Universal Instructional Design

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


“By focusing on inclusion of all students, we are taking the spotlight off persons with disabilities and putting it where it should be: on society as a whole. We are asking society (e.g., members of the campus community) to effect change by incorporating UD into their lives, work, classes, and services. We are not asking persons with disabilities to change to fit our agenda; rather, we are asking the institution to create an environment that fosters total inclusion. With universal design, we all benefit.”

-- Karen A. Myers, in “Incorporating Universal Design into Administration Courses” (Ch. 9), in Sheryl E. Burgstahler’s Universal Design in Higher Education (2nd Ed., 2015)


Contents

Module Summary

“Universal instructional design” (UID) refers to principles and practices related to ensuring that learning materials and approaches are as inclusive of people of diverse capabilities as possible. This approach is built on the architectural (and product design) concept of “universal design,” involving building spaces to be as broadly usable and inclusive as possible. The idea is not that universal design will replace accessibility accommodations; rather, this approach aligns with the provision of accessibility accommodations but does not target particular sub-populations with unique requirements but makes learning as accessible as possible across a wide range of needs.

This article will address universal design in the delivery of instruction and the design of instructional materials and processes. As such, this is only a small part of the larger universal design application in higher education, which includes focuses on physical spaces, technologies, assessments, student services, and other aspects.


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Takeaways

Learners will...

  • Review basic concepts of “universal design” and its main precepts
  • Explore the phenomenon of “universal design in higher education” (UDHE) and some real-world examples
  • Study what “universal instructional design” (UID) is and some related principles
  • Consider some real-world and applied examples of UID
  • Explore some common technologies used to create universally designed online learning and review some online resources related to universally designed online learning

Module Pretest

1. What is “universal design” (UD), and what are its main precepts? Where does it originate from?

2. What is “universal design in higher education” (UDHE)? What are some real-world examples of UDHE?

3. What is “universal instructional design” (UID)? What are some of the principles of universal instructional design?

4. What are some real-world and applied examples of UID? What does online learning aligned with universal design practices look like? What are some common interventions?

5. What are some common technologies used to create universally designed online learning? What are some online resources for enhancing universal design for online learning?

Main Contents

1. What is “universal design” (UD), and what are its main precepts? Where does it originate from?

Ronald L. Mace (1941 – 1998) originated the concept of “universal design” with the idea that products and physical spaces should be designed and built in a way to be as inclusive as possible for the full population of potential users. He started work on accessibility in building codes in the 1970s. He was the founder of The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. More is available at About the Center: Ronald L. Mace. The concept of universal design has since been captured and applied in various other domains, including education, technology, and online learning.

2. What is “universal design in higher education” (UDHE)? What are some real-world examples of UDHE?

Universal design in higher education (UDHE) refers to the application of universal design in postsecondary education, including teaching and learning, student services, the design of physical spaces, and software tools and IT equipment. Various professional organizations, government agencies, and practitioners have created professional standards and approaches to integrate universal design into various aspects of higher education.

In terms of teaching and learning, historically, the focus for instructional design was for a traditional-age (18 – 22) Caucasian male student. As opportunities for higher education have broadened, the design for learning has become more inclusive of people from a variety of backgrounds, ages, genders, and interests. What is normative now is diversity instead of an assumed homogeneity. With proper universal design, all learners are welcomed and proactively included through a variety of means.

In Sheryl E. Burgstahler’s “Universal Design in Higher Education” (2015, Ch. 1), she writes:

“What if there were a paradigm for higher education that simultaneously addressed issues of diversity, equality, accessibility, social integration, and community? What if this approach went beyond the design of more inclusive instruction to provide guidance for making physical spaces, student services, and technology more welcoming to, accessible to, and usable by everyone on campus? The application of UD in higher education can do all of this and more. While you can never finish implementing UDHE, it is easy to get started taking incremental steps toward the ideal. Applying UDHE is a journey and, like any exciting journey, requires goal setting, research, planning, diligence, engagement, observation, adjustments, and being open to a different way of thinking. This chapter gives an overview of the world of UDHE, and the remaining chapters provide road maps for the journey itself” (p. 3).

She makes the case for the diversity of the student body in U.S. universities:

“Once the exclusive domain of the young, able-bodied, Caucasian male, the postsecondary student body of today is more than half female and includes significant populations of racial and ethnic minorities, international students, those with low socio-economic status, veterans, individuals whose age is older than that of the typical college student, and other groups; and the student population is expected to increase in diversity in the coming years (The Lawlor Group, n.d.). In particular, the enrollment of students with disabilities, once rare, has grown to an estimated 11% of the student body in the United States (National Center for Education Statistics, 2013). Many of the disabilities students report are ‘invisible,’ including those that affect abilities to learn, pay attention, and interact socially. Veterans of recent wars are adding to the growing pool of college students with multiple disabilities” (Burgstahler, 2015, “Universal Design in Higher Education,” p. 4).

Many learners can claim multiple minority status. In a sense, disability itself may be seen as a diversity issue, Burgstahler notes; that said, universal design itself does not mitigate all needs, and accommodations will likely be needed for learners based on their particular circumstances. The converse, an “accommodation only” approach, has its shortcomings:

  • “The process for securing accommodations marginalizes students with disabilities by requiring a segmented process for gaining access.
  • An accommodation does not always result in content and experiences equivalent to those of other students.
  • Accommodations can create an unnecessary dependency on a student service office.
  • The value associated with an accommodation does not extend to students with disabilities who choose not to self-disclose nor to other students in a class who might benefit from it.
  • An accommodation for one student does not in and of itself make a course of other offering more accessible to students in the future” (Burgstahler, 2015, “Universal Design in Higher Education,” p. 10).

To summarize broadly, teaching and learning should be sufficiently flexible and adjustable for the comfort of all learners. Learning contents should be available in multiple modes of delivery and across a variety of human senses (sight, hearing, touch) and human mobility. Learning spaces need to be sufficiently adjustable for people of different sizes and mobilities. Events that are held on campus should be fully accessible and considerate of people’s capabilities. Software tools and IT equipment should be intuitively usable, self-describing in terms of usage, and designed against human error.


3. What is “universal instructional design” (UID)? What are some of the principles of universal instructional design?


There are nine principles of universal design for instruction:

Principle 1: Equitable use Principle 2: Flexibility in use Principle 3: Simple and intuitive Principle 4: Perceptible information Principle 5: Tolerance for error Principle 6: Low physical effort Principle 7: Size and space for approach and use Principle 8: A community of learners Principle 9: Instructional climate

(Scott, McGuire, & Shaw, 2001, as cited in Scott & McGuire, 2015, “A Case Study Approach to Promote Practical Application of Universal Design for Instruction,” pp. 317 - 318)

Another approach suggests three main principles for universal design for learning (UDL), and these include the following: “multiple means of representation; multiple means of action and expression; and multiple means of engagement” (Rose, Myer, & Hitchcock, 2005).

The approaches are echoic of the seminal work by Chickering and Gamson (1987) about approaches that enhance learning for undergraduate students. Jeanne L. Higbee writes:

“Components of UID, which are based on the work of Chickering and Gamson (1987), include (a) creating welcoming classrooms; (b) determining the essential components of a course; (c) communicating clear expectations; (d) providing constructive feedback; (e) exploring the use of natural supports for learning, including technology, to enhance opportunities for all learners; (f) designing teaching methods that consider diverse learning styles, abilities, ways of knowing, and previous experience and background knowledge; (g) creating multiple ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge; and (h) promoting interaction among and between faculty and students (Fox & Johnson, 2000; Opitz & Block, 2006, as cited in Higbee, 2015, “The Faculty Perspective: Implementation of Universal Design in a First-Year Classroom,” p. 102).

There are a broad range of approaches that are considered conducive to universal design in teaching and learning.

This approach is not conceptualized as the only or even the central design approach. In a sense, it is a design feature that aligns with other strong design approaches: “UD (universal design) cannot rescue a poorly designed application, but it can make a good one better: UD makes a good course better, a well-conceived building better, a useful service better, an informative website better, and so on,” summarizes Burgstahler, in “The Last Word” afterword (p. 347).


4. What are some real-world and applied examples of UID? What does online learning aligned with universal design practices look like? What are some common interventions?


Universal instructional design (UID) suggests that the teaching and learning should be as inclusive as possible. Based on a variety of readings, some of the following are real-world examples of universal instructional design:

  • Faculty are to be approachable, supportive, welcoming, and respectful of all learners. They are open to working with students to ensure proper accommodations for their learning needs.
  • They will make orally-delivered directions for assignments available also in written formats.
  • There are multiple formats for most or all learning contents.
  • There is regular and substantive feedback on student work.
  • Learners are empowered to understand how they are doing in a course at any time based on regular feedback and clear grading.
  • Assessments are flexible and multi-modal to accommodate a range of learning styles or preferences.

All technologies used should be accessible. They should be clearly navigable. They should include multiple ways to access the information in the digital learning objects. All learning objects should be accessible by screen reader. Websites should abide by Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). [All time-based media should have alternative ways to consume that consent without the time factor. Text alternatives should be offered for images, audio, and video files. Information presentations should have alternative delivery without the more complex layouts. No strobe effects should be used as these may cause seizures. Sites have to be highly navigable, with clear structures. And websites and their contents should be compatible with “user agents, including assistive technologies.”]

A Summary of Some Accessibility Design Approaches

There are generic accessibility design aspects which apply as well.

1. File contents in digital files and websites should be keyboard accessible for access and navigation.

2. Use course file types in universal product formats.

3. Ensure that digital files are human accessible and machine-readable.

4. Properly name digital documents. Structure text documents.

5. Use clear, simple English.

6. Label informational graphics with “alt text.”

7. Transcribe and label audio and video.

8. Make accessible PowerPoint™ slideshows.

9. Use color in an accessible way. Use labels in addition to color.

10. Summarize and label data tables.

11. Support user control of automations and sequenced actions, as much as possible. Allow use control of time. Use time limitations reasonably and possibly even sparingly.

12. Plan live, online events to be accessible.


5. What are some common technologies used to create universally designed online learning? What are some online resources for enhancing universal design for online learning?


One very common technology is the learning management system, which enables a range of the functionalities needed for teaching and learning, collaboration, learner tracking, and grading. There are authoring tools that enable accessibility testing, alt-texting, captioning, and other accessibility features (like enablements with assistive technologies).

Online content sharing sites, like YouTube, enable automated voice-to-text transcription (albeit with maybe only about 60% accuracy given the “noise” in the audio data).


Some Online Resources for Effective Universally Designed Online Learning:

AccessDL (UW’s DO-IT Center’s Center on Accessible Distance Learning): http://www.washington.edu/doit/programs/accessdl

Adaptech Research Network Database of Free and Inexpensive Computer Technologies: http://www.adaptech.org/en/research/fandi

CAST: http://www.cast.org/

Center for Universal Design in Education: http://www.washington.edu/doit/programs/center-universal-design-education/overview

JISC TechDis Inclusion Technology Advice: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/content

National Center on Universal Design for Learning: http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines

Province of Ontario: Making Your Website Accessible: https://www.ontario.ca/page/how-make-websites-accessible

UDL-Universe: UDL Course Changes: http://enact.sonoma.edu/content.php?pid=218878&sid=2028802

UDL on Campus: Selecting Media and Technology: http://udloncampus.cast.org/page/media_landing#.VmG7DPmrTcs

WebAIM: http://webaim.org/

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (of the W3C): http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag

Examples

In addition to some of the general approaches mentioned above, in the research literature, there are some other examples of universal instructional design.

In one case, an instructor elicited multimodal notetaking (including graphical notetaking) and shared students’ notes with each other to promote learning.

In another case, an instructor went to social media sites to hold various learning endeavors to capture online affordances for assignments.

A core concept is that the learning is adapted to the learner. One learner (unidentified in the text) wrote of an exemplary instructor’s approach: “One instructor offered to teach me verbal concepts of synoptic meteorology that other students learned by completing weather maps. When I asked him a few months before the beginning of the class what he thought might be the best way for me to participate in this highly visual work, he offered me the approach of weekly one-on-one meetings. I very much appreciated his willingness to go out of his way to help me learn the material in a manner that was effective for me” (Durre, Richardson, Smith, Shulman, & Steele, 2015, “Universal Design of Instruction: Reflections of Students,” p. 129).

There are a number of types of assessments that are offered to learners. In some cases, learners are asked to collaboratively design their own assessments.

Also, there are a range of examples that show how faculty, administrators, and staff elicit learner feedback, in order to improve the services provided to them.

How To

Dr. Sheryl E. Burgstahler proposed some dimensions of a framework for applying universal design to teaching and learning. In this model, the elements include the following:

  • Values
  • Goal(s)
  • Definition(s)
  • Scope of application
  • Principles
  • Guidelines
  • Exemplary practices
  • Process(es)
  • Evaluation(s)
  • Support(s)

(Burgstahler, 2015, “Universal Design of Instruction: From Principles to Practice,” p. 35)

To augment the framework, the author offered general UDI guidelines paired with applied examples. These related to issues of class climate, learning-based interactions, the physical environments, delivery methods of instruction, information resources, technologies, feedback and assessment, and accommodations. Some examples offered include offering learning contents in multiple ways, providing directions given orally in textual form, using large visual and tactile aids, providing regular feedback to learners, and other approaches.


This author also provided a semi-sequential (likely recursive) process for the application of universal design for instruction. The steps were as follows:

  • Identify the course
  • Define the universe
  • Involve students
  • Adopt instructional strategies
  • Apply instructional strategies
  • Plan for accommodations
  • Evaluate

(Burgstahler, 2015, “Universal Design of Instruction: From Principles to Practice,” p. 47)

Possible Pitfalls

The adoption of universal instructional design (UID) is generally seen as a net positive because it makes online learning contents, processes, assessments, and other aspects as broadly welcoming and usable as possible. There are several shortcomings to this approach.

