What Educators and Academic Publishers Need to Know About Neurodiverse Teaching and Content
March 30 2023
Students learning in a circle

A while ago, a friend announced that his company was pivoting to dedicate its digital skills training company to focus exclusively on neurodiverse learning modalities. While it seems evident in today's world that we need to accommodate varying learning styles, there are very few examples to point to of companies that are tackling the challenge with such vigor.

I applaud them and look forward to hearing from others who will follow their lead.

Neurodiversity is not new. It’s always been part of our human makeup. While the term was coined in the 1990s, we can find examples of people who have needed to express themselves in diverse ways as far back as when art was being painted on cave walls. Our independent methodologies for expressing concepts — and absorbing them — is the most unambiguous indication that we learn differently as human beings.

This article explains how content creators, publishers, educators, workplace trainers, and others can deliver learning experiences that respect — and, more importantly — honor neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity: It’s Why Great Minds Think Unalike… And Learn Differently

Humans share some things in common. However, every person has their own set of neurological connections and processes. It makes them unique in their approach to classroom, independent, and workplace learning.

There is a wide range of neurodiversity, and people in the education sector must consider this when designing and selecting learning experiences.

What Is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity describes the entire spectrum of neurological differences that exist in humanity. Think about it as an umbrella term covering all kinds of minds. Some limit the definition to people who operate differently from neurotypicals (NTs).

Types of neurodiversity include:

  • Autism
  • Dyslexia
  • PTSD
  • ADHD
  • DCD.

Neurotypicals tend to learn things relatively quickly when presented in standard formats. However, even though they may be able to process “regular” content, they may prefer certain delivery methods, such as videos over the written word. By contrast, neurodiverse people often find it challenging or impossible to process and absorb traditional written or orally-presented information. They may need additional time or different approaches to learning that align with how their brains process information. Anyone serving the learning needs of neurodiverse individuals must ensure their unique abilities are addressed.

Neurodiversity doesn’t make people who process information differently lesser than others. Instead, think of it as seeing people in shades of grey rather than in black and white. This is why we prefer neurodiverse as the universal umbrella term rather than an alternative to neurotypical.

Why Organizations Need Neurodiverse People

Employers need neurodiverse people to increase productivity and introduce new ways of thinking in the workplace. Neurodiverse employees present a more comprehensive range of perspectives and skills. They help generate novel solutions that might not otherwise come up, increasing innovation and creativity.

Including neurodiverse people in your consideration set allows you a broader talent pool to choose from. You’ll be more likely to find ideal candidates for open positions, even in today’s tight employment market. Those who are a good fit for your culture and their positions will be more likely to stay in their jobs longer and contribute at a higher level than lesser candidates.

Challenges Neurodivergent Learners Face

Neurodivergent individuals often have to deal with significant learning challenges in the classroom and workplace. Some common ones include:

  • Difficulty processing and retaining information presented through regular conversation or in print
  • Issues with processing multisensory information delivered at the same time.

It’s necessary to recognize all possible learning styles. That way, you can tailor your approach when delivering information, whether you’re a content creator, publisher, educator, trainer, or employer. Otherwise, neurodiverse people could become overwhelmed or it could cause stress which will affect their academic progress or job performance.

How to Develop and Deliver Teaching Experiences For Neurodivergent Learners

Because of their unique neurological makeup, it can be challenging for neurodiverse people to learn using traditional classroom or workplace methods. Here are some tips on creating compelling learning experiences for people who process information differently.

Avoid large text blocks

Text can be overwhelming for anyone struggling with reading comprehension. It prevents them from connecting to what they're reading. Big blocks of text make the situation worse. Always bundle information into small bits and break up text with images. This makes it more likely that all types of people can comprehend your content.

Allow adequate learning time

Ensure enough time in your learning modules for non-traditional thinkers to process information. If they feel rushed, they will likely tune out.

Learning content must be centered on complete diversity and inclusion

Most diversity and inclusion programs are focused on gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. However, it’s just as essential to consider neurodiversity. If you have a student in the classroom or an employee in the workplace with dyslexia, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Tourette's syndrome, or any other neurological differences, take steps to address it. It’s only fitting to give them the same opportunities as everyone else.

Content presented to them should be adjusted based on the type of neurodiversity. Offer assignments that include visual and auditory components. Be sure that anything you present is clear, concise, understandable, and memorable.

Provide clear and digestible instructions

Solid instructions guide users through learning experiences and prevent them from getting stuck, feeling frustrated, and giving up. Whenever you develop or deliver a new content, take into account visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. Tailor your instructions accordingly. It won’t work if you create highly tailored content with instructions that aren’t delivered understandably.

A big part of effective neurodiversity design is ensuring that your instructions and prompts are clear so anyone can understand them. Create off-ramps or alternate paths so users can skip steps if they get stuck or want to try a different approach. Consider how different types of information processors will approach your learning content and design. Address their needs, abilities, and personalities so they can learn effectively. If you’re not sure, test your instructions, content, and delivery to ensure all types of people can understand and navigate everything.

Create individualized learning experiences

People that fall into different types of neurodiversity learn differently. You must create unique and personalized training methods that can work for each individual. There are a wide variety of learning styles. Even people with no diagnosed academic challenges explore and process content differently.

Some may be strong in one type of learning and weak in another. Giving people content they can tailor to meet their individual needs will help ensure they’re educated as you intend.

Neurodiversity: The Bottom Line

Different people have their unique learning styles, and it’s finally being recognized and honored. Some learn visually. Others are auditory learners. Still, others prefer being educated by doing or reading. It all depends on their personal needs, abilities, and interests.

At school and work, it's crucial to provide content and experiences that can accommodate all types of information processors. As you explore new types of neurodivergence, you must identify novel ways to help everyone succeed.

Need help with addressing neurodiversity in your educational content and experiences?

The experts at EdGate are available to help. Here are two recent examples of how we did that:

  • Neurodiversity in Cybersecurity Pilot (ESET and CyberHire Grants). CCOE (Cyber Center of Excellence) is working with the National Foundation for Autism Research (NFAR) to pilot an industry-led autism training and workforce development program to pair students with cognitive exceptionalities to well-suited careers in software and cybersecurity.
  • RethinkEd's Special Education Solution. This program combines the power of technology and research to empower educators with a comprehensive suite of tools for delivering innovative, scalable, individualized, defensible, and evidence-based support for learners with disabilities. Rethink's content aligns with many standards, including SEL and mental health ones.

If your company is planning to create neurodiverse content or instructional material, contact EdGate to learn all the ways our experts can support you.