E-LEARNING AND INCLUSION
We all learned the importance of staying connected online when we could not be with one another in person in the past year. Nowhere was this felt more than e-learning. Aside from allowing teachers to continue educating their students during a pandemic, e-learning can help personalize the educational experience. Personalized education powered by digital technology can help create a more inclusive classroom environment.
What is Inclusive Education?
Before we get into how e-learning can be used to build an inclusive curriculum, we must first define inclusive education. Put simply, inclusive education means that all students have equal access and opportunity to the classroom and educational materials. As every student is different, an inclusive educational environment will accommodate these differences.
Traditional education in America is very standardized. Most learning outcomes in school are measured by standardized tests that students across the country must take. The student's learning abilities are then measured by their scores. Advocates of standardized testing believe that standardized tests can collect valuable data on student learning outcomes, that data can be used to rank schools and teachers, and that the scores are often good indicators of future success. But opponents of standardized tests argue that standardized testing is far from inclusive, as it does not consider the many factors that contribute to success or failure in learning environments. For example, it is well documented that hunger can significantly affect a student's ability to learn and retain information. Because their family cannot afford to feed them regularly, a hungry student is more likely to perform poorly than a student whose family can afford food. We know good nutrition is essential for a healthy body and mind, so access to nutritious foods in schools where food insecurity is prevalent would be an example of making education more inclusive.
The Importance of an Inclusive Education
Inclusiveness in the curriculum is essential to building a classroom where all students know they are heard and belong. Factors like poverty, food insecurity, and family conflict contribute to a student's ability to perform well in the classroom. Also compounded with these factors are societal inequalities that prevent students from certain demographics from getting equal access to a quality education. In a country that has historically discriminated against groups because of their race, class, and cognitive abilities, it is no surprise that these groups also get left behind in the classroom. Standardized tests can tell you if a student is performing well or performing poorly. Still, they cannot tell you why that is the case—addressing the why is essential in improving educational outcomes for all students and the basis for inclusive education. When the why is left unaddressed, far too many students are ultimately forgotten.
Creating an inclusive educational environment means that regardless of race, gender/gender identity, sexuality, religious affiliation, location, economic status, and learning ability, every student has the access and the support necessary to make the most out of their education. Inclusivity in education can help eliminate discrimination as well. If students, regardless of who they are, what they look like, or where they live, can attend the same schools, they are more likely to receive equal access to the necessary tools and support to grow in the classroom. Exposing students to a diverse classroom environment will also help eliminate biases they may have towards others. Inclusive education can particularly be beneficial to students with learning disabilities. Research shows that students with learning disabilities are more likely to have more positive educational outcomes when they are not separated from their peers but rather when the average classroom environment is built with their needs in mind. Ultimately, the goal of inclusive education is to create both a classroom environment and a community invested in every student's success.
Inclusivity and E-learning
So how can e-learning help communities build an inclusive classroom? One obvious benefit of e-learning is its ability to make the classroom more accessible. The coronavirus pandemic has prevented many students from being able to attend their schools physically. Online conferencing platforms have helped students and educators stay connected even through the midst of a crisis. But, e-learning's ability to be personalized towards individuals allows it to truly be useful in creating an inclusive classroom environment. For example, imagine you are a student with a learning disability that makes it hard for you to write or follow the text. In a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom, you might struggle to keep up with work if you only had access to a physical textbook. With online learning, your curriculum could be tailored to meet your learning needs so that you can keep up with the class in real-time. These accommodations may appear in the form of an e-learning platform that has text-to-speech and speech-to-text applications. With text-to-speech, the words in a textbook could be translated to you in a way that is easier to understand, and speech-to-text applications would allow you to relay your thoughts and ideas back in a way that takes into account your disabilities.
Digital technology can make classrooms more dynamic and attentive to the varying needs of the students in them. Other inclusive materials that can easily be adapted to an e-learning platform are closed captioning, self-paced lessons, and microlearning lessons. Students can also benefit from including varied learning methods such as reading assignments, group discussions, photos, and videos. E-learning can help educators integrate these features seamlessly into classroom environments. When used wisely, e-learning can be an invaluable tool in the learning process. Backed by the power of new technology, it has the power to flip the traditional teaching environment on its head and truly empower all students.
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