What is Universal Design for Learning, and why does it matter?
Student cohorts are increasingly diverse, and technology and online learning have a significant role to play in providing widening access and participation in education (Stone 2017). Sometimes, often unknown to us, students bring a number of barriers with them into the learning environment: these could be cultural, language, physical, emotional and social, for example. How we design or develop online courses and integrate technologies in these designs will either assist students with these barriers or make it more difficult for them to engage in the courses and with the content. The Oxford Reference Dictionary defines Barriers to Learning “as events and conditions in pupils’ lives which make it difficult or less likely that they will be able to learn effectively” (Bowen,T.,Ellis, L. ,2017, Oxford Reference).
In order to meet the needs of all students equally, it’s important for courses to be designed with diversity in mind. In this Coffee Course we will be looking at Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a method for teachers to purposefully design and build courses that meet the needs of all students.
The following video shows the application of UDL principles within a variety of situations and how different technologies have been adapted and used to overcome barriers that may be faced.
Activity: Let’s think about barriers!
As outlined in the video UDL aims to assist in overcoming the different barriers that many face. We often do not think of those obstacles that prevent people from going through their everyday lives.
This is just a very simple exercise to get you thinking about barriers: Imagine that you are driving or walking through never before explored terrain or countryside. Make a list of the types of barriers might you encounter on your trip. What kind of technologies might you be able to use to overcome these barriers?
Post some of these barriers in the forum. You might like to take a photo of the barriers and post it in the forum. Have a look at some of the barriers others have encountered and suggest some technologies that could be implemented to overcome these.
We often limit our thinking of barriers to learning to physical disabilities, such as vision or audio impairment. The following video outlines some of the barriers often faced by adult learners in particular that we often do not take into consideration or recognise as barriers. (Note that this video has no audio.)
This issue of barriers faced by students and the importance of understanding students within online courses is discussed in the very recent ‘Opportunity through online learning – Equity Fellowship Final Report (PDF)‘ by Dr Cathy Stone:
“Only by having comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the diversity of the online student cohort within an institution can the students’ needs be met in the most appropriate and effective ways. The external, online cohort is generally quite different demographically from the on-campus cohort, yet many universities do not routinely analyse or distribute data that is specific to this cohort. Gaining an accurate institutional understanding of who these students are, means that decisions about and interactions with these students can be better informed. This understanding assists the development of appropriate support, teaching and communication strategies, including flexibility of approach to reduce barriers wherever possible.”
Definition of UDL
Universal Design for Learning is defined by the U.S. Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA) as:
“The term UNIVERSAL DESIGN FOR LEARNING means a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that:
(A) provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and
(B) reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient.” (“UDL in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 | National Center On Universal Design for Learning”, 2017)
Applying and implementing UDL design principles within course development assists all students. As with our activity above, integrating technologies such as bridges to overcome creeks or rivers benefits all of those trying to cross the creek or river. Implementing technologies to reduce barriers to learning benefits all students not just the ones we are trying to target. When designing courses we need to look at what technologies or tools we can use or implement to help overcome barriers to learning and how we can make learning environments more flexible?
The three principles and checkpoints of UDL
There is already a great deal of information and resources out there about UDL. The National Center on Universal Design for Learning and the CAST website are great places to go to for more information and resources. The following diagram, from the National Center on Universal Design for Learning website, outlines the guidelines and checkpoints that can be implemented in catering for the three principles as we seek to move learners through the learning process.
Click on the image below to access the PDF of the guidelines
CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org
Activity: UDL and you!
In looking at the three UDL design principles and their guidelines, are there any that stand for you as aspects you already implement in your courses or teaching? Discuss these in the forum and how you do this.
Striving to make our courses as ‘barrier free’ as possible and implementing technologies that can assist in that will be a part of this coffee course. Throughout this coffee course we will be using the three UDL principles and checkpoints as a basis for applying practical solutions to course development. As you look at these, have a think about them in relation to a specific course that you might be convening or involved in as we examine the three guidelines in detail and apply them to our individual context and together share practical ways that we can create courses with fewer barriers to student learning and engagement.
- Stone, Cathy. (2017). https://www.ncsehe.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/CathyStone_EQUITY-FELLOWSHIP-FINAL-REPORT-1.pdf
- CAST (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author.
- UDL in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 | National Center On Universal Design for Learning. (2017). Udlcenter.org. Retrieved 10 May 2017, from http://www.udlcenter.org/advocacy/referencestoUDL/HEOA