Universal Design for Learning: A Practical Guide

Section 3.5: Representation

Representation is the what of learning. Representation is concerned with the ways that we perceive and comprehend information. Representation is about the symbols, words, shapes, and language structures that we use to convey information. Learners vary in the ways we understand and process language and symbols for a number of reasons that are related to culture, language, disability, and educational experience.

To adequately and accurately transfer information from one setting to the next, students should engage in multimodal learning. If students are reading about CPR they should also watch a video and try it out themselves. If students have to learn about implicit bias, they should define the term, observe possible examples, and debate or discuss positive and negative instances of the concept.

To support multiple means of representation, consider offering alternatives for each modality and give students a choice as to which modality they would prefer while encouraging coordinating information across modalities. Explicitly address vocabulary and terminology, providing explicit practice so that terminology can be acquired and used readily and appropriately. UDL principles hold that there should be transparency in the aims of teaching and that holds true when it comes to the ways students learn and communicate.

Here are three ideas for supporting multiple means of Representation:

  1. Have students conduct a concept interview. Students work independently or in groups to identify 3 – 4 central concepts in the course/chapter/module and interview each other on the definitions and connected concepts, including a rationale for why those concepts are central.
  2. Use shapes, colours, and words to draw relationships between concepts: to demonstrate hierarchies, overlaps, maps, and sequences. Rearrange the shapes and words to tap whether students understand how terms are related.
  3. In presenting information, have students choose two modalities for that presentation and explain which modality suited them better and which one did a better job of conveying information. For example, which is better for learning to climb a ladder: written instructions or a video?

Reflective Question:

What ideas can you come up with or adapt here?


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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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