What are Instructional & Assistive Technologies?

Educators are confronted with a wide variety of terms related to technology: assistive technology, instructional technology, educational technology, adaptive technology, and information and communication technology, among others.

In this module, we define “instructional technology” and “assistive technology” in the following way:

Instructional technology (or Educational technology):  Any piece of technology that educators integrate into their instructional practice to engage students and enhance students’ learning

  • e.g., tablets, interactive whiteboards, smart phone apps, etc.

Assistive technology: Any piece of technology that helps a student with or without a disability to increase or maintain his/her level of functioning [i]

  • e.g., speech-to-text software, word processors, adapted keyboards, etc.

Although we may occasionally distinguish between “instructional technology” and “assistive technology” in this module, it is important to note that technology traditionally considered to be assistive technology can, in many instances, be used to support the learning of all students. For this reason, we encourage educators to reflect on how they might use various forms of technology to support the learning of all students.

Click here to access the transcription of this video.

Understanding Assistive Technology

All students require the ability to access the curriculum, and to demonstrate their learning in order to meet their educational potential. Assistive technology (e.g., software, mobile devices, accessible versions of textbooks and media) are critical in providing voice, as well as equitable access for students with special education needs” [ii].

Students with LDs benefit from the use of technology in the same ways as other students do. However, they experience further benefits when assistive technology (AT) is judiciously selected to meet their specific learning needs, as outlined in their individualized education plans (IEPs).

The section below in an excerpt from an LD@school article. Click here to access the original article Assistive Technology for Students with Learning Disabilities: Information, Tools and Resources for Teachers.

Although AT is commonly thought of as computers, hardware and software, there is actually a continuum of technology, ranging from “low tech” to “high tech”.

Low-tech Assistive Technology9 graphics representing different technologies

  • Pencil grips
  • Planners
  • Audiobooks
  • Digital clocks
  • Calculators

Mid to Hi-tech Assistive Technology

  • Digital recorders
  • Digital books
  • Graphing calculators
  • Electronic math worksheets
  • Portable or adapted keyboards
  • Mobile technology (e.g., tablets, iPods, iPads, smartphones, MP3 players, etc.)
  • Reading systems that utilize a computer, scanner, and software to “read” scanned book pages out loud (e.g., Kurzweil)
  • Speech recognition software that allows a computer to operate by speaking to it (e.g., Siri)
  • Speech recognition systems that turn oral language into written text (e.g., Dragon)
  • Software that predicts and edits words for students who struggle with spelling (e.g., WordQ)
  • “Talking” calculators that assist students with math challenges
  • Mind mapping/outlining software
  • Global Positioning System (GPS)

Uses and Benefits of Assistive Technology

The section below in an excerpt from an LD@school article. Click here to access the original article Assistive Technology for Students with Learning Disabilities.

AT helps students in two key ways:

  1. It helps students learn how to complete a particular task, and
  2. It helps students circumvent certain difficulties that pose as barriers to their learning.

For example, when a student listens to a digital version of a text using text-to-speech software, they are able to circumvent reading difficulties by using their listening skills. If the student also focuses on the screen as the software highlights the words being read aloud, then they can also learn to recognize unfamiliar words, thus enhancing their word reading skills.

The section below in an excerpt from an LD@school article. Click here to access the source article The Use of Assistive Technology at the Intermediate Level: Educators’ and Students’ Perceptions.

When students with LDs are effectively able to use AT, they may experience many benefits, including:

  • improved academic achievement,
  • a more positive overall school experience,
  • greater enthusiasm for school,
  • enhanced self-esteem,
  • enhanced self-efficacy, and
  • increased time spent on academic tasks.

In one of our TalkLD podcasts, Chad Downes, Assistive Technology Advisor at Amethyst Demonstration School, discusses how AT can improve students’ self-esteem.

Click the play button to listen to the sound bite with Chad Downes.

Click here to access the transcription of this sound bite.

Click here to access the full podcast How Assistive Technology (AT) Affects Self-Esteem.

It is not only students with LDs who stand to benefit from AT; research has shown that the use of AT can support the learning of all students [iii]. For this reason, instructional and assistive technologies should be integrated into instruction through the universal design for learning (UDL) framework.

Click here to access Sider & Maich’s article in What Works? Research into Practice, Research Monograph #50.


[i] Ontario Teachers’ Federation, n.d.

[ii] Council of Ontario Directors of Education, 2017, p. 26

[iii] Sider & Maich, 2014