Inclusion, special-provision and personalisation

This post has been stimulated by exchanges following two recent presentations I attended:

On the 18 November my colleague Robin Stenham (OU Disabled Student Services) gave an internal OU presentation on a new strategy seeking to better embed accessibility for disabled students across OU course production and presentation processes and in all areas of responsibility. For those interested another colleague Doug Clow (IET) did a live blog of the talk and subsequent discussion at:

One of the questions raised afterward was by a visiting professor from the China Central Radio and TV University: Prof Sun Fuwan. He pointed out that in China they have 60 million (sic. – that must be an underestimate) disabled people, but at university level have separate institutions for disabled students. He was looking for suggestions and potential collaborations to help Chinese universities to be more inclusive.

Then this week I have been trying to participate in the JISC online conference “Innovating e-Learning 2009” ( The Opening Keynote by Charles Leadbeater was entitled “The role of innovation in education”. Charles presented a framework for analysing types of innovation in education in which he classified innovation as:  Improve, Supplement, Reform or Transform.

It is not the purpose of this blog post to discuss this framework. However a brief asynchronous exchange with the presenter afterward, Charles made the following point:

“At the moment Transform is really seen as “Marginal Alternatives for Learners with Special Needs” but if this became the dominant pole would be much better.”

These two interactions have stimulated further thoughts for me on the old debate in education of inclusion verses special provisions. However this is now being set in my mind within my own work on content personalisation for accessibility and the wider area of personalisation in education.

My own position on the inclusion verses special provision debate is that it can never be that one way or the other will best meet the needs of all. The debate then falls into uncomfortable areas of:
• for who is inclusive education best?
• for who is special provision beneficial?
• equally controversially who has the power and right to decide?

I strongly wish to assert here the value of diversity of needs and preferences at the individual level. As in all areas of humanity apparently similar people can have different preferences. It is thus to be expected that two disabled people who, however defined, have similar impairments, might express different preferences  as to how their needs are best met.

In the UK at HE level there has been traditionally little specialist provision for disabled students; this has probably led to some disabled people being excluded. Whereas, at school level the inclusion verses specialist provision pendulum swings leading to a different balance of provision being available at different times.

There are interesting developments beginning to surface around the increasing emphasis on personalised learning and personalisation in technology mediating learning. This brings the whole idea of meeting diversity of needs and preference into the mainstream in a broader sense. The idea of special needs can be replaced with consideration of individual needs. If we can truly work out how to effectively and economically offer such personalisation of learning and fit it within our “formal” structures then education will exclude and under serve far less people (children and adults).


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