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Home » Education » Welcoming diversity: creating an inclusive learning environment for students of all abilities

Lucianne Bird

Director, National Learning Network

Rather than asking students to ‘fit in,’ we must discover what makes them unique and unlock the talents within them. This is what a supported training provider prides itself on — curating each student’s education.

National Learning Network (NLN) offers supported, flexible training courses across Ireland. Thousands of people have completed them with the confidence and encouragement to pursue their goals, get a job or progress to further education — making an impact for themselves and others.

Culture of inclusive education

We work with people aged 16 to 65 with additional learning requirements. This includes people with a physical, sensory or learning disability; mental health challenges, such as a social phobia or anxiety; people with autism; people recovering from an illness, accident or injury.

The local Education and Training Boards, or the HSE, fully fund all courses. Our specialised staff include psychologists, resource staff, advocacy officers and instructors trained in the delivery of personalised support. For us, no one should be left behind. To create genuinely inclusive education, our teams look towards innovation in technology through diverse means.

First-class student experience

We embrace technology to ensure total equity of access and that all students’ needs are met. Alongside personalised support within the classroom, our virtual learning environment, eNLN, offers nearly 100 courses on various subjects.

Adopting technology-enhanced learning creates an environment where students can engage with their learning by creating their own podcasts, videos, safe social networking sites and more.

We have made significant progress with designing and developing programmes in adherence to the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). By embedding UDL into our courses through accessible technology and engagement with multimedia, students with disabilities have the autonomy and support to pursue learning that works for them.

We embrace technology to ensure
total equity of access and that
all students’ needs are met.

Prioritising student needs

‘Cubbies’ have become a popular addition to many centres; these personalised sensory pods are an easy-to-use, immersive personal space of sound and vision, particularly beneficial to neuro-diverse students.

We have also recently taken delivery of ‘Dream to Drive’ simulators, which offer virtual driver development programmes to help students obtain a driver’s license in a safe, stress-free learning environment tailored to the student’s needs.

Flexibility ensures success

Students are given the time and support to work at their own pace. They can begin a course at a time that suits them, ensuring there is no onus on them to ‘keep up’ with the rest of the class. We believe strongly in providing holistic support for students. Building confidence, while making friends and being active participants in their local community, is vital to the NLN student experience.

Qualifications combined with personalised support

Our courses offer nationally recognised qualifications, including QQI, ICDL and City and Guilds. Students can take part in a range of modules, from communication skills, career planning, literacy, maths, I.T., interview preparation, artwork and digital skills — but the academic aspect is just one part of our offering.

When a student begins a course with us, we work closely with them to develop the goals they wish to achieve, which might range from getting paid employment, progressing to university or being supported to embark upon a new activity.

It is that person-centred support and inclusive atmosphere that can make all the difference to someone who had a setback in life and wants to restart their career, or someone leaving school and is worried about their next steps. We aim to meet them where they are in their lives, help them overcome challenges and get them to where they want to be.

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