Pedagogy + Empathy = Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Contributed by Sue Doner, Instructional Designer, eLearning (Originally published in The Confluence, November 2018)

As you begin to prepare course materials for next term, may I draw your attention to some great advice laid out in the UDL Guidelines about providing learners with Options for Perception?

But first, a couple of common-experience questions for empathetic context

  • Have you ever cursed the tiny 8-pt font on a Children’s Tylenol bottle in the middle of the night when you and your aging eyes were just trying to find the right dosage information?
  • Have you ever been listening to a radio program, missed hearing what that author’s name was (or when that event is happening, or what the URL was for that guest’s website), and wished you had the information written down?

My contextual reason for asking these questions is this. In our daily quests for information, we all have occasions to require information be presented to us in multiple or different ways. We’ve all appreciated being able to access information we needed, how and when we needed it. But we’ve probably also all experienced the frustration of a barrier when the information we need is presented in a singular format that is inaccessible to us.

Information formats and barriers to learning

What if that Children’s Tylenol bottle and that radio program are sources of information you need to successfully satisfy a course learning outcome? If 8-pt font is imperceptible to you, or if you don’t hear or remember all of the relevant details for information you only receive aurally, then you are missing information that is considered essential for your success in the course. In short, these singular representations of information are going to create significant barriers to your learning.

Implementing UDL Principles & Guidelines to avoid

Excerpt from the UDL Guidelines: Provide Options for Perception
Excerpt from the UDL Guidelines: Provide Options for Perception

barriers to information

Consider the difference it would make to your success in the course if your instructor recognized that “there is not one means of representation that will be optimal for all learners”.

Consider the difference it would make to your success in the course if that paper-based information in tiny-font was also readily available in a digital format that allowed you to:

  • Customize how the information was displayed (e.g. you could enlarge font-sizes, or adjust brightness & contrast between background and text),
  • Use text-to-speech technology to hear the text read aloud.

And consider the difference it would make to your success in the course if the oral information was also readily available in a format that allowed you to:

  • Access visual alternatives (e.g. text, graphics) to the oral information/instructions.

In your role as an instructor, you play a critical part in the selection of course materials. If you provide learners in your course with Options for Perception  and present information in multiple formats, fewer of your students will encounter learning barriers that result when the singular format provided is inaccessible to them.

Questions about providing more Options for Perception in your courses?

(Camosun College instructors) connect with a working group that is currently focused on this very topic. Contact group via:

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