Skip to main content


Hello hello! Today we’re covering a study that aimed to understand the equitability of e-learning. Specifically, the researchers wanted to know:

  • Do deaf and hard of hearing learners experience higher levels of fatigue in e-learning courses?
  • Does this impact learning outcomes?

We’ll also link to an article covered previously, discussing the equitability of high-stakes testing.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Learners & The Digital Migration

When considering e-learning, it is important to make sure that it is accessible to all learners. However, are we putting undue burden on some learners? How can we close that gap? A recent study aimed to evaluate whether e-learning leads to higher fatigue rates for the deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) population than for hearing learners (Rodrigues et al., 2022).

Previous research illustrates that DHH students have more difficulty in courses with instructional materials presented simultaneously, which is likely due to higher cognitive load (Dye et al., 2008). However, when resources are designed with the specific needs of DHH learners in mind, this gap may close. Considering the shift to digital and online learning, it is crucial to understand how this phenomenon may translate.

In the study, adult learners self-identified as DHH or hearing, as well as being “proficient” in Portuguese Sign Language (PSL) or unfamiliar with PSL. Prior to participating, learners completed a visual literacy test and the Fatigue Assessment Scale (FAS). The FAS “evaluates symptoms of chronic fatigue,” which was used to establish baseline fatigue levels prior to the online course (Rodrigues et al., 2022). The online course was a presentation on “artworks, the artists, and historical contextualization.” The screen displayed a visual of the artwork, the face of the presenter, a PSL translator, and a sentence or two of written information (see image).

Rodrigues et al. (2022)

After the presentation, learners indicated their mental and physical fatigue levels, as well as completed a post-test to evaluate learning outcomes (Rodrigues et al., 2022).

Prior to the online course, there were no significant differences between groups regarding chronic fatigue. However, after the course, the DHH group reported significantly higher levels of post-task fatigue than the control group. There was also a relationship between post-task fatigue and performance - such that higher rates of fatigue are related to lower overall performance. Further, “PSL nonusers feel less fatigue and achieve better performance scores” (Rodrigues et al., 2022). The authors suggest that PSL learners may have attempted to suppress either the speaker or PSL translator on screen, which may have contributed to the higher levels of fatigue. This type of inhibition, which would increase cognitive load, seems like a real possibility in this scenario - so I would be interested to see this study replicated with eye-tracking to better understand learner behaviors!

Ultimately, e-learning is often asking DHH learners (and those that use sign language) to split their attention in a way that may lead to higher cognitive load and decreased performance. Thus, minimizing the cognitive load that DHH learners experience is crucial to creating equitable learning experiences.

Key Takeaway(s): While adding video of a sign language translator to an e-learning course might seem like an alright idea, be sure to consider what else learners need to attend to. When deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) learners (well, all learners for that matter!) have a lot to attend to, it can lead to decreased performance. Be sure to keep accessibility and equitability in mind when developing learning experience.

Read More (Open): Rodrigues, F. M., Abreu, A. M., Holmström, I., & Mineiro, A. (2022). E-learning is a burden for the deaf and hard of hearing. Scientific Reports, 12.

“Research in the field of communication technologies and multimedia instructional material for DHH students… assert the need to reconsider the limitation imposed by the combination of audio/video channels as unquestionable assumptions on which multimedia design theories and principles are based.” - Rodrigues et al. (2022)

⚡🔙.✌️.Issue #74

Not too long ago, we also discussed the equitability of high-stakes testing. Check out "A Review: Are Tests Equitable?"from Issue #74!

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

We seem to be on a terrific trio trend! This week, reader Katherine M. sent pictures of her cute kitty friends. The first picture is of Helios, her "instructional design assistant" ✏️

I, for one, am very confident in his ID abilities! But outside of work, "when he's not attending (read: derailing) meetings, he's chasing around his sisters." Sweet sisters Echo and Calypso are also pictured below 🌼

Send us your pet pics at

Wondering why we’re including animal photos in a learning science newsletter? It may seem weird, we admit. But we’re banking on the baby schema effect and the “power of Kawaii.” So, send us your cute pet pics -- you’re helping us all learn better!

The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written and edited by Katie Vanhardt, Ph.D.

Have something to share? Want to see something in next week's issue? Send your suggestions: