lin and Kinshuk , 2004).
There are two categories of e-learning, namely synchronous and asynchronous. In a synchronous e-learning environment, students are taught using computers in real-time where teachers and students are connected via streaming audio or video or through a chat room. In the case of asynchronous e-learning, students can access and download and use software at any convenient time. The student can communicate with the teacher or even with other students through e-mail.
In many primary schools around the world, asynchronous e-learning programmes are offered in the school curriculum due to the easy availability of customised software programmes and because these programmes are flexible, easy to use and cost efficient.
E-learning technologies have not only offered opportunities to learn but also to entertain young minds. A vast majority of primary school students are interested in playing computer games at home and in school. These entertaining games motivate and challenge the children (Kafai, 2001). The use of computers in classrooms has given students the opportunity to be more engaged in learning. Learning and gaming have motivated students to as compared to conventional classroom teaching (Knobloch, 2005). Swan, Van Hooft, Kratcoski, and Unger (2005) examined students who had access to e-learning technologies and reported that the motivation to learn and engagement in learning activities was enhanced by the use of mobile computing. Lim and Tay (2003) studied and found that students who use e-learning tools such as ICT were engaged in higher-order thinking.
Do primary school students benefit from e-learning?
There are a number of unique advantages that e-learning offers primary schools students:
1. A student can access the learning program at any time that is convenient. Normally in a conventional learning environment a student is only occupied with specific subjects that are taught. In an e-learning environment the student can use e-learning tools at school as well as at home.
2. A student does not have to meet his/her tutor and yet can exchange ideas and receive suggestions.
3. The interaction is asynchronous and communication can be exchanged at any time a student or a tutor chooses to.
4. Students can work in groups and collaborate to share electronic conversations that can be creative and thoughtful.
5. It assists primary school teachers as well as educators to share innovations in their work.
In spite of the advantages researchers are skeptic and have voiced concerns and argue that e-learning does not have a big impact on teaching and learning. Yelland, Dr Nicola (2001) quotes Larry Cuban (Cuban, L 1997) in the argument that: there is no clear, commanding body of evidence that students sustained use of multimedia machines, the Internet, word processing, spreadsheets, and other popular applications has any impact on academic achievement. Although it has been widely claimed that e-learning has the potential to benefit education, information and communications technology has not made a big impact on teaching and learning in schools (Jamieson-Proctor, Burnett, Finger & Watson, 2006).
Matthew Etherington (2008) is of the opinion that e-learning offers great promise as a powerful tool and it can be integrated into curriculum and instruction to enhance education. However, he also argues that e-learning technology spawns a homogenisationa McDonalisation of education and a de-humanisation of its customers and makes specific reference to primary school students. In view of these considerations it can be said that e-learning does not offer much to education (Matthew Etherington, 2008).
An Overview of Dyslexia
Dyslexia is a neurological based and is a learning specific disability, characterized by language handling efficiencies, impairment in the ability to recognize and translate words into sentences. It is said that reading disability can be continuous and it is not a temporary ailment which can occur in a person of any level of intelligence. Dyslexia can be hereditary or could be a hormonal development and can be caused by brain injury. Dyslexia can be identified as distinctive patterns of difficulties relating to the processing of information within a continuum from very mild to extremely severe which result in restrictions in literacy development and discrepancies in performance within the curriculum (Reid, 1996).
The definition of dyslexia for the purpose of this study is that which has been proposed by the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) :
The word 'dyslexia' comes from the Greek and means 'difficulty with words'. It is a difference in the brain area that deals with language. It affects the under-lying skills that are needed for learning to read, write and spell. Brain imaging techniques show that dyslexic people process information differently. Dyslexic people, of all ages, can learn effectively but often need a different approach. (British Dyslexia Association, 2005)
Dyslexic students experience difficulties in recognising and expressing words and do not have the ability to decode and spell words. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction (Lyon, Shaywitz, & Shaywitz, 2003). Problems can occur in reading, spelling and writing, speaking or listening. Although Dyslexia is not a disease, it cannot be medically treated or cured. A dyslexic mind is different from the normal. Dyslexic students are not low in intelligence. Dyslexic students are gifted beings who need special education. There is an unexpected gap that exists between the ability to learn and accomplish tasks in a school environment. Dyslexic students do not behavioural, emotional, motivational, or social problems. People with dyslexia have unique characteristics in spite of the differences in the mental make-up and function of the brain. People with dyslexia are like normal beings as both have strengths and weaknesses. They are imaginative and have extraordinary talent in various fields, whether it is engineering or art, athletics or graphics, music or drama. They have very special talent because they good visual spatial awareness and skills. They have good hand-eye co-ordination because of the have Visual Motor Integration ability. They are able to use muscles in a coordinated and controlled manner, but may not be able to match the co-ordination with the brain.
