Neurodiversity and cognitive load in online learning: A focus group study

Anne-Laure Le Cunff*, Vincent Giampietro, Eleanor Dommett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


It is widely accepted that cognitive load plays a crucial role in online learning. However, despite neurodevelopmental conditions being the largest category of qualifying disabilities in education, and the rise of online learning, there is little understanding of the factors impacting cognitive load in online learning for neurodivergent students and how these factors differ from those affecting neurotypical students. This study used qualitative comparison groups with neurotypical and neurodivergent students to examine their experiences of cognitive load in online learning. A sample of 26 university students (14 neurotypical and 12 neurodivergent) participated in focus group discussions. While neurodivergent students reported many similar experiences of cognitive load in online learning compared to their neurotypical peers—such as confusion in navigating the content and technical issues—some difficulties were more present for neurodivergent students—such as transcripts including mistakes and inaccessible content presentation—creating additional barriers in effectively engaging with the educational content. The results suggest that neurotypical and neurodivergent students experience similar challenges, albeit to differing degrees of intensity, and that more research is needed to explore the relationship between neurodiversity and cognitive load in online learning.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0301932
JournalPLoS One
Issue number4 April
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2024


  • higher education
  • online learning
  • university students
  • neurodiversity
  • ADHD
  • ASD
  • dyslexia


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