Apply Universal Design for Online Inclusive Learning Environment
Inclusive online teaching refers to practices that support meaningful and accessible learning for every student online. Universal Design (UD) originated in architecture with the aim to design spaces and products that could be used by everybody, regardless of age, status or ability. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) applies these principles to education. UDL sees diversity as a general basis and emphasizes the use of flexible goals, methods, materials and forms of evaluation to provide effective learning for all students. Instead of approaching diversity as a side issue or only on a case-by-case basis, universal design focuses on designing education, products, environments and services that meet the needs of different students from the outset so that all students can participate and receive learning opportunities. Using the principles of UDL, you can build course structures and experiences that make all learners feel welcome and engaged. In this module you learn to practice UDL in an online learning environment.
UDL revolves around three desired properties that teachers’ courses should possess: 1) multiple means of representation; 2) multiple means of engagement; and 3) multiple means of action and expression. In what follows, we explain these properties.
UDL acknowledges that “learners differ in the ways that they perceive and comprehend information that is represented to them” and that “there is not one means of representation that will be optimal for all learners” Based on this, presenting online course content and information in multiple formats makes it accessible to a greater number of e-learners.
For example, we could perceive a tension between the needs of people with cognitive disabilities and the needs of people who cannot see at all. The former group could find textual information challenging and prefer pictorial representations, whereas the latter group cannot see pictures. However, a website designed for cognitively disabled people can be made accessible to totally visually impaired people by the provision of alternatives to the graphics.
Due to individual differences in culture, gender, personality and education background, “there is no one means of engagement that will be optimal for all learners in all contexts”. Therefore, teachers should stimulate online students’ interests and motivation for learning in multiple ways. Being flexible and offering e-learners a degree of choice as to how they can engage can help make online content and activities relevant to them.
Similarly, “learners differ in the ways that they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know”. For example, some e-learners may be more comfortable and skilled in expressing themselves verbally, in audio and video formats, but not necessarily by means of written assignments.
Therefore, “there is not one means of action and expression that will be optimal for all learners”. Employing a variety of assessment strategies throughout the online course empower e-learners to demonstrate their knowledge in ways that don’t disadvantage them.
Step-by-step strategies to use UD for e-learning:
1) Start with awareness.
By designing a course, remind yourself that potential online students have a variety of characteristics.
2) Assume all online students have the technology based material and skills to ensure course access.
Search solutions for students who do not have the affordable materials, circumstances or abilities. Take sufficient time for students to become familiar with any new learning environment or tool you plan to use.
3) Present your e-learning content in multiple ways.
Present content in multiple ways, each of them designed in an accessible manner. Make use of a combination of text, images, audio and audio formats in your e-learning resources.
Also, make sure the content reflects the diversity of the students’ academic backgrounds, perspectives and experiences, and consider the wide array of gender, ethnic, cultural, and economical backgrounds they might have. E-learning resources should offer a variety of perspectives and stem from a wide range of sources.
4) Provide your students with choices for online communication and collaboration.
Make clear what technologies and resources are going to be used, wherefore and when.
5) Provide your students with choices for deepening and demonstrating their e-learning process.
Challenge each student academically and offer them windows of opportunities to excel.
6) Support language skills as you bring content to your students online.
Spell acronyms, define concepts, explain jargon in the text and include a course glossary. Be aware of words that might be unknown to non native or instructional language speakers and give additional explanations on those words.
7) Be transparent on what you expect from the students regarding proposed e-learning activities, projects, discussion forums, reading…
For example, if you suggest an interesting website with lots of information, tell your students precisely what to do and to what end.
8) Provide assignments relevant to the variety of e-learners.
Evaluation and assignments are key to the learning so accommodating to students interests, abilities and talents will increase motivation and engagement. Students need a personal connection to the material, whether that’s through engaging them emotionally or connecting the new information with previously acquired knowledge. Indeed, students will be more engaged in an assignment if it is personally meaningful, practical, purposeful beyond the assignment. You might think of ways to encourage students to tap into their own experiences or curiosities, to solve or explore a real problem, or connect to the larger community.
9) Focus on student’s processing.
Distinct major points from background and contextual information.Provide options for gaining background information and use key vocabulary. Share glossaries, chapter outlines, study questions, and practical exercises. Give reminders and prompts when referring to content previously presented.
10) Provide differentiated opportunities to practice online.
You need to keep in mind that e-learning processes are asynchronous by nature and also to take everybody’s educational needs into consideration from the very beginning and offer them different alternatives. You might also organize the resources in such a way that e-learners can distinguish between the “easy” or introductory ones and the more difficult ones (the ones that, for example, prepare them well for a final exam.
11) Provide adequate time for all e-learning activities and assignments.
Make sure that online students have adequate time for each activity or project or assignment and space them out throughout the course.
12) Provide continuous feedback online
Offer regular feedback and corrective opportunities online. Arrange for peer feedback when appropriate. If students are involved in a large term project, have them submit their project plan and draft parts before the final due date.