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There exists a paradox in higher education where one type of learning is inadvertently favoured while we simultaneously promote equal opportunity for all. Each professor has developed their own preferred teaching style and often structures their classes, syllabi, and lectures under the, most likely correct, assumption that it will work for the majority. But what does this mean for the rest of us? For students with diagnosed and undiagnosed learning disabilities, it is often frustrating and stigmatizing to be outside of the typical learning style that universities usually cater to.

When you grow up with a learning difficulty, you develop coping mechanisms that allow you to make up for the gap in skills that do not come naturally to you. Student Accessibility Services exists to limit the gap and hopefully make the classroom an even playing field through note-taking services, accommodated tests, use of a dictionary, and other accommodations, but it is often the professor that has the biggest impact on one’s learning. Something as simple as the tools a professor uses to lecture can make a giant impact on the level of understanding that a student with a learning disability has. Even students who do not have learning disabilities but process information in different ways can feel out of the loop, which can lead to feelings of incompetence and a low perceived image of intelligence.

Is it enough to lecture to the majority? What about those who fall outside of it? It is common for professors to lecture orally without accompanying slides or with inadequate slides in hopes that most students are able to process information in such a way. For students with auditory processing issues, like myself, it is frustrating to sit in a lecture where I can’t keep up, or where I cannot tell how the professor is organizing the material. Using slides is a simple visual cue that allows someone to see where one point ends and another begins.

In an institution that values critical thinking skills, it is time that we think critically about the message sent when some students are forced to spend a lot of extra time to simply understand the lecture material, let alone do readings or assignments. Although note-taking services help to fill the gaps in many people’s understanding, it is often tough to use someone’s notes to understand all the material. One person’s train of thought or writing style might not be conducive for another person’s full understanding.

Where do we go from here? The first step is for professors to understand that although they have preferred lecture styles, there are ways of ensuring that students are getting the most out of lecture without drastically altering their own lecture styles. When you cater to the majority, in terms of the most common type of learners, a lot of students are excluded. It is possible to cater to the most students, including both those with typical and atypical learning types.

For professors who like to lecture orally, uploading annotated podcasts would not be that much more difficult, especially for those who combine oral lecturing with visual cues. This allows students who have a hard time processing information to rewind and replay the lecture at home. In addition, ensuring that every professor is using lecture slides and uploading them onto Avenue is also an easy way to limit gaps in the classroom. The best way to ensure that all students are able to engage with the lecture material is to add a mix of visual and oral stimuli.

There are always going to be exceptions to the rule, like students who learn best kinetically in a subject that cannot adapt that. However, it is easy for professors to compile a list of external resources that might facilitate an easier understanding of subject material. Assessments are always going to be a grey area between needing to measure understanding and allowing students to use their best tools. I hope that we one day move towards a future where there is a fluidity in final assessments so students can complete either final projects or exams, but until then, I think we need to reassess what goes on in the classroom.

We forget that a lot of kids with learning disabilities become adults with learning disabilities. It’s easy to think that you lack competency in a lot of areas, and this can be detrimental to self-esteem and progress in school. By professors realizing this and taking steps to change it, hopefully we can limit the learning curve that a lot of students have to overcome to be on the same playing field.

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