Is Online College Better for Students with ADHD?



If you’ve ever been diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), you know how difficult it can be to experience learning, organizational and social challenges at school.

You may even think twice about wanting to go to college. Perhaps you feel like you’re too distracted or disorganized to succeed? Or maybe you’ve attended a college campus and felt out of place?

If so, online college may be a better fit for you than a traditional college campus.

Here’s why.

Traditional college has more limitations and distractions

At a traditional college, students are expected to spend time on campus and attend in-person classes. This means conforming to specific rules, schedules and even behaviors. Many students with ADHD struggle to learn in this type of environment. Being placed in a confined classroom with fellow peers can lead to distractions and disturbances that make it difficult to focus on the teacher and lesson.

Delivery of the learning material during in-person lectures may also become too tedious, monotonous or academic to hold shorter attention spans. Prerequisite college courses are frequently held in large impersonal study halls and span several hours. If a student misses a crucial portion of the lesson or needs a break, they can’t just pause or repeat that part of the lecture.

Those with attention disorders may feel like they’re both distracted and a distraction in this type of learning environment, especially if classroom participation is required as part of the grade. It can be discouraging to see fellow peers functioning well and being able to pay attention, meet assignment deadlines and interact in the ways expected. Students with ADHD may end up feeling estranged and anxious, which can spiral into poor performance—both in and out of the classroom.

Online college has more learning options and flexibility

Luckily, there are other college options available thanks to the growing popularity of virtual learning. While online learning doesn’t change what you learn, it does change how you learn—which can make all the difference. Students with ADHD frequently find that online colleges provide more flexibility and personalized learning options to help them succeed.

According to Ryan Kellems, professor of counseling psychology and special education, “Online learning offers students more control over their environment.” Students with ADHD can take online courses in whatever setting works best for them, such as a quiet café, a library or even their own living room. Being able to choose a location that feels free of distractions and confinement can make a real difference in how learning material is received and processed.

In addition, students can access their course materials anytime. This allows them to go back over content they may have previously missed and try out helpful study methods like the Pomodoro Technique, which recommends studying in short segments and then taking breaks. Online learning gives students the chance to figure out which study skills and learning times work best for them. For example, those who find themselves able to focus in the evenings can choose to work on difficult school material later in the day.

Some online colleges also offer self-paced courses, which allow tests, quizzes and assignments to be completed on the student’s time rather than a strict schedule. Having the option to set your own pace can alleviate the pressure associated with deadlines and empower students to strive for quality in their assignments. Many students with ADHD also feel more comfortable interacting with their teachers in an online setting and asking the questions they may have been too intimidated to ask in a traditional classroom.

Creating a college plan for students with ADHD

With so many college options available now, students with ADHD have more opportunities than ever to find the right college experience. Before diving in, it’s important to devise a good college plan. That starts with deciding on the academic and social settings that best fit your particular needs.

If you find that the structure of a traditional college campus helps you to learn and focus, then be sure to reach out to the counselors at your target campus to figure out what resources they offer students with ADHD. If you find that online college provides you with the flexibility you need to feel less overwhelmed, then look for ways to create a balanced, organized study routine that you can maintain long-term.

At Accelerated Pathways, we’re great at helping students with ADHD find the right learning path. Our academic counselors and student coaches check in regularly to keep you on track and deliver the resources you need to handle your course load. Ready to get the support you need and have the freedom to study anytime, anywhere? Reach out to us today!


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