Adaptive technologies to assist dyspraxic learners

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.

This article will highlight the factors that can affect education experience for learners who have received a diagnosis of Dyspraxia (Kirby, Edwards, Sugden, Rosenblaum, 2010) and to outline what adaptive technologies can be usefully and efficiently deployed to assist their learning. We will start by introducing briefly what Dyspraxia is; this will ground the introduction of two key factors that can affect learning; planning and coordination, we will then discuss the adaptive technology ‘PresentPal’ – a presentation software tool – and how that can be used to help dyspraxic learners.

Dyspraxia is a developmental neurological/behavioural condition that manifests as a difficulty in cognition, coordination, and executing planned movements or tasks (praxis). Dyspraxia affects approximately 5–6% of school-aged children. (Goldschmidt et al. 2019).

In the recent literature there has been an sharpening of the focus on the ways in which Dyspraxia crosses over with other areas of specific learning difference (SpLD) – 52% of learners with Dyspraxia also have Dyslexia (Kaplan et al. 1998) as such there is a good deal of cross over in the literature about effective methods for supporting teaching for students with Dyspraxia and many adaptive tools are applicable to a range of SpLDs.

Dyspraxia has an unusually high co-occurrence with other SpLDs and this fact complicates both diagnosis and adaptation for learning contexts. Notable especially is ADD/ADHD, Reading Difficulties and Specific Language Impairments all of which regularly occur alongside dyspraxia (Visser, 2003). The most common co-occurrence is ADHD which has a co-occurrence of approximately 50% (Goulardins et al., 2015). There is also a high co-occurrence of dyspraxia in students with Autism Spectrum Diagnosis (Caeyenberghs et al., 2017, Gooch et al., 2014), and without careful attention to the specific needs of the learners this can confuse the picture around diagnosis and making appropriate adjustments.

Put very broadly dyspraxia is a developmental condition that affects praxis (Smyth, 2003); praxis has been formulated as:

  • Ideation – the ability to pre-conceive of a motor goal;
  • Planning – the ability to intentionally plan and sequence motor activities to reach that goal;
  • Coordination – the ability to perform tasks with accuracy;
  • Feedback – ability to recognise the outcome of the goal as measured against initial intentions (May-Benson, 2004).

This formulation illustrates in macro some of the problems pupils with dyspraxia may face when measured against non-Dyspraxic peers. For the purposes of teaching and learning the above list can be distilled down to two key areas of challenge that students wth Dyspraxia diagnoses will face; planning, and coordination. Coordination in an educational context can be taken to mean both physical coordination and coordinating and sequencing tasks.

Recent literature has placed emphasis on inclusive pedagogy for pupils with SpLDs (Peters, 2003; Sider et al., 2017); inclusive pedagogy attempts to focus on the needs of all learners rather than single individual needs (Florian, 2019). Inclusive pedagogy emphasises ‘scaffolding’ as an effective theory for teaching students with a range of SpLDs. Scaffolding learning developed out of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of learning; ‘action is mediated and cannot be separated from the milieu in which it is carried out’ (Wertsch, 1991:18). The theory is that through socialisation at the intermental level, pupils develop thinking and reasoning skills (Vygotsky, 1981). This socialisation must sit within the pupil’s ‘zone of proximal development’ (ZPD), that is, “the distance between what they can accomplish on their own as opposed to what they can do with the help of more capable others, such as parents” (Vygotsky, 1978, pp78).

With this in mind what adaptive technologies can be usefully used for students presenting with Dyspraxia within the context of scaffolding? A powerful recently developed technology is PresentPal a full-service presentation, note taking digital learning aid developed by dyspraxic student Chris Hughes when he was still an undergraduate. This program integrates with PowerPoint and simplifies and streamlines the presentation and note-taking processes with a particular attention on some of the problems dyspraxic learners may face (Patrick, 2015).

Using May-Beson and Smyth’s formulation of praxis as a method for understanding some of the issues that dyspraxic learners may face it is clear to see that PresentPal can be an effective learning technology to mitigate some of the difficulties dyspraxic learners may face.

Planning – Slides can be organised non-sequentially and provide access to both slides and images and notes to accompany the slide. Slides can be reordered and notes are broken down into easy to see and access sections, and voice notes can be integrated into the whole presentation thus eliminating or reducing the reliance on written ‘flash-cards’. Also the notation function can be re-ordered to prioritise tasks and support non-sequential thinking (Patrick, A, 2015).

Coordination – The interface is designed to be accessible for dyspraxic learners; touchscreen control eliminates small repetitive motor functions, text is on coloured backgrounds and in san-serif fonts and the interface is customisable for individual learning needs (Hendrickx, S., 2010). During presentations notes are visible alongside the slides in an easy to read and access format, this assists dyspraxic learners who may struggle to coordinate between slides, notes and public presentation and can easily suffer in attainment as a result. The app is designed to be as seamless to use as possible to support learners who may struggle with coordination and sequencing of actions


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