Universal Design for Learning: Strategies for Blended and Online Learning

Section 1.2: Learning as Strategic and Contextual

Human learners are, at our core, strategic beings. When we are confronted with a task we broadly evaluate three things:

  • We consider the knowledge we already have and can transfer to the task at hand
  • We consider procedures we need to follow or create in the learning environments
  • We consider how likely we will be successful and how we know we are successful

Of course, these three things are wrapped up in how interested we are in the task, previous educational experience, whether we have learned or did anything similar before, and what kind of feedback we are likely to get. Our minds work at lightning speed to integrate all this information, but effective learning (especially in a new environment) often means both slowing down this rapid and automatized process and considering carefully some alternate strategies.

Our learning strategies are rich, nuanced, and context-driven. Contexts are quite complex by the time students reach post-secondary because they encompass past school experiences, family experiences, successes, failures, learning goals, and career thoughts. For instance, consider a common message instructor hold around students: why can one student get an A effortlessly while another student struggles to get a C? We likely chalk it up to a difference in intellectual ability or being suited to a particular field.

Understanding learning contextually means that, instead of resorting to only an ABILITY explanation, we also resort to an EXPERIENCE explanation, such as:

  • Sometimes I reflect my learning well and activate all the experience I have in appropriate ways; other times I lack background knowledge or relevant information;
  • Sometimes I do not see connections between ideas and cannot connect the dots;
  • I struggled with the one online class I took before because it was hard to get organized
  • I know that I learn well in classes where I can connect with my instructor and peers.

By developing a contextual understanding of learning, both students and instructors have the opportunity to acknowledge how the learning environment can afford the opportunity to learn, and to support the development of expert learners.


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A Comprehensive Guide to Applying Universal Design for Learning Copyright © 2022 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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