What does the term "slow learner" mean?

It is important for practitioners and parents to understand that “slow learner” is not a diagnostic category. It is a term used to describe a person who has the ability to learn necessary academic skills, but at a slower rate compared to average same age peers. A slow learner needs more time, more repetition, and often more resources from teachers to be successful in learning new tasks and concepts.

A slow learner has traditionally been identified as anyone with a Full Scale IQ one standard deviation below the mean but not as low as two standard deviations below the mean. Those who fall two standard deviations below the mean are often identified as having an Intellectual Disability (IQ below 70). A slow learner does not meet criteria for an Intellectual Disability. However, the person learns slower than average students and will need additional help to succeed.


On the other hand, a child with Specific Learning Disability (SLD) is one of average or above average intelligence who has difficulties in a specific area which can make acquisition of academic skills very difficult. For example, a child with SLD may be affected specifically in reading and spelling but with no issues in learning other skills. Whereas, the learning of a slow learner generally affects in most of the aspects academically. Dyslexia (affecting reading and spelling skills), dyscalculia (affecting mathematical skills) and dysgraphia (affecting writing skills) are the types of SLD commonly heard.

What are the characteristics of slow learners?

1. Developmental

Slow learners may have immature language patterns or speech problems.

2. Social

Slow learners have poor judgment, immature social behavior and most of the time prefers company of younger children.

3. Emotional

Slow learners are often seemed having low self esteem and frustrations as they are aware of their academic struggles.

4. Academic and Learning

Slow learners work on tasks more slowly, have poor memory and difficulties understanding novel concepts and directions which involve several steps in a task. Their attention span may be short as well.

Educational Implications and Treatment

Most slow learners are not eligible for special education services as learning at a slower rate generally, with slightly lower average IQ score is not a disability. These children are still being placed in the main stream education system. Nevertheless, they are encouraged to attend remedial classes, after school support programs and one on one tutoring to accelerate progress and maximize learning experience. It takes patience, perseverance and time to teach these children.

Specifically, slow learners can benefit from speech therapy and occupational therapy.

Speech therapy helps slow learners to improve their speech, language and communication skills as well as social interaction skills with peers through individual and group speech therapy. Treatment goals may focus on reasoning skills, auditory processing skills,  improving morphological and syntactic aspects of language and narrative skills. Whereas, occupational therapy helps to improve focus attention,  problem solving skills, motor planning skills and performance of sequential tasks. It improves self regulation in the aspect of emotion and build self-esteem and confidence.

What are the teaching strategies for slow learners?


Slow learners benefit from task repetitions. They typically needs five times as much repetitions as typical peers especially in learning novel concepts.

Task Analysis

Slow learners benefit from having multi-step tasks to be broken down into smaller steps.  Instructions may be rephrased into more direct and precise form (straight to the point) and accompany by visual aids in order to improve task comprehension.

Thus, parents and educators should set realistic goals and smaller targets for each main task. It is essential to understand what is achievable for the child and set targets accordingly.

Hands-on Learning

Curriculum choices should be carefully made to ensure the most educational success.  This may mean pursuing a more vocational educational track, which will lead to more opportunities for hands-on learning experiences.  Keep things concrete.

Praise and reward

Motivation works wonders for slow learners. To help them continue learning, it is important to acknowledge even the smallest achievement and offer rewards for each milestone.