Meda & Albukhari

A Nested Approach to Supporting Special Education Need and Disabled Students in Online Learning 

Lawrence Meda, Sharjah Education Academy
Hala Albukhari, American University in the Emirates


The COVID-19 global pandemic has affected the education sector in many ways. Institutions were forced to implement emergency remote teaching and learning as a preventative strategy to reduce the spread of the virus. Special education need and disabled (SEND) students were among those most vulnerable to dropping their studies because of a lack of support. The purpose of this study was to examine the nature of the support that was offered to special education need and disabled students at two universities in the United Arab Emirates. The study was conducted as a multiple case study of a federal and a private university in Dubai. We used a qualitative approach and the study’s paradigmatic position was interpretive. Sixteen faculty members and support staff were purposely selected to participate in a semistructured interview and complete an open-ended questionnaire. Bronfenbrenner’s Social Ecological theory was the theoretical framework for this study, which asserted that as a child grows, they interact with five nested systems: microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem. We found that the nature of support offered to students fell into four fundamental nests that helped students’ access and succeed in online learning: microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem. The study concludes that implementing a collaborative working relationship is an indispensable way of enhancing students’ access and success in online learning.

Keywords: online learning, special education need and disabled, differentiated support, collaboration

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