Putting Universal Design for Learning into Action

How the three brain networks make learning ‘stick’

Vidhi Kumar
Director - People Capability 15 Apr 2021

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Putting Universal Design for Learning into Action

How the three brain networks make learning ‘stick’

In this three-part blog post series, I have shared some of my reasons for using UDL principles in my instruction design. If that’s interested you so far, you will certainly find this last post helpful in a more practical and hands-on way.

Let me begin by asking this – what’s the first thing you would do if you had to design a training program around a given set of training needs? Most training and development professionals I meet start by opening their MS PowerPoint or equivalent tool. What follows then is a traditional course requiring students to attend the ILT/ v-ILT, read specific texts, and then take a quiz or assessment at the end of the course to demonstrate their understanding. The outcome of such a program is content that leans more towards the style of the course creator, rather than being universal in its access and approach, like we discussed in the first blog post.

So how do you start applying UDL? I start by addressing the three key components of UDL in the course design by asking –

  1. Affective Network: Can I engage my students in active learning and encourage them to see the value in content knowledge?

  2. Recognition Network: Can I offer a variety of materials or paths in order to learn content to achieve each outcome?

  3. Strategic Network: Can I offer multiple means of representation and expression for each learning outcome?

This helps me plot the different options I can design for recruiting and maintaining interest in the course, organising and learning new knowledge or skill, and communicating or expressing that acquired skill. Some of you may rightly find this similar to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Indeed, the questions asked at varying levels of complexity makes it possible to include the greatest number of students, and also helps to make the subject matter more engaging for everyone. In fact, Bloom’s Taxonomy compliments the principles of Universal Design for Learning because it allows students to learn about the same content at varying levels of complexity.

Now having answered the above three questions, what are some of these design options or strategies you can use for ensuring each of the UDL principles of engagement, representation and motivation? Here are some of my favourite actionable steps that I take to target each of the three networks while designing an inclusive program:

  1. Addressing the Affective network or the ‘why’ of learning
    • Share clear outcomes or learning goals at the start of the course
    • Provide adequate resources like pre-reads to prime the learners
    • Support learning with stimulating activities
    • Build a collaborative community to support learners, including discussion forums, Q&A board
    • Encourage a safe learning culture
  2. Addressing the Recognition network or the ‘what’ of learning
    • Understand and call out learner differences during the design phase
    • Clarify the terminology used; perhaps include a glossary, especially for technical trainings
    • Maximise use of scaffolding techniques when introducing new skill
    • Illustrate the learning content using a variety of media
  3. Addressing the Strategic network or the ‘how’ of learning
    • Reach the learner through a variety of mechanisms
    • Build in a rhythm around the learning process (for eg. goal setting, monitoring, reflection)
    • Provide a variety of learning tools like journals, videos, podcasts
    • Give ample practice opportunities to support fluency of skills
    • Monitor application of skills

These are of course just a set of techniques that have held me in good stead while designing accessible and inclusive learning content. Feel free to apply these in your own context. Hope you enjoyed this blog post series. Look forward to hearing from you about your thoughts about inclusive learning and your experiments with UDL.