Online Course: Learning to Achieve Self-Determination for Adults with Learning Disabilities

The Learning to Achieve Self Determination for Adults with Learning Disabilities online course asks users to consider one or more ways of developing self-determination that you might be able to incorporate into your work with adults having learning disabilities. Share your ideas and/or strategies for fostering self-determination. 


To incorporate self-determination in our classroom we could:

  • Set up a system that would help our students self-record.
  • Support them in setting goals.
  • Help them determine how they are going to reach their goals
  • Set them up with our Life Coach to keep them on track with their goals. 
  • Encourage them to ask questions.

The two factors I consider to be most important are Gaining self-awareness and Planning. I chose these two for the following reasons:

If students are not aware that they have a learning disability, they will not be able to set realistic goals and to have reasonable expectations. If individuals have a diagnosis, but do not understand the characteristics of their learning disability, they will be unable to explain the need of accommodations in school and the work place or what accommodations are appropriate. This will seemingly continue a pattern of devaluing self, strengths and unique qualities they bring to the table.

My second choice of importance is Planning. Once an individual is aware of their learning disability and its characteristics, they are better able to help themselves to make reasonable plans for success. In addition, they are able to  better communicate to others the environment in which they work best, are able to break down tasks step-by-step and identify those tasks they may need help with. 

At the beginning of each semester, I have my students write down a short term goal, one that can be accomplished within the semester. One long term goal, which is most likely dependent upon the success of the short term goal and one obstacle they can identify as possibly preventing them from reaching their goals. I then encourage them to plan for how they will overcome the obstacle, whether it is childcare so they can attend class, transportation issues such as bus fare or rides or coming to class on time by setting an alarm or going to bed earlier so that they can wake up on time. We discuss as a class these issues and help each other to understand that we all have challenges to success.

A main feature for improving or making changes to any situation is for one to accept or acknowledge his or her circumstance. Wanting to address needed improvement and taking responsibility for doing so helps to bring about the will power to discover and access means of addressing goals for positive transformation (self determination).. 

It is very important to assist students in setting realistic short-term and long-term goals that reflect their disability(ies) and their need for accommodations because these goals allow students to understand what is necessary for them to be successful. When students set goals based on their desires that do not take into account their disability, it is very easy for the students to become disheartened and frustrated when the goals are not not easily attained. It is important to discuss the students' diagnoses and discuss the appropriate accommodations. These accommodations will not guarantee an ease in accomplishing the goals, but they will allow the students to understand the necessity for adjustments to be made and will allow students to set realistic short-term and long range goals that are possible with the proper modifications.

Some ideas that come to mind for incorporating Self-Determination are:

-Embracing the idea of a Student Learning Plan. Students would record goals, short and long term, and cyclically monitor their progress.After an assessment or activity, collecting the data, turning it into feedback, and strategizing a plan. During the feedback stage, students would reflect and adjust where necessary.

-I also think that The Growth Mindset philosophy, should be emphasized and taught intentionally.

-Lessons should be a differentiated to tap into student strengths. Instruction should not be a "one size fits all"

I think that being very encouraging and patient with the student is one of the key factors in fostering self determination in a student with an LD.

I agre e with this and also think that creating and maintaining a secure, positive environment is very important. This would be the responsibility of the instructor and would encourage the student with LD to feel free to admit to weaknesses and problems.

It is important to be patient with the students who have a learning disability so that they are encouraged to keep working towards their goals.  Once they have expressed their specific goals, work with the students on breaking them into even smaller steps to  make them more achievable.  Interviews with the students may be done more often than with the others in the class who may not be experiencing as much difficulty so that they feel that they are progressing towards their goals..

I feel the most import factor is self-determination with planning being a very close second. Many LD people know they have a problem, but don't understand how it effects every aspect of their lives. Planning is important, especially for those who need step-by-step instructions for everyday tasks.

The two factors I feel are the most important to develop in adults would be (1) Learning to Value Yourself and (2) Environment.

Valuing self worth is important in order to stimulate self confidence and pride in oneself.  I remember my mom also saying to me, "First, to thine own-self be true."  For the individual/student to feel they are worthy is an important factor in developing self-determination.

