05 Jul Autistic learners
This week we are holding #OLsuccess week which is designed to capture voices of online learners – people with a particular preference or need to access their learning online. This might be through choice or may be something that they have to do as part of a face to face course.
One of the challenges for the Online Learners study is that online learning experiences differ widely – from MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and other open courses to independent learning using web resources like Wikipedia and youtube. It might be a formal online course to gain a certificate or degree or it may just be a few online activities within a more traditional course.
In addition to this, online learners themselves are equally varied in both characteristics such as age, gender, social and cultural background and in circumstance, such as learning for work or professional needs, learning for personal enhancement or as part of their formal education. So I wanted to add my own personal perspective as a person who often learns online.
My own perspective
On the first day, I was really pleased to hear the voices of people with Aspergers and Dyslexia. This comment on twitter was very powerful for me.
@Catspergers tweeted “Sometimes you can do it completely and utterly alone, just you, your brain and material #OLsuccess”
Much of the literature that we have looked at for this study concludes that people learn best when being social. (Reports from the study are not yet published).
Learners who interact more with other learners, whether as part of their course requirements or on their own initiative, enjoy learning more (Jung et al 2012, Ku et al. 2013, Czerkawski 2016, Veletsianos and Navarrete 2012, Boling et al. 2012, Choi 2016, Parahoo 2016), learn better (Jung et al 2012, Sun 2014) and feel better about their learning (Toetenel 2014, Veletsianos and Navarrete 2012, McKeon 2014). Social isolation is a key barrier to persistence and success (Capra 2014, Kang and Im 2013, Irani et al. 2014, McLeod et al 2016, Eneau and Develotte 2012, Symeonides and Childs 2015, Veletsianos and Navarrete 2012, Chen et al 2012, Cunningham 2014).
Personally, I am with @Catspergers – I really prefer to learn on my own with just my brain and resources. What worries me about those research studies mentioned above is that it is likely to encourage course providers to develop courses with compulsory social interaction and collaboration. Not only would this put me off doing such a course, it could actually jeopardise my success if it was the only course that offered what I needed (such as a qualification or accreditation of some kind). In reality, I tend to do my learning independently, picking and choosing resources and content that suits my needs.
Learning in this way may not involve direct interaction with other learners or even educators, but it does not mean I am learning without the input of other people. It was people who developed or created the content I am interacting with. I am just choosing not to engage or interact directly with them. And I think I learn very effectively this way. I am happy and comfortable with this. You do not need to force me to be social for me to learn or enjoy learning.
Coming out as an autistic person
The way I learn reflects my own personal characteristics. I am a 55-year-old female independent consultant in the UK. I have an extensive portfolio of work as a consultant in learning technology. I work online all the time from my home. I do work collaboratively and am pretty good at doing this online. I prefer not to attend face to face meetings or events. In the past I used to travel around the country attending and presenting at conferences – don’t get me wrong I can do this fairly effectively. But the toll it takes to do this is significant because I am autistic. I say this proudly because I do like the way my brain works. Being autistic for me means that I work really hard, go to extreme lengths to deliver what I’m contracted to do, pay great attention to detail, enjoy using technology to deliver my work outputs in creative and interesting ways and am willing to follow requirements of agencies I work with (even if they are a bit daft).
Being autistic does not mean that I am not creative or empathetic or unable to communicate effectively. Believe me, I have developed many creative ways to survive as an autistic person in a neurotypical world. I think many people I have worked with over the years might be surprised at what I am saying. Whilst people are generally more aware of autism, there is still a persistent view that the standard male diagnostic criteria of autism is the only one… However, more information is being shared about female characteristics. Here are some links if you want to find out more.
- Females with Aspergers Syndrome Checklist by Samantha Craft
- Gender and autism – National Autistic Society
- Autism characteristics differ by gender, studies find – Sarah Deweerdt
Why I have “come out”
One of the ways that I have adapted the way I work is to make sure I always have people working with me that like the frontline face to face parts of the work. I did hesitate to “come out” as an autistic woman because this is my work and personal blog. I do worry about everything! I worry that people will think it means I can’t deliver a contract, or that I will avoid communicating about the work. I worry that I won’t get more work after this revelation. I do have some rather fab testimonials from people I have worked with though and there are very important reasons for me to do this:
- being a hidden autistic woman does not help other autistic people be recognised and valued
- being a hidden autistic woman is not good for my mental health
- I am still an awesome ed tech consultant; )
There is a well known saying – If you’ve met one person with autism you’ve met one person with autism
I think the same applies to online learners – which does make this study very challenging indeed. But it is really enjoyable.