The Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

22 October 2020

A research-based approach to curriculum design that enables all people to develop knowledge, skills, motivation and involvement in learning

By Victòria Gómez Serés

Every teacher has in his or her imagination those students who, for different reasons, have been lost throughout their schooling, those sad yet inquisitive eyes that show you that they don’t understand you, that they don’t know what they have to do or that they don’t know how to express what you ask from them. Even so, the majority of the educational community in our country has increasingly internalized the discourse of inclusive education and education for all.

Law 14/2010, of May 27, on the rights and opportunities for children and adolescents, in accordance with the Education Law, starts from the principle that it is responsibility of all citizens and all public authorities and regulates the rights and protection measures for children and adolescents, paying attention to the most vulnerable and those who encounter limitations or barriers to development or participation.

The articles of the Education Act state that the educational care of all students is governed by the principle of inclusion, and define the criteria of pedagogical organization that must facilitate the educational care of all students and, in particular, those who may encounter more barriers to learning and participation.

Therefore the idea of diversity in a human grouping is the rule and not the exception, especially in the world of education. So we all have, or must have, of course, students who are diverse in many ways. They are physically diverse, they are also diverse in terms of their family, socioeconomic and cultural background, also in terms of their mother tongue, ethnicity or religion. In short, we can say that there is an endless number of diversities, a fact that is evidently reflected in the way each student learns.

The idea of diversity in a human grouping is the rule rather than the exception, especially in the world of education.

The diversity in learning is due in addition to that already mentioned in the structure of the brain and in its functioning. From the latest neuroscientific advances we know that no two brains are the same even though we all share a similar structure in terms of brain regions specialized in different tasks, but we differ in the amount of space of each of these areas as well as in the areas we activate in learning tasks. This brain variability determines the different fashions according to which students access learning, as they can express how they are motivated in their learning.

Responding to this diversity is the basis for guaranteeing educational equity and ensuring that each student can learn according to his or her own style; but we all have experience and this is difficult if not impossible in an ordinary classroom with traditional teaching.

One possible answer is the approach called Universal Design for Learning (UDL), developed by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST).

The UDL approach puts the focus on the design of the school curriculum to explain why certain students do not achieve the expected learning, i.e. we work in many cases with a curriculum designed for an imaginary, average student, which in reality does not exist; in other words “coffee for all” which means that for a minority or not so minority the objectives are unattainable as the members of the CAST claim: “(. …) the barriers to learning are not, in fact, inherent in the capabilities of the students, but arise from their interaction with inflexible methods and subjects” (Rose and Meyer, 2002).

“Barriers to learning are not, in fact, inherent in students’ abilities, but arise from their interaction with inflexible methods and subjects” (Rose y Meyer, 2002).

As it is known, Universal Design (LLEVA) is not a concept that belongs to the educational world, but it emerged from the architectural field in the 70s. This movement aims to create physical environments and tools that can be used by as many people as possible. A classic example of Universal Design is the sidewalk fords. These were originally designed for people using wheelchairs, but time has shown that they are used by many types of people on a daily basis, from people with shopping carts to parents pushing baby carriages or youngsters on bicycles or skateboards, or using the ford simply because they feel like it. Over time it has come to be understood that learning involves a particular challenge in a particular brain area and in order for this not to happen we have to remove the unnecessary barriers without removing the necessary challenges. Therefore, the principles of DUA do not focus on physical access in the classroom but focus on access to all aspects of learning.

DUA has its origins in research conducted by the CAST center in the 1990s. Its founders are David H. Rose (developmental neuropsychologist) and Anna Meyer (expert in education, clinical psychology and graphic design) who, together with other researchers, have founded a theoretical framework that includes the latest advances in neuroscience applied to learning, educational research and digital technologies and media.

Table 1: Configuration of the UDL. Own elaboration based on Rose and Meyer (2002)

Thus was born the UDL approach that can be defined as: “(…) a research-based approach to curriculum design – that is, objectives, methods, materials and evaluation – that allows all people to develop knowledge, skills and motivation and involvement in learning”.

