Using OneNote to help students with dyslexia

This post was created by PGCert participants as part of their assessment for Unit 1 of the course. The brief was to choose two specific learning needs and evaluate technologies that could help students with these needs to learn more effectively.

Individuals with dyslexia face a range of challenges during higher education courses, particularly during tasks which require intensive reading and writing. OneNote software has various functions which could be useful for some dyslexic students. Microsoft advertises the app as a ‘free organizer-productivity notebook app’, and it does have some features which certainly could help students with particular forms of dyslexia become more productive.

The immersive reader and accessibility functions responds to many of the issues highlighted by the British Dyslexia Association (BDA, 2018) as challenges for those with dyslexia, including producing:

  • Readable fonts (e.g. spacing between letters, avoiding ‘visual crowding’)
  • Easy addition of headings and sub-headings
  • Appropriate colour contrasts

As part of the immersive reader, the text-to-speech function provides those who struggle with reading (whether dyslexia sufferers or not) an alternative means to engage with written text, including the option to change the pace of speed. In addition to helping those with dyslexia, this could be of value to those whose first language is not English and struggle with extensive reading tasks.

An audio recorder is also included, along with a dictation function for speech-to-text. The additional app Office Lens also allows users to import pictures from a phone and convert them to text.

These inclusivity-enhancing features means OneNote satisfies many of the criteria recommended for Universal Design for Learning (UDL) – multiple means of representation, action/expression and engagement (Draffan, James, & Martin, 2017).

Furthermore, the app allows sharing of notes and therefore collaborative working, thus drawing on the potential for communal construction of knowledge in a social constructivist sense. Of course, to make use of these functions, especially for shared course briefs or assignments, certain technical skills are required, and lecturers must be wary of making assumptions about the degree of digital literacy students possess (White & Le Cornu, 2011). As with any new tool, a degree of scaffolded support for learners may be required as part of this social constructivist approach (Anderson & Dron, 2012).

Research into technology and dyslexia in Higher Education is limited (Cidrim & Madeiro, 2017). However, recent studies argue the common sense point that lecturers should consider “explicit alignment of needs, abilities, and affordances” in selecting and implementing new educational technologies (Antonenko, Dawson and Sahay, 2017: 916). As a relatively easy-to-use app, OneNote seems to satisfy these considerations for those with dyslexia.


Anderson, T., & Dron, J. (2012). Learning Technology through Three Generations of Technology Enhanced Distance Education Pedagogy. European Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning. 12 (3),

British Dyslexia Association (2018). Dyslexia Style Guide. Bracknell.

Cidrim, L., & Madeiro, F. (2017). Tecnologias da Informação e da Comunicação (TIC) aplicadas à dislexia: revisão de literatura. Revista CEFAC, 19 (1), 99–108.

Draffan, E. A., James, A., & Martin, N. (2017). Inclusive Teaching and Learning: What’s Next? The Journal of Inclusive Practice in Further and Higher Education, 9 (1).

White, D. S., & Le Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16 (9).

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