Library Research Courses that Follow Universal Design Principles and Best Practices for Online Education of Special Needs Students Improve Student Learning Experiences


  • Dominique Daniel Oakland University



accessibility, online instruction, information literacy


A Review of:
Catalano, A. (2014). Improving distance education for students with special needs: A qualitative study of students’ experiences with an online library research course. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 8(1-2): 17-31. doi: 10.1080/1533290X.2014.902416


Objective – To evaluate student experience with an online library research course that follows best practices about distance education for special needs students.

Design – Questionnaire and semi-structured interviews.

Setting – A large private college in the United States of America.

Subjects – Seven female students, both undergraduate and graduate, each with different physical and cognitive disabilities.

Methods – Students were recruited from respondents to a survey about accessible library services, with a $50 gift card incentive. They took an online information literacy course that had been adapted for students with special needs, using universal design for learning and best practices in distance education for special needs students and in library instruction. Upon completion, students answered a questionnaire about the course learning activities. Students were then asked to participate in in-depth, semi-structured interviews on their learning preferences and study skills.

Main Results – Students expressed overall satisfaction with the course, especially the clear organization and the ability to choose from various types of assignments for their final project. They expressed a preference for click-through, step-by-step instructions for tutorials. Five of the seven students participated in in-depth interviews, which revealed some common themes in their overall online learning experience: the challenge of obtaining extended time on tests; overcoming reluctance to participate in online discussions; the need for regular communication with instructors; and the need for clearly stated expectations and timely feedback.

Conclusion – Student feedback confirms best practices identified in the literature on distance learning and on special needs students. The need for clear instructor expectations, clear course organization, and frequent interaction with the professor are common to all distance learning situations, but students with special needs are particularly in need of such well-structured instruction. Librarians should always determine accessibility before selecting software and tools to be used in online instruction. Accessible online library instruction should include information about resources for students with special needs; it should provide the same content in varied formats; and it should offer students options for assignment formats. Much research remains to be done to compare students with special needs in online and face-to-face courses, and to determine factors that improve the success of students with special needs in online courses.


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Author Biography

Dominique Daniel, Oakland University

Humanities Librarian for History and Modern Languages




How to Cite

Daniel, D. (2015). Library Research Courses that Follow Universal Design Principles and Best Practices for Online Education of Special Needs Students Improve Student Learning Experiences. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 10(1), 69–71.



Evidence Summaries