Exploring visual learning technologies to train individuals with special needs

In this week of our journey to inclusion series, we are exploring Video Modelling to Virtual Reality, a journey of observational learning technologies for individuals with special needs

Disability is a canopy that includes physical impediment, visual impairment, intellectual disability to name a few. A significant number of these individuals with disabilities, require assistance and support in their day-to-day activities. The introduction of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and use of the Internet have played a major part in shaping the knowledge and skills of these individuals. There has been an increased awareness since the last decade about the usage of assistive technology in aiding these individuals and there has been a tremendous growth in the design and development of ICT-based platforms to enhance the learning outcomes of these individuals.

At the outset our focus is on how technology could assist individuals with special needs like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Asperger’s syndrome, Learning Disability, Down Syndrome Cerebral Palsy to name a few who have difficulties in the area of cognition, communication and social interaction.

What is an Assistive Technology?

An assistive technology is defined as any item, piece of equipment, product, or system whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized that can be used to directly assist, maintain or improve functional capabilities of individuals with learning disabilities. (UNESCO. (2006)).

As the above definition makes it clear, assistive technologies can be both high-tech and low-tech tools. The purpose of assistive technology is to provide tools that help those with learning disabilities reach their full potential. Assistive technology works with individuals to capitalize on their strengths and work around their specific deficits.

Meticulous research on assistive technology categorizes video modeling as a high-tech tool in teaching several skills to these individuals with special needs. Video modeling is one such well-validated intervention documented in the behavioral sciences. It has been used to target a variety of behaviors across many areas of functioning including language, social behavior, play, academics, and adaptive skills.

What is Video Modelling?

Video Modelling is a form of observational learning in which desired behaviors are learned by watching a video demonstration and then imitating the behavior of the model.

How is it used?

  • Watch the model demonstrate the desired behavior/skill in the video.
  • After watching, begin to imitate behavior/skill from the video.
  • Then begins to generalize or utilize that behavior/skill in their normal environment which usually involves intervention and practice.

Many evidence-based studies have demonstrated that video modeling can teach communication, academic, play, functional, life, and social skills to children with special needs. In fact, video modeling has been shown to be one of the most effective methods for teaching social skills and targeted behaviors to children with autism. The targeted behavior considered for video modeling is always observable and quantifiable. It also has the proven ability to decrease problem behaviors, including aggression, tantrums, and other off-task activities.

Why video modeling?

When there are significantly fewer resources with insufficient social skills instruction for individuals, video modeling comes as a handy tool. Individuals especially with ASD are naturally attracted to video and visual inputs. Its ease of use coupled with fun and engaging videos promotes a desire to interact with the videos. One of the encouraging factors is learning happens in a naturalistic environment and repetition of videos isn’t a costly affair.

There are studies that present how prompting and reinforcement are not necessary to learn from a video. Video modeling opens a window of opportunities, it facilitates the ability to teach an endless array of skills, behaviors, language, etc., and multiple skills within one video.

Individuals especially the children identify with peers and models similar to them and are therefore engaged when watching them.

Steps involved in Video Modelling

  • Targeting a Behaviour for Teaching
  • Having the Correct Equipment
  • Planning for the Video Recording
  • Collecting Baseline Data
  • Making the Video
  • Arranging the Environment for Watching the Video
  • Showing the Video
  • Monitoring Progress
  • Troubleshooting if the Learner is Not Making Progress
  • Fading the Video and Prompting

Expected Outcome

  • Learning the targeted behavior
  • Generalizing the learned behavior in at least one setting
  • Developing social skills and facilitating group work
  • Providing structured skill practice and supporting basic literacy
  • Bringing more scholarship on video modeling in the vernacular context

Although there are many exclusive video modeling tools and apps in the market, mostly of non-Indian origin, there are problems with cultural validity since they are alien to the native lifestyle. Many times, individuals are not able to relate to the language accent, the context in which the video was shot, and behavioral practices followed. And most importantly it is not affordable. Though there are ample opportunities for the Indian market, currently there are very few players. Hope in the coming days there are more ICTs solutions with a focus on India.

