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COLSD: Making Online Learning Accessible & Effective

Screenshot of the COLSD web site home page

Project Name
Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities (COLSD)

Project Website

Project Description

CAST, the University of Kansas's Center for Research on Learning, and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education partnered on a five-year initiative to research how online learning can be made more accessible, engaging, and effective for K-12 learners with disabilities.

The Center staff conducted research nationally and built a network of research collaborators representing a wide array of disciplines whose expertise impacts learner outcomes.

Goals of the Center:

  • Develop promising approaches for increasing the accessibility and potential effectiveness of online learning for students with disabilities. These may include accessibility and support features for online learning, providing supplementary offline resources, individualizing online learning, identifying and addressing student learning problems as soon as possible, and training students, teachers, tutors, parents, and others involved in online learning on ways to support student learning.
  • Test the feasibility, usability, and potential effectiveness (or promise) of one or more key approaches using appropriate research designs such as quasi-experimental, single-subject, qualitative, and experimental research.

The research produced detailed descriptions of the approaches and their key components, evidence that the approaches can be successfully implemented in authentic settings, and evidence of the promise of the approaches for achieving their intended outcomes for students with disabilities.

Activities include:

  • Establish principles for the design, development, and validation of online instruction effective for all students;
  • Apply learning analytics that take advantage of the inherent capabilities of online learning technologies to provide faster, more accurate, more informative assessment and progress monitoring, and impact learner outcomes;
  • Highlight new online learning solutions that support K-12 learners with disabilities;
  • Share research findings and evidence-based principles for the design, development, and use of online learning resources that address the needs of K-12 learners with disabilities.

Selected Publications & Media

Center Publications
Complete list of Center journal articles

Currie-Rubin, R.(2014). Understanding the roles of families in virtual learning. TEACHING Exceptional Children. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/0040059914530101

Hashey, A., &  Stahl, S. (2014). Making online learning accessible for students with disabilities. TEACHING Exceptional Children. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/0040059914528329

Johnston, S., Greer, D., & Smith, S. (2014). Peer learning in virtual schools. Journal of Distance Education, 28(1), 1-31.


2012 – 2016


Office of Special Education Programs, US Department of Education


University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning (CRL)
National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE)

Project Leadership

Daryl F. Mellard, PhD, University of Kansas
David H. Rose, EdD, CAST
Bill East, EdD, NASDSE


For more information about this project, please contact

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