The most important characteristic of dyslexic students is that they are not capable of reading fluently. The main difficulty in dyslexia is that there is a lack of phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is defined as the ability to isolate and manipulate consciously the sounds of the language and relate them to the appropriate written letters or letter combinations (Nijakowska, 2000). Dyslexics are not capable of constructing or deconstructing words into phonological segments. They are unable to interpret the reading symbols based on the process of merging or analysing sound segments and rearranging phonetic elements (Downey, Snyder & Hill 2000). There are several basic challenges and difficulties that are faced by people with dyslexia. They are unable to pronounce words or speak correctly or use proper grammar. They misspell words and are unable to understand the resonance of letters and their sounds. However, people with dyslexia are confronted with learning problems from very young ages and therefore are unable to acquire prescribed verbal skills. This challenge begins when dyslexic children are being admitted to pre-schools. This challenge is sometimes so great that dyslexic children often suffer emotionally from low self-esteem and low confidence (Shaywitz, M.D., Sally, 2004).
There are suggested two types of Dyslexia (Carlson, 1998):
(a) Secondary or developmental dyslexia: This form of dyslexia is caused dues to biological irregularities which are usually hereditary or genetic. This anomaly occurs in the brain and at different stages as early as prenatal and develops when the child grows. This type of dyslexia is caused either during the development of hormones or during the initial stages of the development of the fetus. Malnutrition is another cause which occurs due to poor parenting, maltreatment and neglect. All these happen when the infant is just born and continues during the developmental years. Developmental dyslexia diminishes as the child matures and grows. It is developmental dyslexia that is neurobiological in origin which disables the child causing learning disability. This specific learning disability is called developmental dyslexia. Children during the early years try to learn new words and acquire capabilities to recognise words. However, secondary dyslexia hinders any development and the child is unable to accurately spell words or recognise words. These difficulties occur as the child has the deficiency of not able to decode the phonological component of the language. Secondary consequences also include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge (Lyon, Shaywitz & Shaywitz, 2003).
(b) Acquired or Trauma Dyslexia is caused by brain trauma. The trauma occurs before child birth or after birth. The characteristics of this form of dyslexia is that same as that of developmental learning disability.
There is yet another type called Primary dyslexia which is caused by a dysfunction or damage of cerebrum. This type of dyslexia does change as the child grows. The child becomes an invalid after a certain age as comprehension becomes very difficult. They are unable to read, spell or write. Primary dyslexia is hereditary which is caused by the passage of genes through a family lineage. This type of dyslexia is found more often in boys than in girls (Stevenson.N 1999).
There are also advantages for being a dyslexic student or person. According to Shaywitz, M.D, Sally (2004) and West, Thomas G. (1997) dyslexic people have multiple strengths despite their handicap. These strengths are associated with dyslexia which include an enormous amount of energy, the drive to succeed, the ambition to become a noteworthy person and the ability to focus on tasks that they are very interest in. However, it is ironic that these strengths, besides the disability to spell, read or pronounce well, have joined forces to cultivate remarkable imagination. All these strengths have given them the courage to identify problem areas and the acumen to solve the problems. In his book, In the Minds Eye, Thomas West elucidates that the so called handicap of certain individuals can become an ideal tool that can be used by them to overcome difficult challenges. Dyslexic individuals realise that all problems are opportunities.
A handicap of one sort or another may intensify motivation, mold characters, or help one to learn many things, but it would appear to me wholly insufficient to explain the most towering and unexpected achievements, such as Einsteins theories or Edisons inventions. On the contrary, what is being suggested here is that for a certain group of people the handicap itself may be fundamentally and essentially associated with a gift (West, Thomas G,1997)
It is common for primary school children to develop basic word recognition skills. Dyslexic students will not be able to connect letters with sounds. This leads to mispronunciation. They also have difficulty remembering basic sight vocabulary.
