7 Ways Students with Learning Differences Can Leverage AI to Suit Their Learning Style

Jenna Berk
March 7, 2024
min read
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Technology has always helped students get ahead. Information is easier to access online than by searching through volumes of an encyclopedia. Typing on a laptop is faster than writing by hand. Sleek tablets are easier to carry than heavy textbooks in large backpacks. Students are going to continue to seek out tools to help them work faster, more efficiently, and at a higher level.

AI is starting to provide some of that assistance. Though most students could utilize AI, students with learning differences have the potential to benefit most from this technology.

1. AI can help change the format of instruction

For example, students with an auditory processing disorder may need to see information rather than hear it. Having a tool that turns a lecture into text can be extremely beneficial and help students stay on top of their work rather than fall behind. Before talk-to-text applications were available, this task would have been difficult to achieve. AI can also provide real-time captions for students struggling to hear or comprehend in class. For a student with visual impairment or reading difficulty, being able to hear or talk through an assignment gives the student a better chance to comprehend material. Individual students learn in different ways, and AI can help students and teachers differentiate instruction in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in the past.

2. AI can provide useful summaries or transcriptions

For some students, listening and taking notes at the same time is too much to achieve at one time. If a student is attending a class or tutoring session on Zoom, the AI companion on a Zoom call will summarize what has been discussed. The details are surprisingly in-depth and easily reviewed. For a student who needs to focus on the audio or visual part of a lesson, these notes can serve as a study or comprehension tool. They also provide a record for students who may lose focus during a long lesson or need to take frequent breaks. Taking care of physical or emotional needs doesn’t need to be put on hold to make sure they are present for every minute of a class or review session.

3. AI can aid in streamlining a multifaceted assignment

Students are often expected to read, absorb, and analyze challenging text. Summaries can help students pre-read or post-read an assignment. If a student is dealing with a difficult reading, they can read it to the best of their ability without getting too weighed down by minor or confusing details. After they read, they can scan through a summary to make sure they didn’t miss any major points. A lot of students also benefit from pre-reading, or scanning the text, before reading the full text (focusing on topic sentences and/or opening/closing paragraphs). This process can be streamlined by AI by generating an outline of the material. They can request the outline be as simple or as detailed as would be helpful for a given assignment. Then, when they read the full text, they are confirming the main idea rather than trying to discern it. It makes it easier for some students to move through text quickly and highlight or take notes on main ideas or certain aspects of reading. It can also keep students from becoming frustrated with difficult reading. Frustrated students tend to give up, while students with tools and options tend to try different things and move forward.

4. AI can also be a useful tool for brainstorming or outlining

This aspect can be crucial for students who struggle with executive functioning. If a student is writing a history paper on the causes for a particular historical event, AI can outline these in a clear, concise way. This is preferable to weeding through pages of information on the internet, where it’s easy to get distracted. The student will still have to do the majority of the reading and research on their own, but it will prevent them from staring at a blank screen for an hour because they “can’t think of anything to write.” AI can provide paths for students to walk down rather than remaining stuck.

5. AI can prepare specific worksheets or practice

If a student is struggling with something like the Pythagorean theorem, a student can ask AI for examples, a number of practice questions, or an explanation as to how it works. This is also a useful tool for parents and teachers who need additional, tailored practice for students. AI can also generate reading recommendations for specific genres, grade levels, or interests. This feature can help keep students interested in reading since the recommendations can be fit to their specificities. Many students require more repetition or practice than a classroom usually provides; AI can act as a classroom assistant and support students where they are struggling the most.

6. AI can aid in the editing process

Not only can AI fix grammar mistakes, it can also explain them rather than correcting them without context. If a student misuses a semicolon, it’s easy to ask AI how it should be used. This can be helpful for students who require a lot of repetition to remember a rule or concept, without feeling embarrassed to ask their teacher, tutor, or classmate for the same information many times. A student may also have a clear idea but is struggling to organize the words. In this case, AI can provide alternative options rather than having students struggle over the wording of a specific sentence giving them more time and energy to continue with the assignment rather than grind to a halt.  

7. AI can also help outside and beyond the classroom

Beyond the classroom, there are several areas that overlap with academics in which AI can assist students, and especially students with diverse learning needs or challenges.

For one, translation technology has improved greatly, allowing for more substantive communication in ELL/ESL environments or for students with families where English is not the primary language. This can significantly impact parent conferences, assessment (which should be completed in the student’s primary language), and of course instructional support (like translating directions for large projects or important tests).

AI can also be useful for students with anxiety or stress disorders to communicate with the faculty and staff more effectively. It is often difficult for students struggling with anxiety or communication disorders to advocate for themselves or even find adequate words to communicate their needs in and around the classroom. AI can be used to formulate questions or identify the right words to speak with teachers, counselors, tutors, and more. These tools can increase student confidence and teach them how to find and use their voices.

AI can also be used to help parents support their children. Even in elementary school, the way math and other core subjects are being taught has changed greatly in the last twenty years, and many parents feel just as frustrated and ill-equipped. AI can help them help their children, our students, at home with homework, projects, and other tasks that impact school success. It can also provide flexible, real-time support when an expert or professional is not available to assist the families due to non-traditional work schedules.

Students with learning and/or neurodevelopmental disorders can greatly benefit from the advancements in AI. AI platforms that helps students access general curriculum content, known as assistive technology, are available from many vendors who supply or equip schools and special education classrooms. These can be added to Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), Section 504 Plans, or personalized academic plans depending on what your district or program provides and what your student is eligible for under state and federal law. These technologies can greatly elevate student’s ability to advocate for themselves and participate in their own education programming decisions (e.g. IEP meetings).

How will AI help your student?

While there are still many questions about how to best use AI in educational settings, students and educators should test out these tools to find out what can help them best in their everyday learning and instruction. As our technology continues to advance, so do the opportunities for using these tools for academics. For everything from big-picture historical overviews to small-scale grammar questions, a lot of this assistance going forward will come from AI, as students, teachers, and parents are beginning to discover.

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