Environment is another factor in helping the adult/student develop self-determination. I would create an environment where I could give the adult an opportunity to make choices.  For example, if they choose to work on Math instead of Reading, that would be ok. Also they will have an opportunity to monitor their work to monitor improvements, review and correct errors


The two factors I feel are the most important to develop in adults would be (1) Learning to Value Yourself and (2) Environment.

Valuing self worth is important in order to stimulate self confidence and pride in oneself.  I remember my mom also saying to me, "First, to thine own-self be true."  For the individual/student to feel they are worthy is an important factor in developing self-determination.

Environment is another factor in helping the adult/student develop self-determination. I would create an environment where I could give the adult an opportunity to make choices.  For example, if they choose to work on Math instead of Reading, that would be ok. Also they will have an opportunity to monitor their work to monitor improvements, review and correct errors


As an adult educator, I believe it is very important to help students achieve self-determination. To help them gain self-awareness and value themselves, I will ask them to write about or discuss a success they have achieved and explain their personal strengths that helped them to achieve that goal. To help them be proactive, I will set up mock job interviews. They will explain their strengths, communicate effectively, and ask appropriate questions. This should be practiced several times so the student can see improvement.

For my teaching environment, I often wonder if my students' challenges are true LDS or cultural.  Are they simply having a preferences problem, unwilling to put forth work because they are embarrassed or is there a true problem that needs to be addressed?

Hi, Landon -

This is an excellent question, and one that takes time to figure out as an instructor.  Sometimes, it may not even be possible to get an answer.  I wonder if you can share some of how you go about trying to answer this question for yourself, and your learners?

Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator


Please share the ideas and/or strategies for fostering self-determination, and read other teachers’ responses in the LINCS Disabilities in Adult Education Group before moving on.

The two parts of the "tree" that I value most are "Learn to Value yourself" and "Be Proactive".  At the beginning of the class I would set goals and the steps needed to complete goals.  I would do this with the student, being the encourager, not putting words in the person's mouth.  I would celebrate every step being completed with student and readjust as we both deemed necessary.  I would notice who a good peer mentor may be in the classroom and with permission from both students I would encourage them to work together, when needed.  I would continually provide feedback and ask the student for their feedback on how he/she thinks things are going, what has been the best of the class and what could stand to be altered.  Celebrate and communicate.  I would have the student keep record of their progress and provide practice, while I embrace the positive and creative way the student adds to the class.  

  • aking appropriate risks;
  • gaining support and resources;
  • communicating and negotiating;
  • coping with criticism; and
  • initiating action when needed - using the appropriate skills.

I chose self-awareness and reflect & readjust as the two factors to focus on with the students I work with. We already do some planning and goal-setting during orientation, but a lot of our students lack some self-awareness and/or self-value so I think it will be important to provide them with more time to reflect on their experience and acknowledge their strengths and what has and hasn't worked for them in past education settings (and it will help us adjust the way we do things in the classroom to better meet various student needs). I chose Reflect & Readjust because goals and circumstances change over time in an adult education program and it's important to review and adjust as needed.

 The two factors that contribute to self-determination I feel are most important are planning and self-awareness.  All the factors mentioned are important, but I feel because they do overlap a lot and affect each other if starting with planning and self-awareness in the end result all will be covered.  Planning can be difficult, many individuals know what they want as an end result but they don't know how to get there and often times how to even start.  With proper support and questions an individual can learn to break down some of the steps.  In doing this especially with a supportive partner/teacher/coach etc. the individual will expose some of the [physical, mental and emotional blocks that stand in the way of their success even if they cannot clearly put that in words in the beginning of the task.  Once these blocks are exposed, it helps the individual label them and be proactive on steps to overcome, look for supports or accommodations  etc. and begin to understand that they don't have to give up in defeat if they understand it as just some of the steps they personally need to take to reach their goal. Although beginning with planning, self-awareness soon becomes a needed first step to making more progress.  

The most important of these, to me, is to be learn to value self and to reflect and evaluate. If the learner does not see the value in investing in themselves they will struggle moving forward. It is very important that they see themselves not only in their failures, but in every tiny success. That will give them a reason to keep on moving forward more than anything else. They know they are a great reason to work hard and keep trying and learn to constructively criticize or celebrate their progress, and they will become self-directed learners.

I feel that it is very important to value one's self. As well helping them to gain awareness so that they can set realistic goals. I think that being patient/sensitive to their needs will make them feel comfortable and will encourage them to ask questions without being afraid to ask.

