By Hoa (Gloria) Pham
Online learning has recently proved immensely challenging for university students in Australia, with up to 50% expressing dissatisfaction, and even much worse for students affected by ADHD.
One of them, Justin Olive, took matters into his own hands and founded a start-up that provides ADHD-friendly learning solutions, including a “TikTok version of education”. His AllStudent project ended up in the Top 4 in the Student stream of SPARK Deakin’s Startup Competition.
The unheard struggles of students with ADHD, spoken by one of them
ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), characterised by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, is among the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood and often lasts into adulthood.
“ADHD is a public health and economic issue that’s almost completely unaddressed,” Justin said.
He felt inclusive education programs at universities often focus on more obvious disabilities and overlook ADHD.
“Blindness, for example, prevents you from reading, but ADHD does too. Because if you give an ADHD person a giant slab of text, they simply can’t read it.”
Justin himself experienced the issue first-hand.
“Up until last year, I couldn’t understand why I suffered so much in university, or why I read about Economics while I needed to watch Nutrition lectures.”
“Eventually I got diagnosed with ADHD, just by pure chance, because it’s incredibly difficult to get diagnosed unless you… already know you have it,” Justin recounted.
The added toll from online learning
All students with ADHD that Justin interviewed agreed that the transition to online learning was horrifying, because they essentially need learning that is as engaging as possible.
“Imagine how hard it is for regular students to force themselves through two hours of a lecturer droning over PowerPoint slides, and how much worse it is with compounding effects of ADHD.”
Universities now have economic incentives to maintain online education, but Justin was worried this trend would leave all students behind, especially those with the disorder.
“Online doesn’t suit ADHD, by any means. We need a classroom where we’re constantly being engaged face-to-face and everything’s a punchy bullet point,” Justin said.
The solutions? Untangling things, and… “TikTok”!
After his diagnosis, Justin started seriously considering how he could restructure education to better suit people like him.
He entered SPARK Deakin’s Startup Competition, brainstormed solutions to the issue, interviewed many students with ADHD at Deakin, and analysed massive amounts of qualitative data.
He eventually founded AllStudent, an education technology start-up that aims to empower students of any ability to fulfill their potential.
His solution started with identifying people with ADHD through scanning system data, since many of them remain undiagnosed.
They can then study with the support of two services:
1. An assignment coach that breaks down complicated assignments into interactive formats, which students with ADHD can work through and submit by clicking one button. Disability resource centres at universities can implement this program.
Justin’s reasoning is that ADHD people’s brains are dopamine-deficient, so every additional step is a barrier that pushes them towards procrastinating assignments and dropping out.
2. An online ADHD-friendly module builder that makes conventional “boring” school work more captivating. This tool combines input from lectures, textbooks, learning outcomes etc., and creates a snappy “TikTok” of these educational materials.
The purpose is to offer ADHD people the most dopamine-producing learning experience possible. This idea can be manually implemented, but Justin believed it requires technological innovations to be scalable.
These two ideas received the best feedback from ADHD students that Justin spoke to.
How entrepreneurship changed Justin’s life (and potentially many others’)
Justin credited SPARK Deakin for his first learning experience in business.
“Previously I was always about science and researching. Then it dawned on me that I should really be involved in business and entrepreneurship. I got into SPARK Deakin and everything just clicked instantly. It’s very intuitive to me.”
Justin loved the information sessions, the positive community, and the opportunity to give back through the competition.
“It’s amazing how an ‘unimpressive’ Nutrition student became the founder of an inclusive education entrepreneurship project within only four months,” he laughed.
Justin’s plan for 2022 is to continue to research what existing education technology companies are doing and where he can make the biggest impact on the issue.