Adapting my class to non-visual learners — are podcasts the answer?

This past week there were no assigned readings or posts – and I sorely missed the community learning time with my classmates. While interaction isn’t face-to-face in an online learning community, I’ve gotten to know several class members by the way they approach assignments and the comments they post.

I stayed busy, however, doing research on my paper. The topic: Using iPods to help non-native English speakers in the leadership course I teach. I learned the hard way that handouts are useless for participants who don’t read English very well and, with some Somali students, even handouts translated in their own language would be useless because they aren’t literate in reading Somali, either.

The written Somali language was introduced in 1972 and there was a heavy push by the government to educate the populace. However, by 1991, the government was collapsing and public schools were shut down. The window of time to educate Somalis how to read their own language was very small. Many of the children born or raised in the settlement camps since then have received no formal education of any kind.

In the United States, we rely so much on visuals to communicate that we often forget about learners whose learning preferences are different or are dictated by their culture. I noticed many of my African refugee or immigrant students listened intently to what was being said in class, but they didn’t take any notes nor were they reading the handouts. They’d come from a background that relied heavily on oral traditions and passed culture and learning down through songs and stories.

My challenge is to adapt my class to accommodate participants whose learning preferences are auditory or hands-on; using podcasts may be one way to do that. Keep checking back, I’ll let you know what I learn…

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