They are unable to sequence and monitor words and will exhibit reading and spelling errors. During the childhood development stages, students continue to have considerable amount of problems in recognising words. At later stages they have trouble dealing with more advanced reading activities. This deficiency will not enable them to succeed in elementary and secondary grades. However, it is heartening to know that e-learning technologies have the potential to improve learning opportunities for students with disabilities. (Arkansas Department of Education Special Education, 2007).
The impact of e-learning on dyslexia
The use of interactive multimedia has proven particularly suitable for students with dyslexia. Multimedia is an e-learning tool which can augment the accomplishment of dyslexic students. The use of colours and images as well as sound encourages feedback and provides an unlimited capacity for repeating and learning at the students own pace. The social interaction that the World Wide Web provides is welcomed by children with developmental disabilities. Students with dyslexia have restricted ability to work with text and printed matter but multimedia provides new opportunities for them.
Learners with dyslexia have long been encouraged to use language and literacy related software or e-learning programmes. These programmes are usually generic in nature and proposed for discrete learning and use. Software or e-learning programmes are not designed specifically for dyslexics. However, these programmes offer some clear advantages to dyslexic learners, as they deal with some of the most commonly acknowledged characteristics of dyslexia. They are prearranged and in sequence making it rigid. The programmes are either too broad or too precise may not suit the requirements of the learners. However, they are multisensory, as sound, colour and images are used which are of immense help to dyslexic learners. At times they are also interactive (Department for Education and Skills, 2004).
The normal problems faced by users of e-learning programmes are that of accessibility and web design. In the case of students with learning disabilities the problems are far beyond those of accessibility and web design. Dyslexic students have cognitive disabilities and e-learning will only causes during the learning process. While multi-media related programmes may be helpful, text-based e-learning may relegate dyslexic students. They will not be motivated as they cannot read or spell if e-learning is in text from. E-learning or networked learning is asynchronous. Networked learning therefore, in addition to having the well-publicised advantages of bridging distances, accommodating different learning paces and catering for differing cognitive styles, may have the disadvantage of creating barriers to students with cognitive disabilities, including dyslexia (Woodfine. B.T, et al, 2005).
One of the examples of networked e-learning is Virtual Learning Environment or VLE, which is also called virtual reality as users feel that they exist in an artificial environment (Trindade, Fiolhais & Almeida, 2002). Users are totally immersed in an Virtual Learning Environment. VLE is usually a network-based computer program in which users move and interact in simulated 3D spaces (Dickey, 2005). VLEs are ideal platforms for people with intellectual and learning disabilities. It is because of this reason that VLEs are widely used in special education (Standen, Brown & Cromby, 2001). VLEs are ideally suited for people with dyslexia as they have a tendency to be passive. VLEs can
i) create opportunities for them to learn by making mistakes but without suffering the consequences of errors;
ii) be manipulated in ways the real world cannot be, and
iii) convey rules and abstract concepts without the use of language or other symbols (Cromby, Standen, & Brown, 1996).
Dyslexia and E-learning in Kuwait
In Kuwait the Kuwait Dyslexia Association aims to provide help for dyslexics. Dyslexia in Kuwait affects at least 50,000 people out of a total population of around 2.78 million. Studies confirm that the percentage of dyslexics in Kuwait is 6.29% of the total number of students attending mainstream government schools in Kuwait. This indicates that the problem is large and there are many school students affected due to the lack of specialists, counsellors and tools to screen and diagnose dyslexics. It is not possible to use western methods to treat dyslexic students as Arabic is quite different from English language and therefore special education programmes cannot be easily translated from English to Arabic. The Kuwait Dyslexia Association has taken the following initiatives to tackle the problem facing young learners:
1. Provide adequate training to people so that they can be qualified to counsel/teach dyslexic students
2. Prepare diagnostic tools in Arabic for screening and assessment in Kuwait
3. Increase public awareness for dyslexics, specially to their family, work, place and society
4. Priority on prognosis and early diagnosis.
5. Provide help for schools to be specialized in treating dyslexia
The aim of the Kuwait Dyslexia Association is to develop strategies and plan educational programmes and activities to provide services for people concerned with dyslexics in the best possible manner.
