Universal Design for Learning: Strategies for Blended and Online Learning

Section 1.1: Curricula as Disabled

An important perspective in UDL is understanding that the curriculum we designed is not perfect, and in fact it often fails at meeting the needs of the diverse body of our students. Rather than seeing students as incapable or disabled, we reframe the problem as curricular disability. Curricula can be disabled in the following ways, according to the CAST (2011) guidelines:

  1. Curricula are disabled in WHO they can teach. Curricula are often not conceived, designed, or validated for use with the diverse populations of learners who actually populate our classrooms. Learners “in the margins”—those who are gifted and talented, those with special needs or disabilities, those who are English language learners, etc.— often bear the brunt of curricula devised for the fictional “average”, because such curricula do not account for learner variability.
  2. Curricula are disabled in WHAT they can teach. Curricula are often designed to deliver or assess information, or content, without considering the development of learning strategies – skills learners need to comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and transform information into usable knowledge. Mainstream curricula remain largely constructed around print-based media, which are good at delivering narrative and expository content. However, they are not ideal for information that requires an understanding of dynamic processes and relationships, computations, or procedures.
  3. Curricula are disabled in HOW they can teach. Curricula often provide for very limited instructional options. Not only are they typically ill-equipped to differentiate instruction for differing learners, or even for the same learner at different levels of understanding, but they are disabled by their inability to provide many of the key elements of evidence-based pedagogy, such as the ability to highlight critical features or big ideas, the ability to provide relevant background knowledge as needed, the ability to relate current skills to previous skills, the ability to actively model successful skills and strategies, the ability to monitor progress dynamically, the ability to offer graduated scaffolding, among others. Most current curricula are typically much better at presenting information than teaching.

The idea of curricular disability is crucial in a shift between face-to-face environments to blended or online environments because the needs, preferences, and strategies change when educational environments shift. The who, the how, and the what of curricula can change in both positive and negative directions as we move between face-to-face, blended, and online formats.


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A Comprehensive Guide to Applying Universal Design for Learning by Dr. Seanna Takacs; Junsong Zhang; Helen Lee; Lynn Truong; and David Smulders is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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