Universal Design for Learning: The history and the future
The future of learning is changing, and how!
With its roots deep into accessibility, I found it hardly surprising that the origins of Universal Design were in architecture. Ronald Mace, an American architect and product designer, coined the term Universal Design – as a means to promote the design of products and spaces that would be accessible to all people, and still meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
This early version permitted a lot of flexibility to users and designers alike, and soon started to appeal to designers of classroom and other educational facilities where physical access was important. Although this helped schools include students with disabilities in a classroom, it still left a lacuna when it came to access to curriculum.
This was addressed when in 1984, the Centre for Applied Special Technology or CAST was founded. Their work in developing innovative, technology-based educational resources and strategies created a need for making learning design accessible. Building on the existing work in Universal Design, CAST teamed up with developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky who was studying the prerequisites for learning. Together they identified the three brain networks that today form the core of Universal Design for Learning or UDL:
Affective network: engagement with the learning task.
Recognition network: recognition of the information to be learned.
Strategic network: application of strategies to process information.
Today Universal Design principles of education have become the mainstay of some of the best educator training programs – encouraging educators how to ensure that their curriculum and learning strategies are designed to accommodate for individual differences in their learners.
The history of UDL demonstrates the seamless cross pollination of ideas – educators drawing inspiration from architects and product designers, building on ideas to create something so succinct and profound. It – to me – is hope that this chain of symbiotic growth can continue from educators to corporate L&D professionals. Looking at their learners from a lens of andragogy instead of pedagogy, instructional designers can apply UDL principles to include a wider diversity in their classrooms or v-ILT sessions.
With corporate learners seeking on-demand professional development, it will become increasingly rare to see homogenous classrooms – training sessions organised by a single organisation for a single type of audience, on a single topic. Imagine a subject like change management, which was earlier a highly rated strategy lesson – now has become relevant to every employee. Designing a curriculum that appeals to a fresh college graduate, a mid-level manager or a CEO, creating it such that the activities resound with their individual context and presenting the course keeping their demographic sensitivities in mind – these are not ‘good-to-do’s’ for an instructional designer anymore. They are very shortly going to become must-dos. Embracing the UDL framework will help us achieve inclusion of learning design.
In the next and the last part of these blog post series dedicated to UDL, I will be sharing some of the ways we can use UDL guidelines in our context and some universal design for learning examples of my favourites!