7 Online Learning Best Practices for Universal Design of Learning

Universal Design of Learning

Are you struggling to find ways to engage your students in online learning? Here are 7 online learning best practices for UDL. Universal Design of Learning is best practices for student centered education. These tips will help you as a teacher increase learner engagement through distance education.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools have switched to distance learning. Schools are trying a range of different approaches. Some provide synchronous virtual learning through video conferencing like Zoom. Others try to learn asynchronously with worksheets designed to enhance learning from home. This article will look at 7 Online Learning Best Practices for UDL.

COVID-19 has drastically changed education, requiring students and teachers to immediately adapt to exclusively virtual learning environments.

No matter which method is used, distance learning can be a challenge. Teachers and students will need time and practice to get used to it. One of the biggest issues teachers face is authentic engagement with students through Zoom and Learning Management Systems.

Fortunately, the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can help. Here are some best practices for distance learning using UDL:

What is UDL? Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a way of thinking about teaching and learning that helps give all students an equal opportunity to succeed. https://udlguidelines.cast.org/

1. Co-create expectations and teach students how to participate through technology.

Videoconferencing and remote learning are completely new teaching methods. Teachers and students may need extra time and support to learn how to function. It is often assumed that students are skilled in technology. However, the technology and skills that students acquire for distance learning will vary.

Students are not always the tech wizards of lore, so guiding them to learn and engage with technology is important.

Explicitly teach how to use the new teaching media. Teachers can co-create and share expectations about how to participate in the new learning environment. Provide many opportunities for students to practice.

Also realize that everyone will have a learning curve. It may take some time and continuous support before all students can master how to function in a new remote environment.

2. Assign student note-takers.

For many students, it is more difficult to watch live teaching videos than to sit in a classroom. Concentrating, making connections, processing information and identifying key ideas can be difficult for many learners.

While students are flexible in their note-taking behavior, they may not always make the best decisions about how and when to take notes (Morehead, K. et al., 2019).

Learners can work together to help each other. Consider assigning students to take notes for the class using applications built into your Learning Management System like Amamote for MOODLE.

Accurate notes are very important and helpful to all students. They are especially useful for students who cannot concentrate, read or write effectively.

3. Improve UX and content accessibility.

It’s not just videos that need to be accessed. Also consider how to make images and digital documents accessible to all students. Here are some online learning best practices for UDL to use when creating materials:

  • Use tools such as Silktide to check whether written materials are accessible to screen readers and improve overall user experience.
  • Avoid using PDFs for lecture notes and other digital materials. Always use Word, Google Docs or other accessible formats instead. These formats have Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for screen reader access and also allow for easy transcription of text.
  • Create a short text description of the images and videos you use during video and distance learning.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are helpful and important guidelines to follow when developing web content and materials to ensure equal access for all.

If you haven’t used these practices in your classroom yet, try to use this as an opportunity to learn how to make them available to everyone. Then it will be easy to incorporate these techniques into your daily learning environment.

4. Learning by teaching: let your students be teachers.

Provide students with ideas for understanding how learning and teaching work in a virtual environment and let them discuss. You can create activities for students to provide feedback on your virtual teaching plans as well. Since you are all working remotely, give them the opportunity to create the appearance of teaching and learning together. This is virtual-student-centered teaching at its best.

Frequent interaction is especially important when working remotely. Ask your students about their needs regularly and be prepared to consider their suggestions for change.

Giving students the power of agency over their own remote learning preferences is post-pandemic student-centered teaching at its best.

Many students are digital natives who have had computers their whole lives. Ask about their preferences. And ask if they have innovative ideas of their own on how to conduct online learning. This supports the learner’s initiative, self-confidence and motivation to learn in a remote setting.

5. Encourage asynchronous learning.

Some of your students may not be able to join a live session, whether it’s due to timing, internet access, or problems focusing on a screen. Also, when information is presented only in audio form, some students will have trouble processing the information.

If you want to conduct on-site guidance via video, it’s best to record it for students to view or use in the future. Moreover, you can upload the video to YouTube and share as an unlisted/private link. You can also send to students via email.

Transcripts of class audio are extremely helpful for students who are visual learners. Only 4.8% of learners prefer an auditory learning approach (Lujan & Dicarlo, 2006).

Transcripts of class audio are extremely helpful for students who are visual learners. Only 4.8% of learners prefer an auditory learning approach (Lujan & Dicarlo, 2006).

Consider apps like Otter.ai to generate transcripts from your audio. (Otter.ai offers 600 minutes of transcription free per month). YouTube also offers live captioning, which may be imperfect, but it is still useful.

6. Establish and foster a supportive community (T2S & S2S).

In a remote context, it is hard to check with students on their emotional and physical health. You should take time out of teaching to reduce the feeling of social isolation and to foster a sense of connection and belonging. The most critical online learning best practices for UDL involve fostering a supportive community between learners and teachers.

The most critical online learning best practices for UDL involve fostering a supportive community between learners and teachers.

Use Zoom breakout rooms. Set up a Discord server for your class. Discord is commonly used by youth today. Many students are already members of dozens of Discord servers. So starting one for your class can help foster a tightly-knit community.

Discord is the most popular communication app for tech minded youth who are interested in video games and digital art like NFTs (Non Fungible Tokens). Creating a Discord server for your class is a great way to foster closer connections between students and teachers and students and students.

If possible, try to have a separate virtual check-in or short text conversation with each student once a week. Also, encourage participation to help your students feel that they have agency in this online space. Students are the critical component of the learning community. So as teachers we need to listen and adapt to them.

7. Experiment with Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality for Education

Experiential learning is more effective than other methods of learning. And AR and VR improve learning by providing schools with an interactive, engaging, and inclusive learning experience that can be controlled and managed within the classroom. As a result, these technologies have the potential to revolutionize the world of classroom pedagogy, making learning interactive and fun.

Facebook Oculus Quest 2 and Sony Playstation are making VR affordable and accessible. Soon, virtual reality headsets will be as common as a home television.

AR/VR is going to be the next revolution in human interaction. Due to the availability of augmented reality technology on mobile phones such as with Google AR Core and the low price of virtual reality rigs such as the Facebook Oculus Quest 2.

Early adopters of AR/VR technology for education are discussing exciting ways to use this technology to enhance learning interaction. Consider joining a community of practice such as Educators in VR. Or join their Discord server to talk with other like-minded educators.

Thank you for reading about the 7 Online Learning Best Practices for UDL. Please share this article with your learning and teaching networks.

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This post first appeared on the Icarus Learning Solutions blog at https://icarus.so/7-online-learning-best-practices-for-udl-in-2021/

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Chief Learning Architect, Icarus Learning Solutions

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Chief Learning Architect, Icarus Learning Solutions

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