UDL helps educators to take into account the variability of learners by suggesting flexibility in relation to objectives, methods, materials and assessment, allowing them to respond to learners’ needs. Within this framework, the curriculum that is created is to meet the needs of all students. The creation of flexible designs is encouraged from the beginning, which can be personalized and therefore allow all students to progress from the point where they are and not from where we imagine or want them to be.

The UDL helps educators take into account the variability of students by suggesting flexibility in relation to objectives, methods, materials, and assessment, allowing them to respond to student needs.

There are three fundamental principles based on neuroscientific research that guide the UDL; these are

  1. PRINCIPLE I: Providing multiple ways of representing information and knowledge (the “WHATs” of learning). Students differ in how they perceive and understand the information presented to them, so providing multiple representation options is essential.
  2. PRINCIPLE II: Provide multiple forms of expression of learning (The “HOWTOs” of learning) since each person has his or her own strategic and organizational skills to express what he or she knows, so options for action and expression must be provided.
  3. PRINCIPLE III: Provide multiple ways of involvement or engagement (the “WHYs” of learning) so that all students can feel engaged and motivated in the learning process. It is well known that learning has to be exciting in order to stimulate personal motivation.

At this point we can understand why digital media are so important thanks to their characteristics of flexibility and capacity of transformation to facilitate the task of individualizing learning and to be able to attend to the diversity of students in the classroom.

This flexibility typical of digital media is manifested in four advantages over traditional media (Rose and Meyer, 2002):

  • Versatility: technologies can store information in different formats and combine them with each other (audio, text, video, image)
  • Transformation capacity: Digital media can store information by separating the content from the format in which it is presented (volume, playback speed, contrast (in case of visual difficulties) Therefore, as Rose and Meyer (2020) state, it is essential to adapt the use of digital media to the students’ own characteristics, to the tasks they have to perform and to the different types of learning that they intend to develop in order to eliminate or reduce the barriers presented by traditional single format media.
  • Ability to mark them: It is possible to modify the format (size and font, underlining).
  • Ability to expose them on the net: The contents can be related to other contents, such as hyperlinks, or when the text has the option to click on a word and you can directly access its meaning (dictionary).

Therefore, as Rose and Meyer (2020) state, it is essential to adapt the use of digital media to the students’ own characteristics, to the tasks they have to perform and to the different types of learning to be developed in order to eliminate or reduce the barriers presented by traditional single format media.

Bibliography

Alba Pastor, C. (2012). Aportaciones del Diseño Universal para el Aprendizaje y de los materiales digitales en el logro de una enseñanza accessible, en Navarro, J., Fernández, Mª T., Soto, F. J. y Tortosa F. (coords.) (2012). Respuestas flexibles en contextos educativos diversos. Murcia, Consejería de Educación, Formación y Empleo.
https://diversidad.murciaeduca.es/publicaciones/dea2012/ponencias.html. Consultado el 5/10/2020
CAST (Center for Applied Special Techology) (2011). Universal Design for Learning guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Traducción al espanyol versión 2.0 (2013): Alba Pastor, C., Sánchez Hípola, P., Sánchez Serrano, J. M. Y Zubillaga del Río, A. Pautas sobre el Diseño Universal para el Aprendizaje (DUA). https://www.educacionyfp.gob.es/dam/jcr:c8e7d35c-c3aa-483d-ba2e-68c22fad7e42/pe-n9-art04-carmen-alba.pdf
Consultado el 6/10/2020
CAST (Center for Applied Special Techology) (2011). http://www.cast.org/about/about-cast
Consultado el 13/10/2020
EDUCADUA (2013) Página web del proyecto DUALECTIC dedicada al Diseño Universal para el Aprendizaje en espanyol. https:// www.educadua.es
Consultado el 6/10/2020
Llei 14/2010, del 27 de maig, dels drets i les oportunitats en la infància i l’adolescència. https://www.parlament.cat/document/nom/TL115.pdf .
Consultado el 7/10/2020

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2020-10-22T11:06:33+00:00October 22nd, 2020|Personalization|0 Comments
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