Webinar Highlights: Universal Design for Inclusive Learning

11 May

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Webinar Highlights: Universal Design for Inclusive Learning

This week we invited Dr. Lisa Padden, University for All Programme Manager UCD, to host a webinar discussing the importance of Universal Design and how it is understood & implemented in education.

It was an insightful and valuable session, which highlighted how the model aims to provide an educational experience that has considered the different educational backgrounds, learning preferences and abilities of a diverse learner population.

Below are some highlights from the session.

Learn more about Universal Design in our Professional Diploma in Digital Learning Design

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What is Universal Design?

Education today still relies on a transfer model; learners go to class and educators share their knowledge. UDL tries to create a more proactive model. Universal Design is the creation of a product/ service/ environment which can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability.

As every learner is unique, you can’t just design for the “average” learner, as there is no such thing. Learners will have individual needs, have different cultural backgrounds, language abilities, educational backgrounds, and different attention spans/ interests, that should all be kept in mind when creating inclusive learning experiences. Visit CAST to view the full breakdown of UDL guidelines and checkpoints.

Why Universal Design for Learning?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is extremely important to be aware of, to create a great experience for all learners. The benefits of UDL are outlined below:

  • It creates a complete, inclusive learning experience

  • UDL removes barriers & increases opportunities through flexibility

  • It creates Learner Variability, as most diversity is hidden within learners

  • The learning experience will be proactive, by breaking down barriers for learners, rather than a reactive experience

  • UDL is internationally recognised, evidence- based and is aligned with policies which can be successfully implemented at all levels of learning

There are many little things educators can do to ensure an inclusive learning experience. Thomas Tobin’s +1 approach to UDL advocates for small changes which together have a significant impact on the experience of learners.

Barriers in Digital Learning

UDL in digital learning removes barriers and changes the way we think. By removing the deficit model where educators believe learners should change to fit in, learning is adapted to be inclusive of all students. UDL is a proactive model which breaks down walls for learners, while differentiation/ add-on supports are reactive, which aids learners by “putting up ladders” to help learners approach their barriers.

The list below highlights some common barriers that learners face when on a course:

  • Difficult admissions process

  • Questions for nobody to ask- no family members gone through a similar experience, no support culturally, financial difficulties

  • Financial difficulties

  • Lack of skills/ assumption of digital skills

  • Access to resources e.g. connectivity issues, inequities with facilities & equipment

  • Writing/ academic skills

  • Medical issues

  • Balancing other life issues

UDL Pyramid

There are multiple layers of inclusion in ‘The UDL Pyramid’, created by AHEAD, which can be seen in the image below. The 4 levels break down the certain level of assistance/ requirements for each individual learner. This pyramid isn’t about eliminating support for those with disabilities, it just reduces the need for somebody to request additional support.

  • Level 1: Universal Design for the majority of students

  • Level 2: Students with similar needs

  • Level 3: Individual Accommodation

  • Level 4: Personal Assistant


We would like to express our thanks to Dr. Lisa Padden, for sharing her valuable insights with us.

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