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Surprising secret weapon for dyslexic learners: Facebook and video games

“Like” as a learning tool? Dyslexic students may benefit from Facebook.  


Kate Knibbs


Ever see one of your Facebook friends freak out over an incorrect you’re/your situation? Sometimes people on the Internet are jerks. Which is why, on a list of potential learning tools for people with dyslexia, Facebook might not be the most obvious pick. The platform encourages users to write posts about themselves for their friends or the general public, something that sounds pretty intimidating for someone with an unconventional relationship to the written word. People can be brutal to their Facebook friends when it comes to grammar slipups and spelling mistakes. On top of that, it’s oftentimes a gateway to procrastination, not an assistive technology.

For parents and educators who want to help young people with dyslexia, Facebook can look like more of a distraction than a potentially powerful tool. But according to Owen Barden, who wrote a paper on the topic for the Centre for Culture & Disability Studies at Liverpool Hope University, Facebook can serve as a literacy assistant and a fruitful learning environment for people with dyslexia.

Barden looked closely at a small sample group of dyslexic students in northwest England, and found that Facebook helped them learn.

The casual environment removes some of the pressure associated with more formal learning settings. “Once you take the pressure off to conform to ‘school’ literacy, they were able to show much better how knowledgeable, motivated, creative and funny they were,” Barden told the Daily Dot via email.

Barden found five ways Facebook helped the students: It helped them meet deadlines, gave them control over the learning process, helped them develop awareness of their learning preferences, gave them more awareness of the literacy process, and provided a platform for giving and receiving help on demand. And yeah, Facebook can help learners without dyslexia with all these things, too– but as Barden pointed out, it’s not obvious that people with non-traditional reading and writing skills would find a social network with such a heavy text-based component inviting. But they do! Or, at least, Barden’s small test group does!

Joanna Pierson, who runs the website DyslexiaHelp for the University of Michigan, was intrigued by Bardon’s study. “Knowing the benefits that technology has for helping dyslexics and the pervasive nature of Facebook, I think the findings are compelling,” she told me via email.

While the study is a general ringing endorsement of Facebook as a learning tool, the test group was very small, and since it was just people under 18 from one school in England, these results may not apply to learners from different socioeconomic situations, or older learners.

But Facebook isn’t the only unexpected learning tool cropping up: researchers say playing video games can help people with dyslexia. Vanessa Hrar, an experimental psychologist and the lead author of this study, sees video games as a learning tool. Hrar is dyslexic, and believes that video game play teaches dyslexic learners how to shift their attention better.

It seems there may be a number of unexpected ways dyslexic learners can benefit from technology, even technology seen as recreational, like Facebook browsing and video games. However, the video game study also featured a small test size, so these findings are still very much early indications rather than surefire solutions.

Photo via Flickr/Health Gauge (CC BY 2.0)


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