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How to breakdown learning barriers with UDL

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

universal design for learning, harvard university, creative thinking, teambuilding, brainstorming, critical thinking, strategic thinking, design thinking, systems thinking, education, professional development, hexis21, hannah young, digital education, working from home, problem solving, 21st century skills

I recently enrolled in and completed a month-long online course with The Harvard Graduate School of Education. The course brought together global educators to help develop strategies for online teaching and learning. I hoped that this may help to supplement my current MSc studies in Educational Technologies and Instructional Design. I was not disappointed.

A new and exciting strategy for learning either on or offline was referenced throughout the course. This was the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. The premise that underpins this framework is that we, as educators need to identify and put into action strategies to improve and optimise teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.

The following video outlines the main principles of the UDL framework:

The teacher needs to think carefully and creatively about how they will engage each student, how they can present the information to be be processed in multiple ways and then provide multiple ways of expression for their students. The ultimate goal for learning and teaching is expert learners that are purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, strategic and goal-orientated.

After working with this strategy for 4 weeks, I can only see positive results.

The following are strategies that are central to UDL and can be implemented online and offline, with any age group and for any subject:

  1. Increase opportunities for pupil choice.

  2. Ensure that students can identify the relevance of the issue/information of the issue presented to them.

  3. Provide feedback that is frequent, timely, and specific

  4. Provide feedback that models how to incorporate evaluation, including identifying patterns of errors and wrong answers, into positive strategies for future success.

  5. Use real life situations or simulations to demonstrate coping skills.

  6. Display information in a flexible format so that the perceptual features can be varied (text size & font; the contrast between background and text or image etc)

  7. Pre-teach vocabulary and symbols, especially in ways that promote connection to the learners’ experience and prior knowledge.

  8. Embed support for vocabulary and symbols within the text (e.g., hyperlinks or footnotes to definitions, explanations, illustrations, previous coverage, translations).

  9. Present key concepts in one form of symbolic representation (e.g., an expository text or a maths equation) with an alternative form (e.g., an illustration, dance/movement, diagram, table, model, video, comic strip, storyboard, photograph, animation, physical or virtual manipulative.

  10. Make explicit links between information provided in texts and any accompanying representation of that information in illustrations, equations, charts, or diagrams.

  11. Highlight previously learned skills that can be used to solve unfamiliar problems.

  12. Provide alternatives in the requirements for rate, timing, speed, and range of motor action required to interact with instructional materials, physical manipulatives, and technologies.

  13. Provide differentiated models to emulate (i.e. models that demonstrate the same outcomes but use differing approaches, strategies, skills, etc.)

  14. Provide differentiated mentors (i.e., teachers/tutors who use different approaches to motivate, guide, feedback or inform)

  15. Provide models or examples of the process and product of goal-setting.

There are many more. I would encourage all educators to take a look at this framework in order that all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities.

The following links offer further guidance:


UDL @Harvard

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