Think back to a time when you took a multiple choice quiz in college, but struggled to identify the correct answer because none of the options seemed to fit. You studied the material and felt like you had a good command of the concepts, yet you were unable to demonstrate this on the quiz. As a result, you may remember experiencing feelings of frustration, powerlessness, and being misunderstood as a learner.
You may have thought to yourself “I knew this stuff! If only the instructor would have asked the question a different way or given me the opportunity to explain what I know!”
This is an example of what a student with a learning disability (LD) often experiences after taking a traditional quiz or exam. For a student with LD, demonstrating knowledge and understanding of academic content can be very challenging. For example, to be successful on a multiple choice quiz, students must possess a high level of reading comprehension, understand word or application problems, and be able to retrieve specific types of information. Students with LD may struggle with acquisition of these types of skills. Additionally, if classwork is online, the learning disability may impact the student’s ability to navigate the learning management system (LMS). Students must be proficient at recalling a series of procedures that often require technical knowledge. This requires strong memory, reasoning, and reading skills all of which may be compromised by the learning disability.
Institutions of higher education (and all educational institutions, really) have a responsibility to be responsive to all types of learners including those with disabilities. This can, in part, be achieved by adopting the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework which provides guidance and structure around what instructors do to engage students, the ways in which academic content is presented, and how the college setting allows students to express themselves during the learning process.