With limited access to their teachers and peers, the shift to remote learning is especially disorienting for students with special needs. Non-adaptive technology in special education has the potential to frustrate students and put some tasks out of reach. That means the sudden shift to edTech isn’t just challenging for special needs students—it’s anxiety-producing.
Students with special needs struggle with low frustration tolerance and often require repeated explicit instruction through a gradual release model to learn new routines. Without regular individualized instruction, these students can find it difficult to access and use unfamiliar learning tools.
These challenges also put increased pressure on parents to onboard their child during home learning. Parents are already playing the role of a special educator, maintaining homeschooling schedules, and dealing with their regular responsibilities and commitments. Under these difficult circumstances, new or unfamiliar edTech tools can be additional barriers to learning.
Designing for Special Needs Makes Your edTech Product Better
As edTech designers and product owners, it’s our job to re-think edTech tools for special education students and their families. Investing in accessible features is always worth it, but it’s especially important now, when so many students are struggling with their education remotely.
Students with special needs are uniquely positioned to benefit most from the individualized, adaptive nature of edTech products. It is crucial for edTech designers to consider their needs during product design in order to make their products more accessible for all learners.
As you prepare to roll out new or improved distance learning tools, here are six crucial product areas you can evaluate for accessibility:
1. Log-in screens
Multi-step log-ins are, more often than not, a barrier to entry. Students must remember multiple class codes, logins, and passwords. For students with limited reading skills, this is an unnecessary source of frustration. QR codes or SSO integration for student accounts simplify this process. Ease user frustration or confusion by designing with integration patterns that students are already familiar with.
2. Parent support
In addition to revisiting your onboarding flow for clarity, consider hosting video tutorials for parents within your product. These videos should emphasize how parents can support their child’s learning with your tool, which will especially help parents who have students with special needs.
Providing certain kinds of student usage data to parents can also improve usability. Can parents easily view their child’s progress, or see where and how their child is struggling with content?
3. Teacher controls
To better support teachers, allow for increased data collection capabilities and customizations. This could include everything from the ability to monitor student customization features to setting and tracking progress for individual students. Even remotely, teachers should be able to clearly assess how students of all abilities are directing their own learning.
4. Data sharing
Allow teachers to easily share relevant information with parents. This will streamline teacher-parent collaboration on a child’s instructional plan and improve communication.
5. Customizable features
Adjustable text-size, text-to-speech software, and voice recording tools all provide students with different ways to access content and respond to teacher questions, instructional prompts, or assessments. When designers provide customization features, we set all learners up for success.
6. Self-paced learning
By designing a user flow that allows students to set their own pace, we empower them to take charge of their own learning and promote SEL growth. Self-paced learning tools also eliminate anxieties about keeping up with peers and help students focus on their own achievements.
If you’re considering updating your edTech products to address distance learning, now is the time to consider special needs students in your design. Simple customizations and other accessible features ease the pathway for all teachers and students who happen to use your products remotely. Ultimately, this will make your product more useful—and more valuable—to teachers and parents of all students, regardless of their ability.