What does it mean to design for inclusion? Whether you are taking this course with a plan to enter into an instructional role or with the understanding that you may have to deliver training or support colleagues in your future work you will need to plan for diversity in how you deliver your instructions. We can’t assume that just because someone knows their content or has developed a set of skills that they can share those skills or knowledge effectively with someone else. You may have experienced this frustration when trying to explain how to do something with your own family members! As a learning designer, our goal is to ensure all learners are successful in meeting outcomes and goals.

Take a moment to think of the various supports you may need to progress through your day. Did you awaken with the help of an alarm? Did you start with a cup of coffee (or more than one cup)? Did you need a shower before you felt fully alert? Do you often do a workout or stretch before engaging in your workday?  Do you use the autocorrect features as you type on your computer or phone? Are there reminders set on your phone alerting you of appointments or due dates? Each of these are supports that you have identified that make your days easier and offload some of the mental work of managing your daily affairs. As you evaluate the things that make your day a bit easier, try to identify any other ritual you may be accessing as a support without realizing the role that it plays.

Implementing the supports that we need or want requires self-advocacy. Advocating for what we need can be easier for self-aware neuro-typical individuals. Supporting all of our learners in identifying and accessing beneficial supports is a critical task for the learning designer.

Laws

Inclusive Education Canada indicates that “human rights law requires education providers to make their services accessible to persons with disabilities. This means that where a barrier is identified, accommodations must be provided to overcome that barrier, unless to do so would cause an undue hardship”. The British Columbia government has a partial list of inclusive educational services offered for a variety of diverse learning needs. Provincial law mandates that “All students should have equitable access to learning, opportunities for achievement, and the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of their educational programs.” 

Ensuring that ALL learners can pursue excellence in all aspects of their education requires some proactive work by learning designers.

“Special Needs” or Human Needs?

Designers have hopefully shed the myth of the “average learner” by now. Many students (not just students with diverse abilities) face barriers and challenges that interfere with their ability to make optimal progress in their learning. Previous posts have identified the challenge individuals face as they learn something new, and if we apply that thinking to the variability in how the human brain works we should know the importance of planning for personalization in our designs. Rather than focusing on a medical model of disability, designers should work with their learners to ensure that the learning design is meeting their needs. 

Watch the video below and follow the given instructions:

This classic “selective attention test” demonstrates attention variability within our population. Did you spot the gorilla? If this was not your first time viewing this video, you will have known to watch for it. Some first time viewers spot the gorilla right away while others are so intent on following the task that they are unaware of the gorilla. One reason we mention this video here is that it illustrates how easy it is to completely overlook something we are not looking for. If we are not intentional about looking for barriers to participation, we will not see them. This video also has implications for all tasks requiring attention. How would your attention vary if you had to watch the ball being passed for 5 minutes? 50 minutes? Attention and engagement variables are important considerations in your learning design. How can you break your tasks into manageable sizes that work well for your learners?

Inclusive Design

Considering the design of the learning environment is a crucial place to begin in planning for diversity in your learners. How will you incorporate multi-modal materials, resources, and ensure that everyone is well represented in your planning? Experienced video game players are very familiar with timely supports. Well designed games are meant to keep players engaged, even when things become difficult. Many games have embedded supports and tips that enable a player to progress through challenging new situations. After venturing further into the game, the player may encounter less support and have to access other means of support. These embedded tips and supports are called “scaffolds” and can be provided as timely interventions for your learners. A scaffold is temporary support that helps to build skills or knowledge efficiently. They are usually reduced as a learner develops confidence and proficiency. An example of a scaffold might be to provide step-by-step instructions for how to complete a new task, or a vocabulary list with clear definitions.

An inclusive design begins with the understanding that every person is a learner, and every learner has the right to pursue excellence and achievement. The learning designer must ensure that the environment, materials, tasks, and assessments are well matched to the learners who will be using them. As we turn our focus to reducing barriers for learners and providing scaffolds or timely supports together, we encourage you to share your ideas on this Padlet. This can be a place where we exchange resources, adaptation ideas, links to more information, and ask questions. Please feel free to share the Padlet beyond our course so that we may gather ideas from others. 

References:

Meyer, Anne, et al. Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice. CAST Professional Publishing, an Imprint of CAST, Inc., 2014, UDL Theory Practice, retrieved from: udltheorypractice.cast.org/

Right to Education – Inclusive Education, retrieved from: https://www.inclusiveeducation.ca/learn/right-to-education/