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How Technology Is Helping Alternative Learning Groups

opinion

Students who would once struggle to keep up with the rest of the class are now thriving in today's classroom thanks to technology. In fact, new technology and online resources bring learning to students in a way that was once seen as little more than science fiction.

Technology in the Classroom: A Voice for Alternative Students

Recently, I visited a special education classroom to help with holiday party planning. Children in this class ranged in ages from 5 to 8 and, while some had special needs that required more care than they could receive in a standard classroom environment, many did not. Some students were learning to speak English as a second language or needed extra instruction to grasp basic concepts.

I observed the class in session and was amazed at how well each of these alternative students used the technology provided. They communicated with the teacher and explored new ideas in ways that hadn't been possible with their limitations even ten years ago. In addition to the students present, those off-site were able to access classroom learning through modules provided by the school, allowing them to stay on track even if they weren't able to physically attend the class.

The Rise of the Machines

B&W Computer

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 48 states and the District of Columbia support online learning models. Additionally, a 2013 EdTech survey showed that 74 percent of teachers supported technology in the classroom. This is good news for all students, particularly those who don't learn well with standard learning models. Schools are listening and giving non-standard students tools to help them succeed.

There is also a growing industry surrounding these alternative students. Sites like Family Education offer information on free apps and games available to help students study in any setting and learn everything from color recognition to a second language.

Certain paid resources can even help even non-verbal students communicate by providing them with a sounding board that can translate concepts into words, a process that once cost families thousands.

For these students, technology in the classroom opens up a world that may not have existed for them even a decade ago, taking them from the realm of unteachable to avid learners.

Distance Learners

TabletChild

Special education students aren't the only group benefiting from the rise of alternative learning equipment in the classroom. Students with medical issues that make classroom learning difficult are seeing huge gains with distance learning models. The abundance of online courses gives them access to the same curriculum as their peers, no matter where they are. This is important for students who are often away from the classroom but don't want to fall behind. New technologies allow them to remain connected, complete assignments, and concentrate on taking care of themselves without their education suffering.

Global Benefits

Teachers and behavioral therapists also profit from these new materials. With new tech at hand, professionals now have access to advanced resources, such as North Carolina's LEARN NC tools, to meet the needs of every student. Instructors and caregivers no longer have to rely on the antiquated models they learned in school or await the next workshop to provide them with ideas that may or may not work for their student.

These professionals can now explore a wide variety of methods, tested technologies, and useful devices available. It's even possible to experiment and combine resources until they find the right combination for their unique learner. And, since many good resources are available at no cost, they can pass these on to the families of their students as well, allowing them to keep the learning going after the school day has ended.

A World of Choices

MediaOptions

Being the parent of an alternative learner myself, I have seen many of these resources in action. We made use of distance learning alternative applications to help our student get the most out of his primary education while learning to manage a life-threatening disease. Because of the technology available to him, and the time he gained to learn how he learns, he succeeded in school where some of his peers did not.

He also learned new problem-solving techniques that helped him view issues from many angles. These resources have given him an advantage over his classmates who didn't have the same access to alternative materials. Alternative learning technology gave him freedom, confidence, and useful tools to keep his education on track.

Better Education for All

Online

As I watched my friend's students interact with their technology and each other, I gained a new appreciation of just how much bigger the world is for them as a result. Technology provides them with the power to communicate with the world, seek information, and develop a plan for learning that puts them on a path towards independence. As technology continues to advance and newer and better models are conceived, alternative students can continue to thrive right alongside their standard peers.

I look forward to the day when alternative tools will be standard issue and all students will have the freedom to explore learning in their own way. I believe this will finally put our students on par with the top schools around the globe and allow them to perform to their full potential.

By Patricia Willis
December 2016
opinion technology

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