It is hard to choose which factor is most important for helping adults with LD become more self-determined. However, as an instructor, it seems that Feedback and Tracking Progress appeared multiple times in all the factors. It made me think that making charts and tracking specific goals and accomplishments might be a concrete way to structure Feedback and Progress for adults with LD. Some students really enjoy checking boxes or making lists and marking them of. Sometimes a graphic display of progress can be very helpful and motivating.

I feel that helping a student gain self awareness of their strengths and weaknesses and learn basic and realistic goal setting along with making adjustments is how I can best help students become autonomous and better prepared for not only my class but in life.  Guiding them through the processes of breaking things down into manageable steps and making adjustments are concrete skills that we can use that will help them along the way.


I think making the student feel comfortable during the intake, and asking them about their past experience with school and life challenges. Let them know that we are here to help them with their long and short term goals.

First, we reaffirm the perspectives of previous researchers who view self-determination as a basic human right (eg, Marks, 2008; Ward, 1988; Wehmeyer, 1998, 2005). We support Wehmeyer, Palmer, Agran, Mithaug, and Martin’s (2000) and Wehmeyer’s (2004) descriptions of selfdetermined people as those who are the causal agents in their lives—as people who are able to make things happen. As we relate our participants’ perspectives on their growth toward self-determination, you will see that they embodied Martin and Marshall’s (1995) description of self-determined people as individuals who know how to choose—they know what they want and how to get it. From an awareness of personal needs, self-determined individuals choose goals, then doggedly pursue them. This involves asserting an individual’s presence, making his or her needs known, evaluating progress toward meeting goals, adjusting performance, and creating unique approaches to solve problems.(p. 147)

L D students need to feel they can do certain tasks so they'll be motivated to do the task. I would want to teach them the skills they need to feel more determined to do the task. 

Brenda Davis- ESL instructor

Individuals with LF often feel inadequate in various areas of their life. By helping them gain self-awareness in their abilities, you can work with them to understand their own personal strengths and weaknesses. Once strengths and weaknesses are identified, they can then begin to set goals by and take a proactive approach to obtaining those goals.

I really like the pictorial representation of the tree.  The two items that stand out for me are: to help students learn to value self and to plan.  Both aspects I see frequently as impediments to progress.  Perhaps sharing the tree timage with the 6 levels and asking individual where he/she would like to focus would be beneficial.

The most important factor when focusing on a student with a LD is learning to value oneself. Without self worth one can never reach their full potential. One must see the value of themselves in order to succeed at anything in life.

The two most important factors would be self-awareness and valuing oneself. Without being aware of one's own wants, needs, resources, and limitations, it would be hard for one to take action in any direction that would lead to long-term success. Also, valuing oneself is equally important to start developing a plan and figuring out one's own motivations and beliefs that are the driving force of their actions. Both of these can help students define what their goals are and why, which in turn will lead them to be more confident and successful in their own learning, and be able to adjust their own study practices to what best suits them and not get frustrated or discouraged due to the LD.

The 2 factors I would focus on would be self-awareness and self-value.  Because these two factors are the roots of the tree, so to speak, I feel that if these two factors were addressed first, then the others would follow.  I would help the student identify their weaknesses/strengths and from there, develop self-awareness.  I would then focus on the positive outcomes made by students to affirm their self-value.  I feel once they are feeling better about themselves and their ability to learn, then being proactive in their educational journey will only continue to lead to success.

Self-Awareness, Planning, Assessment. I feel self-awareness is critical. This helps to identify strengths and areas one may need support with. I also think self-awareness is important for the instructor. There may be reasons why a trainee is not successful. Planning. Setting goals with concrete measurable objectives and breaking the task down. Assessing the plan. Take time to stop and assess and see if plans need to be adjusted.


I would focus on self-awareness and self-value. self-awareness can help an individual identify strengths and areas for growth. Self-value is important because it can impact internal beliefs and thoughts. If those internal beliefs and thoughts are negative that can hinder success.

I believe the two factors that are of most importance to develop are: (1) Learning to Value Yourself and (2) Environment.

Valuing self worth is important in order to build self-confidence. Without self-confidence, it is difficult to achieve anything. Believing in oneself is the foundation to success and once you realize that you are capable of achieving small goals, greater goals seem easier. Valuing yourself is important, not only for one's mental health, but also for academic and career success. 

