IT Teaching Resources

Barriers to learning online experienced by students with a mental health disability

A qualitative case study to better understand online learning barriers

Article Research Promising practices

Title: Barriers to Learning Online Experienced by Students with a Mental Health Disability
Authors: Dean McManus, Rachel Dryer, and Marcus Henning

Key points

  • The challenges that students with mental and physical disabilities face in online settings are similar to the challenges they would face in an in-person classroom; These challenges can lead to poor academic outcomes
  • Students in this study indicated they had significant anxiety and stress regarding assignments and tests
  • Online formats can make it hard for students to receive timely and meaningful feedback or access materials as easily as they would in person

Online education is widely regarded as increasing accessibility to higher education to individuals with disadvantage and disability, including those with a mental health disability. However, the learning challenges these students experience within the online learning environment are not well understood. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to better understand the barriers to learning that these students face in this environment. A qualitative content analysis of semi-structured interviews conducted with 12 students revealed three major learning barriers: (a) impact of impairment, (b) personal and situational circumstances, and (c) learning environment. These barriers were found to have wide-ranging consequences for the students’ ability to fully engage in study and their overall wellbeing. The findings lend insight into the low retention rates for this cohort of students and the learning barriers that need to be addressed by online education providers to better enhance the educational experience of these students.

What would this look like in a course?
  • Consider creating early feedback options for students.
  • Provide communication channels for students to connect with faculty.

McManus, D., Dryer, R., & Henning, M. (2017). Barriers to learning online experienced by students with a mental health disability. Distance Education, 38(3), 336-352. doi:10.1080/01587919.2017.1369348