Universal Design for Learning

Every learner has favored methods for obtaining, comprehending, and retaining information. Some are visual learners, some are auditory learners, and some are kinesthetic learners. However, most learn best through a combination of these three tactics.

In modern teaching environments, efforts have been made to implement the Universal Design for Learning. UDL is a plan for teaching which, through the use of technology and adaptable lesson plans, aims to help the maximum number of learners comprehend and retain information by appealing to all learning styles.

UDL is a set of principles that provides an instructional framework for a flexible approach to individual learning needs. This differs from assistive technology (AT). AT is specifically about tools and devices that can help students with communication disabilities complete complex tasks and interact better with others.

While assistive technologies are effective, UDL flips the model by offering these benefits to all students, allowing them to choose which tools fit them best, even customizing their learning in different paths depending on whether they are trying to write an essay or solve a trigonometry problem. UDL is used in educational environments as discussed:

  • Presentation Customization – UDL advocates the presentation of information through a variety of means in order to reach the most learners. Instead of simply supplying the learner with a text and expecting them to comprehend the information through reading, educators are encouraged to present information through visual, auditory and hands-on means. When information is presented through text, the text will ideally be interactive and adjustable. Technologies such as e-readers and tablets allow for the presentation of richly interactive texts that can be adjusted in size to make reading easy. Textual presentations are also often accompanied with visual elements that bring the information to life, and present a different method for the learner to comprehend the information. For visual and auditory information, a simple way to enhance customization is to present the information in video or mp3 format, so that learners can comprehend the information at their own pace.
  • Auditory and Visual Alternatives – Many people learn best by hearing information, which is why, even though it has been modified and enriched to appeal to more types of learners, the lecture is still staple for any educator. As with texts being accompanied by pictures, graphs, and interactive features in order to make information easier to comprehend and retain, the ideal lecture will present information in multiple ways at the same time. One popular method for lecture enhancement is the use of text-to-speech technology, which allows text information to be presented in a way that appeals to auditory learners. Accompanying a lecture with text-to-speech technology, or integrating a slideshow which presents video, text, charts, and photographs that reinforce information, makes the information presented much easier for the student to learn.
  • Background Information and Big Ideas – One of the best ways to enhancing learning is to make the information relevant and interesting to the learner. Instead of presenting information simply as a series of facts, UDL principles call for the educators to connect the information through patterns and big ideas. By providing background information, the educator can show the learner why the information is important, thereby increasing learner engagement and interest. With proper context provided and big-picture reinforcement of information, all learners will be more likely to retain information.

A big part of UDL is text to speech. The concept of having text-based materials read aloud for students, had been typically used for special education students who had trouble reading. But now, educators are finding that offering this service to all students is leading to more use than expected and higher comprehension rates. When offered the chance to use this tool, some students whose profiles don’t suggest they need text to speech, have discovered that it helps them retain information, either by replacing reading dense texts or by reinforcing what is learned through reading. Some students even combine the two, allowing text to speech to run while they read along. This is called bimodal learning.

Many Universal Design for Learning concepts may seem obvious or commonplace in the modern educational environment, but that is because they are highly effective. Whether teaching a group of students in a classroom or a workplace seminar, UDL concepts enhance the experience for all learners by making the information taught more understandable. Everyone learns best in different ways, which makes UDL integration a beneficial endeavor for educators of all types of learners.

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