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Research with People with Intellectual Disabilities

Students of the Certificate in Contemporary Living co-research how their peers experience learning in college.

Pictured above left: Niamh Fortune, Brendan Shields, John Power, Tomás Murphy, Anneliese Baird and Fiona Lacey

The National Institute for Intellectual Disability (NIID) does research in collaboration with people with intellectual disabilities. People with intellectual disabilities, supporters and university researchers do research about things that matter to people with intellectual disabilities. People with intellectual disabilities make decisions about the research and do the research.
People with intellectual disabilities have been involved in several research projects at the NIID.

Intellectually Disabled Students' Experiences of Learning in Tertiary Education: an Inclusive Phenomenography
Dr John Kubiak and
Niamh Fortune, Brendan Shields, John Power, Tomás Murphy, Anneliese Baird and Fiona Lacey

About this research:
This research explored how students with intellectual disabilities experience learning while undertaking the Certificate in Contemporary Living (CCL) at Trinity College Dublin. Two main questions were addressed: 1) how can students with intellectual disabilities be meaningfully included in a research project on their own learning? 2), what kind of variation exists in intellectually disabled people's ways of experiencing their learning while attending college?

There were two stages to this research: Stage 1 documented the process of six CCL students undertaking training as co-researchers; in Stage 2, a phenomenographic approach was used which aimed to identify variation in the ways CCL students experienced learning.

Under the guidance of Dr John Kubiak, co-researchers interviewed 18 CCL students on the topic of 'How CCL students' experience learning'. Four categories of description were found which form an 'outcome space', an inclusive, hierarchical unity in which the categories further up the hierarchy subsume those preceding them. The categories are: 1) the Cognitive Stages of Learning, 2) Self-Regulation of Learning, 3) Learning as Collective Meaning Making and 4) The Supportive Environment and Learning.

The findings emerging from this fourth category foregrounds the central role of the educator in shaping a learning environment where positive student experiences are generated through the promotion of constructive student-teacher relationships. Ultimately, this research has shown that for CCL students, learning in tertiary environment is a complex undertaking and warns against educators assuming that they know how people with intellectual disabilities learn; indeed gaining knowledge and understanding of such learning should be researched inclusively. It is finally argued that educators can be proactive in creating a classroom atmosphere that is safe, supportive and helpful if they are armed with the tools of facilitative teaching practices and emotional competencies.

Accessible findings made by co-researchers

How CCL students experience learning in Trinity College.
For more information on this research contact:
Dr John Kubiak
Teaching and Learning Officer
National Institute for Intellectual Disability, 4th floor, 3 College Green, Trinity College Dublin
Tel: +353 (0)1 896 3442 Email:

To read more, please click here

July 08th 2013