How do we appreciate differences in learners? Is it a different way of approaching a task, a different way of learning, a different way of sensing, understanding, or something else? Researchers at CAST and throughout the learning sciences are confirming that actually the concept of learner variability is a norm all educators should expect. Learning can vary across stages of development and contexts. Some learners may thrive in environments where they are engaged by the content, allowed to demonstrate their knowledge in a myriad of “hands on ways”, or supported with multiple means that help them understand the content. Educators and practitioners are in unique situations to recognize, expect, and plan for this variability in teaching situations.
As we plan for this, we as educators and practitioners can become more mindful designers of the instructional and assessment settings we plan for in our classrooms and educational settings. As we anticipate this variability, we can offer a broader array of ways to represent information, allow learners to represent their knowledge, and multiple ways to engage their learning.Designing learning environments that are responsive to all learners recognizes the variations in learners at any age, in any instructional setting, and across all diversity.
When the framework of universal design for learning (UDL) is used to guide education, the ability to address variability in learning is enhanced. As educators, we have the opportunity to systematically plan for this expected diversity in the classroom. The framework of UDL includes 3 core principles that align with evolving research in brain-based learning and encourages the inclusion of multiple options in how we represent the what of information, that student make sense of that information, and why they become hooked and engaged. The recent enhancement of the core elements of the entire range of UDL guidelines offers a number of detailed explanations, examples, and research evidence to support this important approach.
Designing instruction and training opportunities with a UDL lens, from the onset, reduces barriers. While technology is not required to maximize this approach, the inherent flexibility that this affords is undeniable. Increasingly, national technology reports suggest the power of harnessing technology in the classroom and maximizing a tool that many students have embraced in their own learning. The ubiquitous nature of technology continues to blend tools within mainstream platforms and operating systems that offer on-demand assistance to support learning, access needs, and connectivity. Educators that stay abreast of these trends can only enhance the opportunities for promoting deeper learning experiences across education and employment in the 21st century and beyond.