Online Learning: A Good Fit for Students with Autism?

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 4, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
S. H. Hedges, Special Education, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC
Background: Adolescents with autism are heavy users of technology for entertainment. What is not well known is how they use it to support learning. Online learning may be a way for these students to take courses in subject areas of interest that may not be available in their local high school, thus helping to prepare them for life after high school. It could also be a way to ease high school graduates with autism into post-secondary education. However, there is a void in the literature on the experiences of online learning of individuals with autism. Taking courses from the comfort of a quiet classroom dedicated to online learning, which is offered in many high schools today, or even from home, may be another way to help adolescents with autism more effectively transition to higher education and/or careers of interest.

Objectives: The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences and perspectives of secondary students with autism with online learning.

Methods: This study used a paper survey with 275 high school students with autism from 30 high schools spread across 3 states in the US. The majority of participants were male (87%), white (72%), without intellectual disability (93%), and on track to graduate high school with a regular diploma (100%).

Results: This study found that while only 27% of participants had an online learning experience, 52% indicated they were favorably disposed to taking online courses in the future. Of those students who had an online experience, the majority found it beneficial mostly due to their ability to control the amount of time they needed to learn. The majority (55%) said they liked learning online because they could take as little or as much time as they needed to work on the course and almost half (48%) indicated they liked it because they could work on it on their own schedule. Regarding the reduction in social interaction through online learning, only 19% said they liked online courses because they did not have to interact with the teacher and 18% because they did not have to interact with other students. Most participants took courses in subjects related to science and math.

Conclusions: Many students with autism who have experienced online learning find it beneficial for the control it gives them over when and the amount of time they devote to the learning. Reducing social interactions by taking online classes was less important. Online learning has the potential to help young adults with autism to ease into higher education or to fill gaps in their knowledge as they transition to adulthood. It can also allow them to take courses more specific to their interests.

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See more of: Education