Universal design for learning

I continue to share brief lessons from the modules in Contemporary Approaches to University Teaching, a free massive open online course (MOOC) designed for new teachers, those who wish to enhance student learning or teaching practice and emerging leaders in higher education.There are 24 modules in total and 4 possible pathways through the MOOC.

The current semester ends on July 1st and we will shortly be opening Session 2, 2023 for enrolment. It is not too late to join Session 1 if you would like to check out the modules on offer! Sign up at https://canvas.instructure.com/register and use the following join code: 64BHPE.

Universal design for learning in tertiary education is Module 10. It is part of the ‘Enhancing student learning’ pathway through the course.

Developed by Darlene McClennan (University of Tasmania), Jen Cousins (TAFE South Australia) and Erin Leif (Monash University). The module is a version of the Disability Awareness Universal Design for Learning in Tertiary Education online course and represents the collective effort of many tertiary practitioners and professionals.

Watch the following animation (1:55) and reflect on how your teaching might be inclusive for all students using universal design for learning:

The most recognised definition of Universal Design is attributed to Ron Mace (Story, Mueller & Mace, 1998, p. 2):

“The design of products and environments to be useable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation and specialised design.”

In an educational context, UDL provides an opportunity to address individual and systematic variability:

  • universal – ensuring that all learners can participate, understand and learn;
  • design – ensuring we design, develop and deliver curriculum to be accessible to the broadest group of learners possible; and
  • learning – incorporating the what, why and how of learning into curriculum design.

Ask yourself: What variability have you recognised in your learner cohorts? Are there similarities between cohorts? Are there some less apparent variabilities (e.g. limited access to the internet, carer responsibilities, work commitments)?

Image source: Universal Design for Learning in Tertiary Education E-learning Program on Disability Awareness.

There is a lot of learning packed into this module!

In practice, for teachers in higher education, universal design for learning means adhering to the three principles:

  • Multiple means of engagement – providing numerous ways to engage with the learning to stimulate interest and sustain enthusiasm. This ensures learning is meaningful and relevant. It supports learners to be purposeful and motivated (the why of learning).
  • Multiple means of representation – presenting information in various formats helps learners process and comprehend the content. This maximises ways for learners to connect with the learning. It supports learners to be resourceful and knowledgeable (the what of learning).
  • Multiple means of action and expression – offering varied ways for learners to develop and demonstrate what they know, understand and can do. This helps learners to use their strengths and capabilities. It supports learners to be strategic and goal-directed (the how of learning).

The module works through each of these principles with guidelines, checkpoints, examples, reflection questions and a wealth of resources to answer the question: How can UDL guide your course design, session planning, development of materials and resources, use of learning tools and technologies, facilitation and evaluation? In other words, how can your students benefit from UDL?

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

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