This past week I read the article, “Universal Design for Learning,” by Dave L. Edyburn. I was already familiar with the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), however, the article was helpful in that it really clarified exactly what UDL is and how it is helpful. The principles of UDL were developed by David Rose and Anne Meyer at the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). The concept of UDL revolves around brain development, learning, and digital media and its purpose is to help educators understand the diversity of their students and apply different technologies to facilitate the learning of all students. While the dominant theme in education has been changing the individual students so that they could better learn the material, UDL proposes that the curricula must be changed to accommodate each student.
Originally the focus of UDL was on accommodating students with disabilities by altering the methods and materials to meet their specific needs. For example, to accommodate hearing impaired students, teachers would include subtitles in any videos that played. To accommodate students that have difficulty seeing, teachers would provide reading material with larger text or braille options if a student is blind. This approach recognizes that disabled children cannot help their condition and so should not be expected to change in order to learn what is required of them. Instead the educators are required to change their approach to teaching and provide more flexibility.
Now it is recognized that the principles of UDL can be beneficial to all students regardless of whether they have a disability as all students are individuals that have different learning needs. In fact, according to CAST, neuroscience reveals that differences among individuals and the skills, needs and interests they have are as varied and unique as DNA or fingerprints. With that idea in mind it is important that educators recognize the three different brain networks and how they affect learning.
The recognition network focuses on the “what” of learning. Gathering facts, categorizing what we see, hear, and read, and identifying letters, words, or an author’s style are all tasks that take place in the recognition network. According to the principles of UDL, it is important to provide multiple means of representation to aid the recognition network in acquiring information and knowledge. For example, some students might prefer to learn by seeing whereas other students might prefer to learn by hearing or by a combination of the two. So teachers should present information and content in different ways to better reach all students.
The strategic network focuses on the “how” of learning. It is concerned with planning and performing tasks, and the organization and expression of ideas. For example, writing an essay and solving math problems are both strategic tasks that have varying approaches. With the strategic network in mind it is important to provide multiple means of action and expression so that students have different ways to express what they know.
The affective network focuses on the “why” of learning. It is concerned mainly with how learners get engaged and stay motivated. Teachers need to find ways to challenge and excite students to keep them interested in what they are supposed to learn. To do so it is important to provided multiple means of engagement to reach all students.
Here is a diagram from http://www.cast.org that illustrates the three different networks and their locations in the brain.
Learning designers should promote and encourage the implementation of UDL if they are not already doing so because of how beneficial it can be to students. In many cases the principles of UDL are overlooked and students are all required to learn in the same way. However, it isn’t difficult for teachers to start redesigning their curricula in a way that provides students with multiple means of representation, multiple means of action and expression, and multiple means of engagement. It just takes time and some creativity. A simple step that can be taken is to have both visual and audio options as well as a combination of the two available for students to learn material. Interactive digital media that allow students to navigate through material in a nonlinear fashion is also helpful in that students can choose how they explore material. Also, teachers can give students more options in how they perform tasks and complete assignments. These are just a few quick ideas, however there are a lot of ideas at http://www.cast.org that are worth examining.
UDL really is all about creating an individualized learning experience for each student. The old style of teaching all students in the same way is outdated and recognized as being ineffective. Even though implementing the principles of UDL requires educators to take time to change their curriculum, it is a worthwhile change because in the end more students will be reached and more learning will take place.