Environment is another factor that aids in developing self-determination. An environment that is positive allows one to feel safe and accepted. Opportunity for growth is greater, as one recognize the environment all and will be flexible to assist them in reaching goals.

I believe two important factors are self-awareness and valuing oneself. It is important to know the needs, resources, and limitations in order to achieve goals. Valuing oneself is important in order to be self-motivated and feel worthy to achieve.

One important factor of building self awareness is to identify individual strengths and weaknesses. Doing so is important ,because if an individual is not aware of these things about himself / herself, it makes it difficult for someone else to address them. Other important aspect of self awareness is planning and using the plan to set realistic goals..

I think one the most important things for my students with L.D. is to Value Themselves. So many think they are not able to succeed at learning. They also can learn to reflect and adjust whatever their short and long term goals are through communication of their strengths and weaknesses. 

I believe the two factors are self-awareness and value yourself. I will focus on the fact that he or she has a learning disability, and I will then let the student know that everybody has some type of disability. We are all different and unique in our own way. Value yourself, believe in yourself, there's nothing wrong with an individual that might need extra help in achieving their goal. 

This was the most valuable lesson form me.  I am always supportive of my students, providing choices, a positive learning environment, allowing them to offer ideas and opinions and giving positive feedback.  I need to be more proactive with students in identifying their self strengths and weaknesses, as well as offering thought provoking questions to stimulate self-awareness and self worth.

It is hard for an adult to admit they have a learning problem.   believe with with small goals being set and lot of feedback to the student to gain their confidence in them self. is vey important.

The environment seems to be the most important factor in building student self-determination as it is the one factor a teacher can intentionally manipulate.  To begin with planning to promote self-determination in the students from the start of a class with clear objectives and discussions/activities embedded throughout the time that activates individual student's prior knowledge to feel their thoughts and experiences are valued by all.  The second most important factor would be self awareness.  Knowing what strengths and weaknesses one has provides knowledge and "Knowledge is power!"

It is essential for LD students to gain self awareness. They benefit from practicing talking about their strengths and challenges. Reflection on small victories is key to the development of confidence as a capable learner. My LD students have often tried and failed so much, the celebration of small victories allows them to adjust their self-perceptions, along with their short and long-term plans.  

   I think self awareness and self determination are important, for anyone, especially for a LD student.  The student is certainly aware that something is wrong.  By helping the student identify the disability he/she will know exactly what the problem is and work on modifications every day. This is done through determination by both the student and instructor.

I would say that the two most important factors are learning to value yourself and environment. It is so vital to any learner to understand their worth and value as a person and then making sure that their environment promotes growth. Positive and encouraging influences are a must, so recognizing and identifying the disability and then being determined to reach goals in a healthy environment is key.

I would say planning and reflecting and adjustment are the areas of most importance for my students. My students are required to attend class a certain number of hours a week and every week I have students who have failed to plan ahead for the inevitable obstacles and barriers they face that could prevent them from attendance and being able to fully focus while in class. I also think students have certain expectations of what class will be like based on their past experiences, which is understandable. I try to encourage students to constantly reflect on what is working and not and be aware of how they are doing in the process and think of what they can do to make the experience work best.

In my opinion, the two most important elements of self-determination are gaining self-awareness and reflecting and readjusting. I believe that you cannot value yourself without being self-aware, and you cannot progress without reflection and readjustment. Strengths are important, and they should be utilized to bulk up weaknesses. Therefore, incorporating activities that allow individuals with LD (and individuals without LD) to contribute to their strengths will help build self-awareness because it is working on both strengths and weaknesses in one sitting. In addition, I think it's vital that any success is celebrated, and that helps encourage students to want to reflect and readjust.

I think that one of the most important take aways from this module is that students must attain self-determination by recognizing their own strengths and ownership in their successes.  Many students that I have come across that have learning disabilities focus on the negative and what they "can't do."  By teaching a growth mindset and teaching the strategies for acknowledging self awareness and self value, students will begin to see their worth and open more doors for their own learning.

I think assisting students with setting and planning out their goals is one of the most important things we can do with them.  Once they achieve the goal they set, they will be more likely to follow the same routine to reach the next goal.  It will become habit and help them long after they leave the ABE world.