Our Journey in Video Modelling

At Ishanya, as a part of the pilot study, 5 videos were meticulously made. A list of targeted behavior and skills were considered as a part of the pilot. They are:

  1. Brushing Teeth
  2. Greeting
  3. Apologizing
  4. Sharing is Caring
  5. Interrupting

The videos were shown for varying age groups ranging from 9 years to 18 years and for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The progress was monitored and gave us a lot of insight into enhancing the learning process.

This success encouraged the team to adopt an advanced method of using Virtual Reality (VR). Recent research studies have pointed out Virtual Reality Platforms as a promising tool for improving social cognitive skills in special needs individuals. These tools are designed to help them to make sense of the world around them and assist them in learning these skills in a non-threatening, safe environment.

At Ishanya, currently, VR intervention is focused on enhancing social skills. While we are administering various VR videos on special needs individuals, we are presently in the process of adding various VR videos to our inventory. Plastic Water Labs, an Edu-Tech start-up has joined hands in promoting our shared mission of learning with fun using VR, giving students an interactive and immersive experience. We look forward to sharing our experience in the use of VR in the coming days.

Photo by Lux Interaction on Unsplash


Adam, T., & Tatnall, A. (2010). Use of ICT to Assist Students with Learning Difficulties: An Actor-Network Analysis from Key competencies in the knowledge society: IFIP TC 3 international conference, KCKS 2010, held as a part of WCC 2010, Brisbane, Australia, September 20-23, 2010: Proceedings (Vol. 324, IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology). Retrieved March 06, 2016, from http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-15378-5_1

Corbett, B. A., & Abdullah, M. (2005). Video modeling: Why does it work for children with autism? Journal of Early and Intensive Behavior Intervention, 2(1), 2-8.

Evidence-Based Practice Brief: Video Modeling. (n.d.). National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders Retrieved March 05, 2016, from http://autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu/sites/autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu/files/imce/documents/VideoModeling_Complete.pdf

Kandalaft, M.R., Didehbani, N., Krawczyk, D.C. et al. J Autism Dev Disord (2013) 43: 34. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-012-1544-6

Maione, L., & Mirenda, P. (2006). Effects of Video Modeling and Video Feedback on Peer-Directed Social Language Skills of a Child With Autism. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 8(2), 106-118.

PDST Technology in Education. (n.d.). Autism / Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Retrieved March 05, 2016, from http://www.ncte.ie/SpecialNeedsICT/AdviceSheets/AutismAutisticSpectrumDisorders/

Steps for Implementation: Video Modeling (Rep.). (2010). National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders Retrieved March 05, 2016, from http://autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu/sites/autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu/files/VideoModeling_Steps_0.pdf

 Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities. (n.d.). Retrieved March 05, 2016, from http://etec.ctlt.ubc.ca/510wiki/Teaching_Students_with_Learning_Disabilities

Tseng, R. Y., & Yi-Luen, E. (2011). The role of Information and computer technology for children with Autism Spectrum disorder and the Facial expression Wonderland (FeW). International Journal of Computational Models and Algorithms in Medicine, 2(2), 23-41 Retrieved March 05, 2016, from https://wiki.cc.gatech.edu/designcomp/images/e/e9/JCMAM-FEW-ASD-2011-s.pdf

UNESCO. (2006). ICTs IN EDUCATION FOR PEOPLE WITH SPECIAL NEEDS (Rep.). Retrieved http://iite.unesco.org/pics/publications/en/files/3214644.pdf

Watch Me Learn. (n.d.). What is Video Modeling? Retrieved March 05, 2016, from http://www.watchmelearn.com/video-modeling/what-is-video-modeling

Anoop Simha is leading the Center for Digital Inclusion with an interest in bridging the gaps within the information society in developing world. Currently working in the intersectional area of disability and technology.


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