Instructional Design for the Exceptional Learner

The Americans with Disabilities Act Requires that employers may not discriminate against an individual with a disability in hiring or promotion if the person is otherwise qualified for the job. This chapter outlines training exceptional learners (learners with a disability).

Hearing Impaired

There are two major types of hearing loss and different degrees of hearing loss are associated with these two types: conductive and sensorineural. Conductive affects the loudness or intensity with which a person hears speech. It is caused by interference with the transmission of sound from the outer ear to the inner ear. The learner with the type of loss can generally profit from the use of a hearing aid. The sensorineural loss affects the frequency, intelligibility, or clarity of the sounds the person hears. It is associated with damage to the sensory end-organ or a dysfunction of the auditory nerve. It is not amenable to correction by the use of a hearing aid as no matter how much the sound is amplified, the nerve damage prevents the sound from reaching the hearing area of the brain.

Suggestions for the Training Environment

Peers as helpers:
The peer sits next to the exceptional learner to ensure he turns to the correct page or taking notes or some other appropriate assistance. The peer may clarify something the instructor has said by repeating it while facing the exceptional learner or by writing it down. May also assist by making a carbon copy of his notes.
Learner's location:
Allow the exceptional learner to sit where she can make the most of what she hears and sees. Remember that she listens with her eyes as well as her ears. Do not sit her closely to equipment that has a fan or motor noise.
Instructor's location:
Do not stand in front of windows or in a dark area as this makes speech-reading very difficult. Generally, speech-reading is easier when the light source is behind the learner.
Instructor's presentation:
Call attention to visual aspects of a particular concept to be learned. Also, do not exaggerate your gestures for they may cause confusion. Use gestures as usual, but keep your hands and objects away from your face.
Questioning technique:
Ask questions of the learner occasionally to make sure he is following the lesson. Look directly at the learner and repeat the question if not understood the first time. If he seems to miss the term or the request, rephrase what was originally said and ask him a question.
Difficult words:
Certain words are not easily understood through speech-reading. Encourage the learner to ask questions or have statements repeated if he does not understand.
Training aids:
If charts, graph, pictures, etc. are used, describe the material and then show the training aid. This allows the learner to focus on one major stimulus at a time
Interaction with other learners:
Don't assume too quickly that a problem lies exclusively with the hearing impaired learner. If there appears to be a breakdown, part of the problem could rest with the learners who hear well. Efforts must be initiated to assist them in better understanding the hearing impaired learner.
Previewing course material:
Whenever possible the instructor should briefly discuss the topics with the learner before the actual presentation. This could be accomplished by providing the learner with an outline of the material.
Hearing impaired learners may fatigue more easily than other learners. the fatigue should not be interpreted as boredom, disinterest, or lack of motivation. The fatigue results from the continuous strain of speech-reading, the use of residual hearing, and the constant watching required to keep up with all the various speakers.

Visually Impaired

There are many types of eye problems that result in loss of vision. Some of the more common ones are:

Suggestions for the Training Environment

Sighted Guide
When helping a visually impaired person to move, allow him to grasp your arm, just above the elbow. Keep your arm next to your body. In effect, the visually impaired person is reading the sighted person's arm, and any movement will be detected. Approach steps at a right angle and pause at the first step. Your arm position will indicate when the landing or end of the staircase is reached.
Hands on learning
Whenever possible the learner should be allowed to actually experience physical exploration rather than just having the process explained.
When writing on the chalkboard, be certain to explain verbally the concept or actual writing being presented. Any highly visual instruction should be supplemented with verbal instructions.
A visual impaired learner who is partially seeing may become fatigued if tasks involve close visual examination for extended periods.
Ask another learner to summarize the key visual concepts and to read any subtitles.
Use a normal volume voice when speaking, unless distance warrants otherwise. When speaking to the learner during class discussions, use the learner's name because she may not know you are speaking to her.
Giving objects
When passing the learner an object, lightly touch the learner's hand with the object so that the visual impaired learner knows its location. It can be frustrating and embarrassing to grope around in an attempt to locate the object.
The learner may not be able to distinguish facial expressions. Physical or verbal feedback may be necessary.
Learning gaps
As with other learners, watch closely for learning gaps when presenting new information. When clarifying problems, do not assume the visual impaired learner has the same reference points as the sighted learners.
“Evidence today indicates that the causes of mental retardation are biological, psychological, and social in origin and that they occur frequently in combination in single individual. Generic factors, metabolic disorders, and prematurely or other disturbances during pregnancy are a few of its biological determinants, but infection or injury at birth or in early childhood may also underlie mental retardation. In addition, lack of stimulation, inadequate educational opportunities, and generally deprived living conditions may be causal or contributory factors. Whether such factors modify normal developmental processes or cause aberrant neurogenetic is not at all clear. The moderate and more severe conditions of retardation most frequently result from disorders or insults that can be traced to faulty genes, infections, accidents, diseases, and disorders that cause brain damage. Knowledge is needed from almost every branch of science in order to understand the interaction of these elements in the development and behavior of children and adults.” - The Steering Committee of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development - Mental Retardation: An Evaluation and Assessment of the State of the Science.

Developmentally Disabled

Mental Impairment refers to significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period.

Suggestions for the Training Environment

Build motivation to learn
There are two main possibilities (1) using specific reward systems and (2) relating situations to the learner's known area of interest. Try to discover what things are important to the EMR or TMR learner and involve these in training whenever possible.
Know what skills, tasks, and concepts are prerequisites to learning new tasks:
It is likely that there are gaps in skills or information that you would not find with a non handicapped learner. These gaps must be identified before training the new skill and assignments and/or modified goals must be established.
Use concrete rather than abstract examples when possible:
This approach assists the learner to visualize the situation and process, thus making it easier to visualize the answer. After learning the process with concrete steps, the learner may then be able to lean on the more abstract level. This practice should be followed with all learners, but the EMR or TMR learner may require more of this new-to-familiar emphasis than other learners.
Be aware of a variety of possible readiness and ability levels, both across and within subject levels:
EMR and TMR learners may require some adjustment in the courseware, but may be able to participate fully in other courseware activities. If the student can learn without modifications and adaptations, then this approach is the most desirable.
Make maximum use of group experiences as a vehicle for learning:
EMR and TMR learners are more likely to benefit from oral input when learning new concepts.
Create opportunities for verbal expression:
Mental challenged learners are often less adapt at self-expression than non handicapped learners. Many trainers may be concerned about a negative effect on the learner's self-concept (or may become discouraged) and thus avoid attempts to encourage the learner to engage in self-expression...this is the wrong approach. Trainers must use both structured, individually planned experiences and any incidental opportunities to encourage the learner to express herself.
Be alert to special needs in the abilities to generalize and conceptualize:
Two abilities, generalization and conceptualization, are among the more significant factors in learning as measured by an individual test of intelligence. This means, by definition, that the EMR and TMR learners have a lower than average ability in these two areas. The trainer must specifically point out how one principle may apply in another situation
Use a variety of learning techniques:

Orthopedic and other Health Impairments

Orthopedic Impairments include such impairments as amputation, arthritis, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy. Health impairments include allergies, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, and heart disorders. By adapting and modifying the suggestions for the training environment listed in the other sections, the trainer can provide training solutions for this group. The learning room design is one of the key areas for this group (from the Barrier-Free Facilities for Handicapped Students):

Communication is the key to a successful training experience. The trainer should try to better understand the problems encountered and work towards providing the needed support and assistance.

Next Steps

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Gearheart, B.R., Weishahn, M.W. (1984) The Exceptional Student In The Classroom. St. Louis: Times Mirror/Mosby.