LearnStyle is a Canadian company based in Ontario which started with two brothers and their father, growing later to five members, and now boasts nineteen members and growing.
Making Education Universally Accessible for All
At LearnStyle, D.J. Cunningham (Co-Founder and CEO) and his team are working toward empowering individuals with learning differences using training in assistive technology. Among a multitude of projects and initiatives, the team at LearnStyle has developed a training model for Ontario school boards that will support schools in making assistive technology available and universally accessible for all, following the principal of Universal Design for Learning. Their goal is to guide as many educators as possible toward differentiation of instruction and assessment through the use of technology.
Living with a Learning Disability
LearnStyle was started by D.J. Cunningham, who knows firsthand the strain of growing up with a Learning Disability. D.J. remembers being one of few students in his Ontario school who had to use assistive technology to complete his assignments. Like many other people living with a Learning Disability, D.J. is a highly intelligent individual who required the support of assistive technology to express his ideas in writing, and to read and understand material assigned by his teachers. D.J. continued to use assistive technology well into university, and clearly remembers feeling different from his peers. Like many students with learning difficulties, he felt resistant and angry, hyper-aware of the stigma attached to the tools essential for his success.
His experience as a Learning Disabled student who both required, but resented, assistive technology is what led him to start the company that exists today as LearnStyle. In university, D.J. and his brother ventured into the business of assistive technology, starting a company known as “Learn Different”. Together they ran summer camps for students with SEA claims. D.J. paused for some time to gather experience by working for a software company called “Strategic Transitions”, and later, with the support of his father, an educator himself, LearnStyle became a highly successful Ontario business.
Differentiated Instruction and Technology
The LearnStyle team believes that all educators must develop skills and strategies of differentiation to address the needs of students with learning disabilities. If enough teachers learn to use technology, software, and applications to get students engaged, organized, and learning, there will no longer be any need for traditional forms of assistive technology, but just good teaching utilizing web-based applications available in every classroom. In addition, teacher education also translates into a great way to break down social barriers associated with some forms of assistive technology, such as the stigma of using a computer in the classroom when everyone else is writing with a pen and paper.
Differentiated instruction is a great theory, but it can be challenging to implement. LearnStyle is excited by the ability technology has to bring DI into a classroom. Teacher education is a very important part of this – without the appropriate training, knowledge and experience, it is impossible to differentiate using technology. LearnStyle can support Ontario teachers in adapting and embracing 21st century learning skills, and apply those skills to differentiating instruction.
With great enthusiasm and commitment, D.J. and his team work with teachers developing “experts” in schools to support students using assistive technologies. Traditional assistive technologies earlier utilized by students with learning difficulties are now becoming more and more mainstream, with the emergence of apps such as Siri and Nuance, and Apple and Microsoft building text to speech capabilities in their software. Today, the face of education is changing at an alarming rate, where tech tools used traditionally as assistive technologies are adopted by many students, allowing them to access the curriculum in ways they were never fully able before.
Teaching Teachers; Building Capacity
With a passion for reaching every teacher, LearnStyle’s mantra is “Let’s put ourselves out of business”. They currently serve approximately 900 schools and have provided over 350 professional development sessions for students and teachers in Ontario. Along with more traditional forms of assistive technology training, LearnStyle also provides Google Apps for Education training for teachers. Teachers can work toward certification in Google apps for education through a two-day bootcamp.
Other services offered include: SEA claim technology training for students, parents, and teachers; educating teachers on Ministry Licensed Assisitve Technology that can be used with all students (UDL); partnering with Tinndale University, training new Teacher Candidates or Cohorts on the integration of technology in differentiated instruction or all different types of learners; and, summer camps for students with learning difficulties which include workshops for parents to support them in learning how to navigate the education system and advocate for their kids.
LearnStyle is currently working on a new game-based inventory tool which assesses students learning preference/strength within the classroom. In the following video, DJ Cunningham explains the benefits of this new tool.
It is based on four Learning styles, Visual, Sequential, Auditory, Kinesthetic. For more information on the LearnStyle inventory, click here.
For more information about the services offered by LearnStyle, click here.
For more information about assistive technology, click here.
For more information about UDL, Universal Design for Learning, click here.
Image Source: LearnStyle