Definition: “Universal instructional design” is only currently partially defined currently. There are general statements of principle, but there needs to be a lot more definition in terms of what it looks like in application and then which of those applications are most efficacious and why and with which particular sub-populations of learners. UID is thought to be applicable to all levels of learning, and it would be helpful to have research in pre-K, K-12, and in professional training contexts as well. Also, UID could apply to formal and informal learning contexts. It could also apply to self-discovery learning. Some have argued that UID is merely general good teaching, including practices such as being welcoming of all learnings, adapting teaching strategies to learners’ respective and unique needs, versioning learning in various ways, and providing different paths and options to other learners, as needed.

Cultural agnosticism: One assertion is that the model itself is conceptualized as a generalist one and does not directly consider cultural sensitivities. In this light, some researchers suggest the need to integrate multicultural instructional design to be integrated with UID and to consider various types of intersectionality (such as a theoretical case of a learner from a particular locale, culture, and native language, with particularized accessibility needs and a specific socialized identity).

Need for more academic research: Another argument is that UID and universal design in higher education in general lack empirical research. Most of the current extant research is qualitative and small-scale in nature; much of this is action research, with UID practices applied in various course settings. More research all around on UID, various designs and technologies, and observable and measurable outcomes would be desirable. What is even more necessary would be some large-scale quantitative-based experimental types of research. In a meta-analysis of the research literature on universal design in higher education, a research team found only one with a “true experimental design and included random assignment of subjects to the control and intervention groups” (Roberts, Satlykgylyjova, & Parks, 2015, “Universal Design of Instruction in Postsecondary Education: A Literature Review of Empirically Based Articles,” p. 68).

Module Post-Test

1. What is “universal design” (UD), and what are its main precepts? Where does it originate from?

2. What is “universal design in higher education” (UDHE)? What are some real-world examples of UDHE?

3. What is “universal instructional design” (UID)? What are some of the principles of universal instructional design?

4. What are some real-world and applied examples of UID? What does online learning aligned with universal design practices look like? What are some common interventions?

5. What are some common technologies used to create universally designed online learning? What are some online resources for enhancing universal design for online learning?

References

Burgstahler, S.E. (2015). Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice. (2nd Ed.) Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.

Burgstahler, S.E. (2015). “Universal Design in Higher Education.” Ch. 1. In S.E. Burgstahler’s Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice. (2nd Ed.) Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 3-28.

Burgstahler, S.E. (2015). “Universal Design of Instruction.” Ch. 2. In S.E. Burgstahler’s Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice. (2nd Ed.) Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 31 – 64.

Durre, I., Richardson, M., Smith, C., Shulman, J.A., & Steele, S. (2015). “Universal Design of Instruction: Reflections of Students.” Ch. 6. In S.E. Burgstahler’s Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice. (2nd Ed.) Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 117 – 130.

Higbee, J.L. (2015). “The Faculty Perspective: Implementation of Universal Design in a First-Year Classroom.” Ch. 5. In S.E. Burgstahler’s Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice. (2nd Ed.) Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 101 – 116.

Roberts, K.D., Satlykgylyjova, M., & Park, H-J. (2015). “Universal Design of Instruction in Postsecondary Education: A Literature Review of Empirically Based Articles.” Ch. 3. In S.E. Burgstahler’s Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice. (2nd Ed.) Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 65 – 80.

Scott, S.S. & McGuire, J.M. (2015). “A Case Study Approach to Promote Practical Application of Universal Design for Instruction.” Ch. 22. In S.E. Burgstahler’s Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice. (2nd Ed.) Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 315 - 324.

Extra Resources

University of Washington’s DO-IT Center: http://www.washington.edu/doit/

UW’s DO-IT and The Center for Universal Design in Education (with a Knowledge Base of resources): http://www.washington.edu/doit/programs/center-universal-design-education/overview

Universal Design in Higher Education: Promising Practices – PDFs (70 pp., free downloadable): http://www.washington.edu/doit/universal-design-higher-education-promising-practices-pdfs

A Checklist for Inclusive Teaching: http://www.washington.edu/doit/equal-access-universal-design-instruction

AccessCollege (of the DO-IT Center): http://www.washington.edu/doit/programs/accesscollege (including The Faculty Room, The Student Services Conference Room, The Employment Office, The Student Lounge, The Veterans Center, The Board Room, The Center for Universal Design in Education, and STEM Lab)

National Center on Universal Design for Learning’s UDL Guidelines Graphic Organizer: http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines/udlguidelines_graphicorganizer

Universal Design for Learning Guidelines: http://www.udlcenter.org/sites/udlcenter.org/files/updateguidelines2_0.pdf