In teaching and course design, whether it’s for face to face or online learning, there’s a need to plan the learning to accommodate and engage every student. While we often don’t know who those students are before the course is set up, there are many things we can do to ensure student success. There’s a growing need to incorporate Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles as the course is developed and constructed. UDL will help the course accommodate the jagged profiles of our students, since the myth of the average student has been busted (Rose, 2013).
So, with a group of students, for which there is no average performance, with individual jagged learning profiles, it’s essential that UDL principles are applied, in order to reach and teach each one. That’s why making an effort to learn more about UDL is so important. Just as the US AirForce needed to build a better cockpit once they learned there was no average pilot, we need to build a better learning environment to accommodate our learners, beyond merely providing choice and voice. The intention, as the CAST UDL framework outlines, is to support students to become expert learners.
But, to get there, I firmly believe we, as educators, need to know and learn more about UDL and model this framework, as the expert learners in our fields of endeavour. We need to become purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, strategic and goal directed in our course designs and delivery.
Many in higher education don’t have course designers available to support the implementation of UDL in our classes or online learning spaces. It’s time we became expert learners about how to set up our courses with UDL in mind.
The best thing is that you don’t need to go it alone. There are guided book study events where you can participate with others while learning about UDL. I’ve organized book studies the past two years to read and engage with others with 1. UDL in the Cloud by Katie Novak and Tom Thibodeau, and 2. Dive into UDL with Kendra F. Grant and Luis Perez. If you can’t find one, build one, or reach out to me and I’ll share the two book study web sites where UDL was the focus.
Here’s an opportunity to learn more from a panel discussion held with UDL IRN in which I was a participant. The focus is on book study about UDL, but there are tidbits and insights about UDL that you won’t want to miss.
In the end, I’m putting my UDL learning into action in my teaching. UDLing is an important contributor to student success. UDL may not be the whole reason students are engaged and motivated, but it’s certainly a factor. That’s what all this UDLing is about – those less than average learners who come into our learning ‘cockpits’ with their jagged learning profiles. They join us for a time, taking that journey into our field of study with us. It’s up to us to adjust the seats and build things differently, to ensure we’re not fitting them into an ‘average’ course.