Universal Design for Learning: A Practical Guide

Section 2.4: Design Thinking

While UDL provides a framework for you to identify areas for improvement, Design Thinking offers a human-centred approach for problem-solving. Applying Design Thinking methodology will help you design and implement user-centred solutions in your classroom.

According to Institute of Design at Stanford University (2018), there are five stages of design thinking process: Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. To begin with, here is a very brief introduction to each stage:

  • Empathise: The first stage is to gain an understanding of how your users think, behave, and feel. Empathizing with people requires you to gather information and develop knowledge about users’ experience, motivation, and needs. Common methods include interview, observation, and/or immerse yourself in the environment.
  • Define: The second stage is to analyse your findings and synthesise them to define problems. In fact, you may be able to identify multiple problems in the define stage, but it is critical to identify and prioritize THE PROBLEM you want to start with.
  • Ideate: At this stage you start brainstorming solutions to the problem statement you’ve identified. It is beneficial to work as a team so your solution takes different perspectives. Also, visualizing your solutions through simple sketch is an effective strategy to communicate your ideas.
  • Prototype: Prototyping means making your ideas tactile in a way that is inexpensive and rapid. Most people use the term low-fidelity during this stage to emphasize the simple and low-cost nature of the prototype. Prototyping could still be difficult because it usually requires a team effort.
  • Test: This is the stage where you conduct user testing and gather data for improvement. Design thinking process is iterative and the results generated during the user testing are often used to inform how people think, behave, and feel.

The Design thinking process allows you to gather information from your students such as their background knowledge and learning preferences, identify areas of improvement, design new solutions, and gather feedback through testing iteratively.

In the case studies in this workbook, you will apply the five stages of design thinking to identify areas for improvement based on the UDL framework.


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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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