Foundations of Universal Design for Learning, Accessibility, and Curricular Quality
The Universal Design for Learning Guidelines, created by CAST, directly correlate with what it takes to create the mind shift to the “Learner-Center”, where learner agency is key and we are all natural learners, together, engaged, represented, expressed, and get all learners to the same place but on their own unique pathways. Looking at these models together reinforces how educators can access, build, internalize and thus create expert learners who are purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, and strategic and goal directed.
The concept of learner agency has been integral to educational thinking and practice since the beginning: the idea that education is the process through which learners become capable of independent thought which, in turn, forms the basis for autonomous action, has had a profound impact on modern educational theory and practice. Another way of thinking of learner agency is when learners have “the power to act” - when learning involves activity and initiative on the part of the learner themselves, and not just the teacher, curriculum, and/or resources, etc. Consider concepts such as personalization and learn-centric or learner-centered education: these are aspects of what we might mean by learner agency, but it goes even deeper than that.
The UDL Guideline structure supports and elevates these ideas. The three categories: Engagement, Representation, and Action and Expression are subtitled down to the “WHY” the “What” and the “How” of learning. In the learner-centered mindset educators and leaders must consider their answers to the following:
Connecting the UDL model and correlating it with that of the Learner-Center mindset leads to strategic and job-embedded practices that support both the learner and the teacher. A plan that is both competency based, personalized, contextual and relevant, and supporting the learner to develop a master of learning itself - not just a specific set of skills: in short, becoming expert learners.
What holds us back? The fear factor. The fear factor for educators to do this is very real: giving up the control that once seemed their role to become the guide and facilitator. Involving the learners in the decision-making is a must. These decisions will place more ownership and empowerment on the part of students. Teachers must become comfortable with changing their leadership style from directive to consultative -- from "Do as I say" to "Based on your needs, let's co-develop and implement a plan of action together." Marry this with the UDL guidelines for a recipe for success.
Today education is all about talking the talk of advocacy, choice, and voice that should occur in the classroom as well as in any learning environment, but they don’t do a great job of walking the walk and providing educators with a place to start, to think, to act. Relevance and value on the part of our learners are central elements to success and the learner-centered mindset directly works with UDL fundamentals, placing students at the center of their own learning, requiring collaboration and deep thought.
Educators and learners alike need a voice in why, what, and how learning experiences take shape.Letting student interests drive the content that teaches skills and concepts, as well as offering a variety of product options based on what you know about your students is a big leap for some educators and they need strategies and knowledge to inform their own “why” and practice, while also having faith in students’ ability to lead. Educators need to be open to what universal design for learning can offer and that, when the WHY, the HOW, and the WHAT are considered with students at the center, the best of learning and teaching follows.
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Jaclyn coaches and assists K-12 educators, ITFs, and Administrators to adapt, not adopt – fostering digital initiatives to transform professional learning through changes in pedagogical shifts and meeting the needs of all learners to champion creativity and innovation. @jaclynbstevens