As an instructional designer, I focus on creating effective and engaging learning experiences for learners. But in order to do that successfully, learning gaps must be identified, learning styles minded, and context known to create the best learning journey possible. So I conduct research exploring the thoughts, emotions, and environment of learners in order to create a path that addresses and supports them. Designing a learner-centered experience is my goal, and one set of principles helps me maintain this focus: Universal Design for Learning.
Introducing Universal Design for Learning
Universal Design for Learning, also known as UDL, is an educational model that bakes inclusion into the curriculum. When creating educational materials, we have a tendency to box learners into one way of accessing something. UDL encourages the discovery of new ways of finding inclusive educational experiences regardless of a learner’s background, ability, or disability.
We all learn differently. A curriculum that uses multiple flexible methods and entry points for accessibility — and puts these at the disposal of the learner — can maximize inclusion. UDL includes three principles: representation, action and expression, and engagement.
UDL principle #1: Representation
Representation is about supplying the learner with information in more than one format. If we create a video explaining how Salesforce’s Health Cloud works, this should also be available with closed captioning, as a transcription, and maybe even as a hands-on workshop.
UDL principle 2: Action and expression
Action and expression are meant to give learners multiple interaction points with content and a way to showcase their learning. Say those folks learning about Health Cloud want to show off what they’ve learned — they can take a certification exam, give a presentation to their colleagues, or write a blog post sharing insights and takeaways.
UDL principle 3: Engagement
The last principle, engagement, is about finding multiple ways to motivate learners that will sustain their interest, especially in ways that feel relevant and allow them to make choices. If our content about Health Cloud is simply technical, we will lose the learner, but if we can create a fantastical company using Health Cloud to illustrate use in a similar context as the learner, we come closer to sustaining their attention and helping them remember.
Addressing learning challenges head on
Being a remote majority and a rapidly growing company can provide various learning challenges. At Silverline, we decided to adopt myTrailhead to address these obstacles. myTrailhead is a gamified learning experience platform that allows us to build original content. Because we are Trailhead users and a Salesforce Platinum Partner, it is also something our learners are familiar with. myTrailhead provided a good fit when considering tools under the UDL principles, such as requiring alt-text for images, closed captioning for videos, badge rewards, and easy ways to connect to content we already have.
myTrailhead allowed for the transformation of our onboarding process, allowing new hires to travel through content at their own pace (and as an on-the-job resource they could reference) in preparation for our in-person orientation. It also brought other Silverliners interested in building original learning content to Learning and Development, allowing us to develop an internal business partner model. And ultimately, it opened up how we connect Silverline’s culture to providing inclusive and accessible learning experiences so everyone has access to information, to learning, and to understanding.