Universal Design for Learning: Strategies for Blended and Online Learning

Section 2.4: Applying UDL to Blended Learning

Let’s think specifically about how UDL principles can create a better experience in blended learning.

 From an engagement standpoint, UDL has three priorities:

  1.  Recruiting interest
  2. Sustaining effort and persistence
  3. Supporting self-regulation

Here are some ideas for your design:

  1. Recruiting interest is concerned with the way we ignite curiosity, find our place in the class, and connect with prior knowledge. This might include asking students why they are taking the course and what knowledge they have that they can apply to make sense of what they are expecting to learn, but it can also incorporate academic and career goals or ideological goals (e.g. I feel I should know more about conflict, or how to be a better person).
  2. How will students keep up the good work when it gets tough? Designing for persistence and effort is important. It can be tied to a sense of community where students trust that they can ask questions, be met with positive regard, and receive reliable, timely feedback from their instructor and peers. It can mean having candid discussions about what aspects of the content are difficult, why they are difficult, and developing problem-solving strategies. Designing so that students can take multiple approaches to problems with patience and unassessed attempts can be key.
  3. Self-regulation refers to the ability to control learning which can include evaluating learning, planning on next steps, and soliciting information and help (e.g., Winne & Perry, 2000; Zimmerman, 2000). A blended learning course grounded in UDL principles supports students in setting goals. In a blended learning environment, explicit work on setting goals is an important feature since students have more time and autonomy in making sense of the course structure and the content. Help students set weekly goals, reading goals, skill and performance goals and bake them into the course design. Have regular check-ins and help students assess whether they are approaching their goals or avoiding them and develop some options for learning differently to stay on track.

From a representation standpoint, UDL has three priorities

  1. Providing options for perceiving and learning new information
  2. Provide choice for the language and symbols students use to represent their ideas
  3. Support learning through multiple means for comprehension

Here are some ideas for your design:

  1. The main way that we convey new information is through reading to “download” content followed by discussions to process or integrate information. Blended learning, for its combination of in-person and online components, has the capacity to offer many more options: reading, discussion, constructing models, interactive H5P slides, collaborating on open educational resources (OER), watching videos, creating videos, synthesizing images across social media platforms… the list is endless.
  2. Moving beyond reading and discussing can mean helping students create vocabulary banks, diagrams, heuristics, flow charts, and mind maps. It can mean students use different languages, concepts, and vocabulary to observe connectedness among ideas. Be prepared to have open discussion about what aspects of language, symbols, signs, and pictures are helpful for students in representing the content.
  3. Comprehension can be developed in many ways and the UDL framework urges us to move beyond testing. Designing learning activities around perspective-taking, argumentation, negotiating, curating, and collaborating means that students have to learn the content and operate upon the content. A key aspect to engagement is active learning – using and manipulating information to engage in another activity. Ask yourself – are students learning the content or are they learning to do something more?

From an action & expression standpoint, UDL has three priorities:

  1. Provide options for physical action
  2. Support students in creating alternatives for expression and communication
  3. Support students in goal-setting, planning, and managing and monitoring workload

Here are some ideas for your design:

  1. Consider how software can expand the way students immerse themselves in learning and offer options for responding to instruction and navigating the informational landscape. Blended learning environments are ideal for helping students learn, use, and grow assistive technology such as text-to-speech functions, adapting page layouts, using animations, storytelling, and mind-mapping tools.
  2. In a blended learning environment, we have the opportunity to enable students to exploit both in-person and online options. Students have the option of engaging in both face-to-face environments and internet-based expressions such as blog posts, animated presentations, videos, storyboards, voice-over presentations. Investigating student preferences and being open to different options for developing and expressing learning is key to exploiting the strength of blended learning environments
  3. Particularly in post-secondary settings, instructors tend to lay out a syllabus or course outline which implicitly constitutes the goal structure for the course: complete all these readings, activities, tests, and exams and you will have completed the course successfully. In a UDL framework, we go a step further and help students recognize that goal structure while supporting them in goal setting. Students may have additional goals for your course and it is a good idea to tap these goals to enrich learning. Help students develop the capacity to monitor progress, adjust learning strategies, solicit help, and connect with peers.


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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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