One of the challenges in college is realizing that not everyone who is a professor is also a teacher. Being an expert in a particular field does not mean a person is an expert in sharing that knowledge. One of the first challenges is differentiating between the professors who can teach and those who cannot – and learning how to learn in all kinds of classrooms.

Meanwhile, for those instructors who consider curriculum design and the content delivery/content reception relationship seriously, all teachers themselves similar questions:

  • Why aren’t my students doing well on exams?
  • Do my students really understand the concepts I am sharing?
  • Will my students ever be proficient?
  • Is anything preventing my students from accessing my curriculum?

When approaching the question from one lens educators evaluate (and often diagnose) a student’s limitations. Dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, executive functioning challenges, learning disabilities, learning differences – these primarily describe barriers to accessing traditional and single-stream teaching methods.

But what if we flipped the question on its head? What if the question wasn’t “What is wrong with this student?” What if teachers asked “What is it about my curriculum or teaching style that is preventing my students from learning?”

The answer is in intentional curriculum development and delivery build around the principle of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  UDL focuses on a fundamental shift away from “fixing the student” to “fixing the curriculum”.

UDL took root as a spin-off of concepts of Universal Design for product and architecture (think ramps as opposed to stairs, curb cut-outs, wide door frames, levers instead of twisting knobs, closed captioning, etc.).  All of these design examples note the conceptual shift away from “fixing people” and toward the intentional design of environments to make them more accessible. The same concept can be applied to education – a Universal Design for Learning.  

UDL is also deeply rooted in brain science and seeks to engage the following three networks of the brain in its methodology:

  • The Recognition Networks: the WHAT of learning
  • The Strategic Networks: the HOW of learning
  • The Affective Networks: the WHY of learning

The fundamental principles of UDL are designed to coincide with the networks of the brain that the technique seeks to address and are as follows:

  • Provide multiple means of representation (recognition networks): the curriculum must be designed in such a way as to provide a multitude of ways to acquire information and content knowledge (lectures, small group discussions, workshops, large group discussion, student-led discussions and presentations, etc.).
  • Provide multiple means of expression (strategic networks): the curriculum should provide learners with choices and alternatives for demonstrating what they have learned (essays, presentations, slideshows, videos, audio recordings, posters, skits, etc.).
  • Provide multiple means of engagement (affective networks): the curriculum should be designed to tap into learners’ various, unique, and wide-ranging interests, offer appropriate challenges, be designed to meet students where they are, and increase motivation.

While Virtual Hall can not control curriculum design or content delivery in any particular college class – be that in a lecture hall or in online learning – our expert coaches can help students re-orient themselves to new content. Virtual Hall’s Academic Coaches and Writing Instructors are adept at teaching students how to access all kinds of curriculum delivery models. By utilizing the fundamentals of UDL in their work with students, Academic Coaches work across multiple content delivery mechanisms to ensure that students are receiving and applying the support they deserve – and also learning how to learn in a college environment.