5 tech tools to help students with ADHD manage hybrid learning


Cara Nissman | District Administration

Here’s how learning management system features, digital smart pens, audio notetakers, timers and noise reducers can support students with attention deficit disorder.

Getty Images, Justin Paget

Students with disabilities who are learning through a hybrid model of remote and in-person instruction likely feel like circus jugglers right now, attempting to keep track of so many balls in the air as they alternate between learning at home and school. But students with ADHD may feel like they are dropping more balls than they are catching and are struggling to pick them up once they fall.

“It can be a real challenge, especially when the demands in the classroom are different from the demands at home,” says Brian Friedlander, an associate professor of education at Saint Elizabeth University in Morristown, N.J. “A student may have a parent next door doing work, a sibling also doing online learning, and other distractions in the home environment.”

Consider equipping students who have ADHD with the tools below so they can better navigate hybrid learning. Brian Friedlander suggests using the following.

1. Learning management systems.
Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams and other platforms have a calendar function that can help students stay on top of their assignment deadlines, priorities for what to tackle first, and where they are supposed to be from one day to the next. For example, the student can use Google Task or Google Keep within Google Classroom to keep track of what they have to complete during the day, week, and month. Students may want to synchronize the information across all their devices.

Google Keep allows students to take pictures of, for example, their teacher’s whiteboard in person and use that picture as a reminder to complete a project at home. They can set up reminders so they don’t forget to finish the project by the end of the week. A Google Keep extension also enables students to highlight text on a website they are using for research and save that information with the citation of where they got it from. “It’s a really powerful tool,” Friedlander says.

2. Digital smart pens.
Students can use the Livescribe Smartpen, Neo Smartpen, RECO, or another digital smart pen when they’re taking notes during a virtual lesson (or, if permitted, in the classroom) so their notes are time-stamped and in sync with an audio recording of what the teacher said. “It really provides a safety net for the student who has attention issues or difficulty with processing speed,” he says. “They can be jotting down keywords or drawing related images while the teacher is talking, then at the end of the day, they can tap on the keyword and the audio cues up with what the teacher said at that time. It helps to reduce anxiety and allows students to jump around the recorded lecture instead of listening to the [entire] lecture again.”

3. Audio notetakers.
Sonocent’s Audio Notetaker app allows students to highlight and take notes on portions of a slide presentation or other document and record their teacher’s audio associated with the slide. For example, students can highlight in a particular color what the teacher says is going to be on a test then go back to listen to what she said later. The company’s Glean tool also allows students to record audio in a web browser during online learning. The audio can be stored in the cloud.

4. Timers and access limiters.
Setting digital and tangible timers for how long a student should work on an assignment, take a break, and do other things during the day may help him stay focused if he doesn’t receive as much guidance and structure at home as he does when he goes into school. A voice-controlled virtual assistant may also be helpful to keep the student on track with prerecorded reminders, timers, and motivational messages. Setting limits on which websites and apps students have access to when they are supposed to be learning can also help.

5. Noise Reducers.
Encourage students to use an app, such as Chatable, with their wired or wireless headphones if they are easily distracted by background noise, Friedlander said. This can also help students with auditory processing challenges. “It makes for a better listening experience,” he says. Students can also use traditional noise-canceling headphones to drown out background noise.