Staff Development

Learning is NOT One Thing

Image of a brain scan during different activities

Note where the red and yellow areas are located during 4 different learning activities

Brain research tells us:

  • 4 different tasks using language alone use 4 different parts of the brain
  • Even with one task, the brain uses various parts (fires neurons in multiples areas)
  • Learning differs between individuals, at different ages, and as a result of different experiences
  • Each individual's brain has strengths and weakness in the manner in which it processes information, retains and stores information, retrieves and expressions information, maintains focus, etc.
  • These factors don't even include those individuals whose differences are such that they are determined to be learning disabled

Therefore, UDL has the goal of:

  • Activating the learning process for all learners
  • Motivating individuals to become Master Learners who want to learn strategically and to continue learning for their lifetime

It's about becoming a Master Learner

Let's start with the 3 main principles of UDL and how YOU can incorporate any given one in a variety of ways into your curriculum.

  • Representation
  • Expression
  • Engagement

To educate



In teacher talk this refers to how we present our material. UDL indicates that course content needs to provide learners with alternative/multiple modes of presentation of essential concepts.

We have heard about learning preference. We know that some people learn best visually and verbally. Others prefer non-verbal yet still visual. Still others learn best by listening or through touch and body movement. But what does this mean for our instructional practices?

General practices:

  • Be flexible. Keep the idea of new ways to present always in the back of your mind.
  • Experiment with multi-modal instructional strategies (examples following)
  • Give all directions and instruction both in writing and verbally. Repeat often.
  • Consider asking students if what you presented makes sense or why was it hard to grasp. They will tell you.
  • Create an atmosphere of respect and assurance. Praise students for correct answers or when they make any type of contribution to the class. If a student does not give a correct response, at least acknowledge some part of it: "I see why you say that..." or "That wasn't what I was looking for; however, that brings up a good point...
  • Whenever possible, digitize parts of your course. For example, create your syllabus in electronic/digital format. You are then free to incorporate various types of media to enhance interest in and understanding of your course requirements.
  • Consider using technology within your course with your class. Our students are more familiar with technology than many of us are, therefore, they will be more engaged. Check out this link for references to many tools used for and by students with learning related disabilities. REMEMBER: Universal Design says -- that which increases access for a special group will also benefit all., then click on "tools" under the triangle.

  • The syllabus:
    • Portray a welcoming and enthusiastic image through your syllabus. Enthusiasm is contagious. Students often tell me that they will listen to instructors who seem genuinely excited about their subject, even if they wouldn't normally be interested in that subject.
    • Don't cram everything you want to say into a small space. This is called "visual noise." Consider handing out pages to your syllabus on different days. It is OK to put a lot of information on your syllabus, but remember that the average attention spam per task is about 15 minutes. Covering the points in your course for 45 minutes is not effective.
    • Put as much information up front that is relevant to your students as possible. This could include your contact information and office hours + how you would like to be contacted; assignments and due dates (this could be its own page); general enrollment information such as deadlines for adding, dropping and withdrawal, holidays, etc.; in addition to listing your required textbook and materials, consider information on the ASLPC book loan program, renting books or other lower cost options.

      The concern over required books is critical. DSPS students need information ASAP so they can obtain their materials in alternate formats such as audio books or e-text. This takes time. Other students may just want to begin reading even before school starts.

    • Consider a page on resources for student success relevant to your course; consider several tips for academic success relevant to what you feel is needed to succeed. This can include creating a good study environment and study plan, time management, using resources to better comprehension, reading comprehension strategies, etc. As a learning specialist I embed this information throughout my learning skills classes. Feel free to seek out information on study strategies from me, Jim Gioia, Brian Owyoung as well as other counselors.
    • The following link shows an excerpt from a digital syllabus. I thought it was clever and provided food for thought.
      I couldn't do some of this, but I am going to look into how. By providing links to additional information, one could provide the student with more for later with less confusion now. However, make sure the syllabus clearly defines why a student should follow the link and when.
    • Consider a quiz on your syllabus or a Q&A competition to motivate students to take this information seriously, learn it and use it.

Next: Out With the Old, In With the New

Professional Development

Howard Blumenfeld
Professional Development Coordinator


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Page last modified: February 25, 2014