In Kuwait e-learning is more prevalent in the private higher education sector but not in primary schools. However, private primary schools are beginning to use e-learning technologies to teach young children in the age group of 5 to 7 years. More importance is being given to special needs education and very soon students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia will benefit from early intervention programmes. One of the first educational institutions in Kuwait that began using e-learning to support teaching was The Gulf University for Science and Technology (GUST) in the year 2005. Studies by Eisa Al-Doub, Robert Goodwin, Ahmed Al-Hunaiyyan (2008) who investigated the use of e-learning tools such as ICT in Kuwaiti schools found that culture was a major issue in students attitudes to use of e-learning materials. The study found that female students used and valued e-learning more than the male students.
There have been considerable deliberations about the role of e-learning technologies in schools, especially in the case of primary schools that have dyslexic students. Schools are now engaging in innovative practices to cater to the needs of disabled students. When schools start becoming innovative certain students, namely those with learning disabilities and those who are dyslexic may find it difficult to cope up with the rest of the students. Students with dyslexia do encounter problems when engaged in synchronous learning activities, namely associated with: reading; spelling and sentence structure; word choice; memory; organization and time management; and lack of confidence Woodfine. B.T, et al. (2005).
Dyslexic students who are being taught English as a foreign language in primary schools are engaged in synchronous learning activities. More and more schools in Kuwait have started using English as a medium of instruction which is posing problems for students with dyslexia. Piechurska-Kuciel, E. (2006) examined the introduction of English as a foreign language to children with Dyslexia and found that:
Dyslexic secondary school learners suffer from significantly higher language anxiety than their non-dyslexic peers.
Language anxiety levels decrease with growing FL mastery gained over time.
Real beginner students may suffer from high language anxiety levels due to intervening factors, like school transition or false beginners pressure.
Students with dyslexia symptoms, especially girls, need more time to adapt to the conditions of a new school. Their language anxiety levels decrease in the last grade.
Girls suffer from significantly higher language anxiety levels than boys.
Girls with dyslexia symptoms experience highest language anxiety levels.
(Piechurska-Kuciel, E., 2006)
Jeanne Chall (1983) had examined and studied dyslexia and found that its nature changes over time as students progress through various grade levels at school. Her findings were used by The Arkansas Department of Education Special Education (2007) which listed the characteristics of dyslexic students. In the preschool and kindergarten stage children are used to being taught nursery rhymes so that they can develop the fundamental oral language skills. This provides the base necessary for learning to read. During this stage dyslexic children may find it difficult to pronounced words or may indulge in persistent baby talk. They also have difficulty learning and remembering rote information such as letter names and difficulty remembering and following directions. (Jeanne Chall, 1983).
It is primarily evident that students with dyslexia have an inherent problem which cannot be attributed to poor teaching. It is very apparent from studies conducted by researchers that dyslexia is substantially heritable (Olson & Gayan, 2001), and from the way the brains of dyslexic students function (Shaywitz, 2003).
All categories of students are not benefited by e-learning. Students with disabilities are unable to cope up with the introduction of new e-learning technologies and are not in a position to take advantage of the opportunities like other normal children. It can therefore be asserted that students with dyslexia do not have any advantage over other children, if they are given instruction using e-learning tools. Some of the visual learners may benefit from PowerPoint and Flash Multi-Media applications while auditory learners may benefit from online classrooms with auditory lectures, Podcasts for students, as well as live chats (Barrett, B.G, Dr 1998).
Fichten, C. S et al (2009) in their study found that the most common disability of students learning disability is often coupled with attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. They are of the opinion that students will need some form of adaptive technology, such as software that improves writing quality (e.g., WYNN, TextHelp), screen reader (e.g., ReadPlease, Jaws), or voice dictation software (e.g., Dragon Naturally Speaking).to access e-learning effectively (Fichten, C. S et al, 2009).
Literature suggests that dyslexic students have certain strengths associated with their disability which may help them if e-learning is imparted in classrooms. One of the main strengths is a highly developed visual competency which is also called Dyslexic Visual Literacy (DVL). DVL has four key visual mechanisms visual thinking, spatial ability, pattern recognition and problem solving (Brian OKeefe, 2008).
