I am presenting at the conference on Monday 15th February.  Please see my Abstract below and a link to my conference poster on Youtube



Challenging the Digital Divide For Adults experiencing Learning Disabilities

5.3 million adults in the UK (ONS, 2019) did not access the internet once during a three month period and of those 5.3 million,56%, nearly 3 million, are disabled, a much higher proportion as a whole of disabled adults in the UK population. The recognition of this imbalance in open access is shared by The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4.5 (UNESCO, 2015)  that aims to ensure; ‘access to all levels of education and vocational training…including persons with disabilities’; and the European Union of Supported Employment (EUSE.), (European Union of Supported Employment, 2010), their aim is to facilitate the development of innovative and good practice in the field of Supported Employment.

The OECD Skills Strategy assessment for Northern Ireland, recommends a holistic vision for adult learning and to extend the reach and scope of blended learning in order to create a culture of lifelong learning (OECD, 2020a).  The  OECD,(2020b)  further urges the UK Government to identify needs for adult learners more systematically, and that provision by way of online and distance learning can better meet adult learner needs. Siemens (2005), argues that nurturing and maintaining contacts is needed to support continual learning.

This open study examines the impact of the digital divide on adults with learning disabilities.  Comparing access across population groups and then specifically examining access and opportunity for adults with learning disabilities.  The context for the study is a supported employment project during the Covid 19-Pandemic in Northern Ireland in accessing and providing support to adults with learning disabilities via a blended learning approach.

Bell (2011), comments that learning based solely on assumptions of learners being taught by instructors is not an adequate framework for a digital and connected world.  This study draws on Social Justice Pedagogy (Kukulska-Hulme, A. et.al 2020) and perspectives on Connectivism  (Siemens, 2006) and Rhizomatic Learning (Cormier, 2015), and on Freirean (Freire, 1972) thought linking experiential education and empowerment to support collaboration and co-design.

This study uses Rhizomatic Learning as its practice-based critical paradigm, drawing on Siemens’ and Cormier’s (Cormier, 2010)  perspectives on individual learning journeys that sustain collaboration and participation. Weller (2011) argues that Open Scholarship in a digital world does not only rely on an institutional location or brand but also on the network and identity established by the scholar in their efforts to be open with their scholarship.  The project draws on the perspective of an openness-creativity cycle, using internal and external networking to facilitate access to digital engagement

Following a review of initial support, including research of preferred models and access to mobile and static information and communication technologies and examination of other service responses, it was agreed to develop a more interactive support experience, that used both synchronous and asynchronous approaches.

A key consideration with regard to service users is safeguarding and the use of the internet and related applications.  This approach initially assumed a VLE Moodle experience that was restricted to service users solely, but through discussion with teams and service users, a model emerged that utilises a range of physical artefacts delivered to homes and accessed in location,  supported by social media tools accessible to service users, that also links to a Moodle VLE.

This study is part of an ongoing piece of work that will continue to draw on Action Research methods (Bryman, Alan, 2012) in co-designing with service users and guardians an accessible online learning support framework.  The Action Research approach is informed by the discussion between Constructivist Learning and Connectivism seeking to examine what is important to know and what are important skills to enable us to know.

The conference presentation concludes with a perspective on using Transhumance (Clarke, 2020) as a metaphor for integrating personal learning journeys for adults with learning disabilities with online guided learning support.

Brendan Clarke



Bell, F. (2011) ‘Connectivism: Its Place in Theory-Informed Research and Innovation in Technology-Enabled Learning’, International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, Athabasca University Press (AU Press), vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 98–118 [Online]. DOI: https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v12i3.902 (Accessed 6 September 2020).

Bryman, Alan (2012) Social Research Methods, 4th edn., New York, OUP.

Clarke, B. (2020) Pedagogical Theories for Yellow Team 2020 [Online]. Available at https://drive.google.com/drive/u/5/folders/1IXAOXfGkTbhH6Y8TM5cWucY8G70_lLVC (Accessed 13 July 2020).

Cormier, D. (2010) ‘Community as Curriculum and Open Learning – Dave’s Educational Blog’, [Online]. Available at http://davecormier.com/edblog/2010/06/17/community-as-curriculum-and-open-learning/ (Accessed 29 May 2020).

Cormier, D. (2015) ‘May 2015 – Dave’s Educational Blog’, Dear Rhizo 15 [Online]. Available at http://davecormier.com/edblog/2015/05/ (Accessed 28 May 2020).

European Union of Supported Employment (n.d.) Home [Online]. Available at http://euse.org/index.php (Accessed 14 January 2021).

Freire, P. (1972) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Penguin.

Kukulska-Hulme, A., Beirne, E., Conole, G., Costello, E., Coughlan, T., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Holmes, W., Mac Lochlainn, C., Nic Giollamhichil, M., Rienties, B., Sargent, J., Scanlon, E., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Beirne, E., Conole, G., Costello, E., Coughlan, T., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Holmes, W., Mac Lochlainn, C., Nic Giollamhichil, M., Rienties, B., Sargent, J., Scanlon, E., Sharples, M. and Whitelock, D., and Open University. Institute of Educational Technology (2020) Innovating pedagogy 2020.,.

OECD (2020a) OECD Skills Strategy Northern Ireland (United Kingdom): Assessment and Recommendations | en | OECD [Online]. Available at https://www.oecd.org/unitedkingdom/oecd-skills-strategy-northern-ireland-united-kingdom-1857c8af-en.htm (Accessed 29 November 2020).

OECD (2020b) Raising the Basic Skills of Workers in England, United Kingdom | en | OECD [Online]. Available at https://www.oecd.org/unitedkingdom/raising-the-basic-skills-of-workers-in-england-united-kingdom-4ff42de8-en.htm (Accessed 29 November 2020).

ONS (2019) ‘Exploring the UK’s digital divide’, p. 24.

Siemens, G. (2005) ‘Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age’, p. 9.

Siemens, G. (2006) Knowing knowledge, Winnipeg, Manitoba, G. Siemens.

UNESCO (2015) Education 2030: Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning … – UNESCO Digital Library [Online]. Available at https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000245656 (Accessed 27 May 2020).

Weller, M. (2011) The Digital Scholar: How Technology is Transforming Scholarly Practice: Martin Weller: Bloomsbury Academic [Online]. Available at http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-digital-scholar-9781849666268/ (Accessed 25 June 2015).

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