Private study is a major part of the student experience. It may be required
Some disabled students come to university with well-developed study skills and strategies, but this is not necessarily the case. Many universities provide generic study skills support which targets such aspects of learning as taking notes, effective reading, essay writing, revision and so on. Specialist support staff may be available to support particular types of study skill, such as time management and organisational skills for students who have specific learning difficulties. Or they may work with students who have been deaf since birth in order to develop their skills in written language. Learning mentors for students with mental health difficulties or Asperger's syndrome may fulfil a similar role. This support enables students to develop the skills they already have, and helps them to acquire new ones in order to study more effectively.
Whether or not disabled students have developed the study skills they require in order to be effective learners in higher education may depend on two main factors.
For many students it is just not possible to level the playing field. You should appreciate that students with some impairments may, for example, take substantially longer to read a book or write an essay. This may be for reasons related to their impairment, irrespective of the study skills they have developed or the reasonable adjustments that have been put in place by the institution.
Many disabled students know that they have to work significantly harder and longer in order to achieve the same results as their peers and it is important that this is recognised.
Try to consider private study in the context of
Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs) are made to support the private study of disabled students. Such support could take the form of assistive technologies, human support, or simply a computer to help in private study.
During a student's course it is important to review the provisions set in place and adapt them if necessary. Discuss arrangements regularly with the student so causes for concern can be dealt with before problems arise. Try to ensure that changes are made collaboratively so the student does not feel undermined.
Blind and visually impaired students usually have access to assistive technologies to support their private study. They may also have a support worker who they can work with as a reader or scribe, as a note taker, or in providing general assistance with library or web research. It is important to recognise that private study activities inevitably take longer for blind and visually impaired students – even for those who are organised and skilled – because access to visual materials is such a key aspect of study. You can help reduce these difficulties by
Many visually impaired people experience painful and debilitating eye strain when they study for long periods and they may need to plan their private study sessions accordingly.
Deaf students often have excellent independent learning skills, however their ability to engage in private study in an effective way may depend on their previous experiences as deaf learners. Students who have become deaf or hard of hearing in later life may need to develop specific skills, such as better lip-reading, in order to function well at university.
Deaf students can benefit from borrowing concessions in the library, such as longer loans. They may take considerably longer to read and extract information from printed material and from online resources such as the Internet and virtual learning environments. Be aware that any online learning resources you recommend will need to be captioned or a transcript provided if there is audio content.
The success of private study for students who have specific learning difficulties varies enormously. Some find these periods valuable for catching up on work that has not been completed during the day, but others may be unable to settle to work without persuasion. Some make the most of assistive technologies as they work through assignments, others like to discuss topics with friends before writing. Some will use recording devices to review notes and revise, others will organise their ideas with the use of concept mapping, post-it notes and other methods that help with the prioritisation and ordering of ideas. It also helps to offer
Some students with mental health difficulties may find private study difficult for reasons such as
Not all students experience all the difficulties described here – they vary from student to student and often from day to day. You cannot remove these difficulties, but you can help to support students who experience them by providing as much information in advance (e.g. booklists, handouts, assignment questions) and by being clear about what is expected from them in terms of private study and preparation. Students with mental health difficulties may work with a learning mentor who supports them in developing strategies to make their private study more effective.
Most students with mobility or dexterity difficulties will have developed coping strategies when it comes to learning in the classroom and at home. However, they may be overwhelmed by the amount of independent learning they are now expected to undertake. Time remains a real issue for some, and where accessibility is a problem just getting about can be difficult to cope with.
Consideration from academic, library and support staff can make a real difference. Here are some suggestions for reducing the effects of common difficulties.