The major impact of e-learning on students with dyslexia is the use of multimedia technologies. Effective use of such technologies can assist students in primary schools, for example if sound and colour are used. Visual languages, cartoon animations and humour will have a good effect on young dyslexics as they will have the upper hand. They will excel in games played on video monitors as they have Visual Motor Integration ability. E-learning bridges the gap between verbal and visual forms of communication (Clark, Mayer, 2003).
Video games and mp3 players are excellent tools that can be used by primary school teachers in teaching language basics to young dyslexic children. These interactive tools require hand-eye coordination and suit students with learning disabilities. These tools give them the advantage which a text based learning programme cannot offer.
If dyslexic students are taught using methods that cater to visual proficiencies (Shaywitz, Sally, 2004) they will have advantages over other normal children. These technologies strengthen the visual competencies of dyslexic children in primary schools.
The access to computers and multimedia technologies provide many educational possibilities. Primary school teachers can use some of these tools to ably teach dyslexic children as they are designed to make reading and writing more easier. Some of these tools are:
1. Aurora helps people with learning disabilities and dyslexia to write and spell better through spoken feedback, sentence construction tips and word selection assistance.
2. Ghotit is a program developed by dyslexics for dyslexics which offers spelling assistance.
3. Literacy Online provides games and fun learning resources to people who have learning disabilities, hearing impairments and other disabilities that require special literacy assistance.
4. Pix Writer is a Picture-Assisted Writing material for children to help them gain emergent literacy skills. This program can help those with learning disabilities with writing by pairing words with pictures.
5. Read-e Plus is a dyslexia friendly e-reader and speech web browser. It comes complete with features like a spell checker, pop-up blockers, multi-sensory user interface and a range of customization options.
6. Text Reader lets students to listen to text instead of reading from computer screen. It uses 'Text to Speech' technology to synthesize natural sounding speech from ordinary text.
7. TraySpell is a simple spell check program which makes it easy to ensure that students/users are using correct spelling.
8. WordQ is a simple and easy-to-use tool that helps students to write independently and with confidence. It can be used by students with reading difficulties as it provides assistance in reading words and phrases.
9. WordQ is a software that helps make suggestions when a student is writing. It points put mistakes and corrects it. It is designed to help dyslexic students who have difficulty writing and to help them become more independent and confident in their abilities.
10. Yak-Yak is software geared towards those with dyslexia, aphasia and other learning disabilities and can help users find the right words, spell better and much more.
In a primary school, teachers have to be professionally trained in order to handle young children suffering from learning disabilities such as dyslexia. Teachers and educators should be trained to integrate e-learning in teaching and on how to use specific e-learning tools (Fichten, C. S et al, 2009).
Electronic instruction can take place in different ways and methods (Broadbent, B 2002). Educators must increasingly use ICT in primary school classrooms and teachers must be trained and developed in the knowledge and use of dyslexic compensational e-learning and ICT tools.
Mutimedia technologies and other software will have to be used to teach these children. Compensational aids for dyslexic children must be used especially for those with severe reading and spelling disabilities.
E-learning and traditional teaching methods must be blended is such a way that it is tailored to the specific needs of dyslexic children. Studies conducted by the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development show that for children with difficulties learning to read, a multi-sensory teaching method must be adopted as it is the most effective approach or treatment.
E-learning tools must be used to teach phonemic awareness so they learn to spell and pronounce words.
This paper considers the use of e-learning which is a pervasive technology to help primary students with learning and organisational aspects of dyslexia. Dyslexic children must be taught using e-learning tools as it will have a strong impact on their performance. Dyslexia consists of a broad range of difficulties, which may cover several areas. However, the focus of this article is upon memory, orientation, organisation and ultimately e-learning.
E-learning is appropriate for primary schools if the right technologies are used. E-learning can create a special environment for dyslexic children but they need more support to learn the skills. Therefore, support for children with dyslexia is not a matter of discretion but a matter of the child's rights in modern society. Children with dyslexia are do not have many choices but e-learning will definitely help in making them better individuals. It is the obligation of teachers, educators and parents to nurture them in a favourable environment.