Online/Blended Learning
State of the Field Survey

  • Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

    Congrats on this important work! Online learning is extremely exciting not
    only for day schools, but also well beyond. That is because it goes where the
    kids are – in front of their screens. Studies show that American youth spend an
    average of 7 hours a day in front of their screens.

    There are about 1.3 million Jewish kids in North America who in theory
    are ready to get engaged and educated. Currently about 250,000 of them are in
    some sort of Jewish day school/Yeshiva. About the same number are in
    Congregational schools. That means the fast majority are getting no formal
    Jewish learning. Online learning can help fill big voids.

    I was very fortunate recently to attend a JFN gathering focused on
    EdTech – the future of online learning and engagement. However, what I learned
    was shocking. It was immediately apparent that major online educational tools
    are being developed for the Jewish world without serious regard to access for
    people with disabilities. There is the issue of captions for people who are
    hearing impaired, the issue of screen reader accessibility for those who are
    vision impaired and the larger issue of differentiated learning styles and
    skills which is not nearly deep or wide enough. This must be resolved.
    Moreover, there are no online programs that really “train the trainers” for
    Jewish educators and other professionals who work with children in how to be
    effective with children with disabilities. This led me to consider a few avenues.

    While there will always be a need and desire for in-person
    learning, online learning has significant benefits in scope, scale, and reach.
    Every year the Jewish community brings together advocates and interested
    parties for training. It’s an important process and we at RespectAbility sponsor
    and attend many of these events on best practices for inclusion of Jews with
    disabilities. But, what if we could reach so many more people who for any
    number of reasons are not able to attend in person? Why not create a top-notch
    curriculum on inclusion of Jews with disabilities, taught by the preeminent
    experts in the field, and host it online to be used at people’s convenience? It
    could not be the standard talking heads – too boring. It would need to be
    dynamic an interactive. We would like to be a part of creating this resource
    with a variety of topics and modules that can train individuals and train the
    trainers. Also, how can the more traditional materials be made in a way so that
    they are built from the ground up to be accessible to all learners?

    This online learning should serve as an example to other
    institutions and organizations of what online accessible learning can be. As a
    community we should create material that would go well beyond posting videos of
    speakers on an accessible website with captions. True online learning can
    create a community of inquiry, bring people together and move the whole field
    of inclusion further ahead. Currently there are legal standards (508) for online accessibility. Religious
    organizations technically are exempt from ADA laws. But we should have the
    highest standards, not the lowest, as the Jewish community should be a
    welcoming and respectful community for us all.

    Soon there will be new legal standards for accessibility in online
    platforms. We want to meet them so that Jews of ALL abilities can experience
    the richness of our people, tradition, values and faith. We are a better
    community when we are welcoming and respectful of all. Creating this means
    learning from best practices already in place in online learning and then
    ensuring that it works for all.

    We are currently conducting research in this field, but have already
    identified resources for our own learning.

    Dr. David Rose is co-founder and
    Chief Education Officer at CAST in Boston and is a leading researcher in the
    field of universal design in learning and online learning for people with

    The Online Learning
    Consortium focuses on best practices in online learning.

    Coursera is an online
    learning platform used by top universities around the world to host Massive
    Online Learning Courses (MOOCS). Ideally, the Jewish community can find an
    organization like Coursera that would host courses in order to use the best
    learning management software available.

    d. has a leader who is interested and committed to
    inclusive online learning.

    e. provides tools for parents of children with
    learning differences.

    I am only just now absorbing this new data from Avi Chai and am really
    grateful for this work. My sense is that it would take some time to go deep
    into the learning on this front. Also, it is a quickly evolving field. As the
    new standards for online accessibility will be out soon, we will be able to ensure
    the Jewish community reaps the benefits from the new standards. Over the last 6
    years I have been involved to some extent with Jerusalem U in making several
    films with them – Beneath the Helmet,
    Israel Inside etc. These films connect
    young Jews to Israel and were extremely effective on that front. But much more
    can be done, by them and others, with some shorter and more interactive
    learning programs, including gaming. But everything must be built from the
    ground up to be accessible to all. It needs to be baked in, not sprinkled on
    the top in a way that won’t work.

    Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi


    202 365 0787