A purple background and white text that reads “12 UDL Tips for 2024.” Below this heading, there is a highlighted tip, “Tip #5 - The D in UDL Stands for Design.” To the right, there is an illustration of two figures in front of a large computer monitor; one figure holds a megaphone and the other holds up an image, with various design elements like color swatches and geometric shapes around them.

Tip #5 – The D in UDL Stands for Design 

All artists must become intimately familiar with the materials and techniques that they work with to turn paint or wool or pixels into art. The field of design is somewhat unique because it doesn’t just experiment with the relationship of practical function and aesthetic form, it seeks to maximize both simultaneously. An engineer wants to build a more effective bridge; an artist wants to creatively capture the essence of crossing; a designer says that the job isn’t done well until you achieve both.   

When it comes to the world of education, our Academic Mini-Conference 2024 keynote speaker Dr. Carrie Nolan started her talk with the importance of designing learning experiences in her presentation, IN OUR DESIGN ERA. The framework that she chose to address the educational experience of our future students focused on experiential learning, a regenerative paradigm, and building in a sense of adventure that fosters purposeful risk-taking and creative solutions. However, as with most things UDL, design as a fundamental pillar of education is not a new concept. 

The work that the Curriculum Consultants do here in the Teaching & Curriculum Development Centre (TCDC) at snəw̓eyəɬ leləm̓ Langara College is often referred to as instructional design. At the heart of that work is the goal of creating compelling experiences for learners in a well-designed environment, whether it be the classroom, course, program or the entire curriculum. So, as you start to think of yourself more as an artist/engineer of learning experiences, start with clear goals.  

This instructional design approach is known as Outcomes-Based Teaching & Learning. You can start by asking yourself some questions. Do you have explicit, measurable learning outcomes? Do you communicate those learning outcomes clearly to students? Does the design of your course or curriculum actually support the achievement of the learning outcomes? TCDC offers a number on resources on Course (Re)Design, including the video on Learning Outcomes below. 

Another way of thinking about this process of starting with learning goals, rather than course content, is the idea of backwards design. This YouTube video link offers a brief introduction to the backwards design framework.

Once you have clear, purposeful learning outcomes, the next step of UDL is always to include multiple means of engagement, representation, and action/expression. Good design means that students have flexible means to achieve the goals that you have set out. But it’s not just that students have choice or alternative means to engage with course material or express their learning. If the instructor has set a complex learning goal, then the course design can introduce scaffolding 

An example of scaffolding is when an instructor breaks down a complex learning goal into smaller learning activities and assessments that allow the learner to work on smaller chunks that build on each other. Scaffolding can help shift the focus from the product (exam, paper, project) to the learning process. It also offers opportunities to give students formative feedback that helps them improve throughout the learning process, rather than just a summative final grade for the end product.   

There are lots of ways to design learning experiences for your students: experiential learning, building on students’ prior knowledge, providing real-world or career context, adventure! Whatever you choose as your focus, remember that designers combine effective structure (bridge) with effective communication (the notion of crossing). It is easier for students to grasp the learning process, if the instructor uses rubrics to set clear expectations for the learning that they must demonstrate. In addition to rubrics, instructors can provide anonymized examples of previous student work that demonstrate concretely what it means to exceed, meet, partially meet, or fail to meet expectations.   

The design element in UDL encourages instructors to be creative, bold, and purposeful to maximize the effectiveness of the learning experience.