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Invited In: Measuring UDL in Online Learning

Posted on Jan 28, 2016

On January 28, 2016, the Center released Invited In: Measuring UDL Design in Online Learning. This report on K-12 online learning explores and evaluates alignment to the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework among selected online learning product vendors. Invited In assists online developers, administrators, teachers, and parents in understanding the online lessons, resources, and related digital materials used by K-12 students, how online learning variances impact students with disabilities, and how to select products that provide appropriate learning options for struggling learners and students with disabilities.

Report contents include:

  • A means to further consider K-12 online lessons and related digital materials in consideration of their accessibility and subsequent value to struggling learners and students with disabilities.
  • Current efforts to determine the appropriateness of K-12 blended and fully online content often relies on compliance with accessibility standards. Districts and education product developers can use a number of resources, including the Volunteer Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), to assist in determining the accessibility of their digital content or materials. However, current accessibility standards focus solely on physical and sensory considerations and not on the essential cognitive elements that create and enhance learning opportunities for all students.
  • Building on the evaluation capabilities of the VPAT, the UDL framework should be considered as a means to further determine accessibility for a broad scope of learners, including those with disabilities.
  • Using the UDL framework, developers and educators examine online content from the perspective of cognitive accessibility and variability.
  • How Center researchers employed the UDL Scan Tool in their evaluation of six online vendor products to determine how each serves—or does not serve—students with learning and access needs.
  • Six vendors of blended and fully online products were selected by researchers for review to determine alignment to UDL principles and related guidelines.  Vendors included free and for profit providers representing all K-12 grade levels and content areas.
  • Data was complied and reported on six K-12 online products’ alignment to UDL’s three principles.
  • Analysis of the findings specific to each of the six vendors, summarizing what the findings indicate for learning opportunities.

The rapid growth of online learning presents opportunities and challenges for K-12 in blended and fully online educational programs, especially for struggling students and those with disabilities. The nature of online instruction, course materials, and supplementary supports has the potential to offer all students with unique, personalized learning experiences that best fit their individual needs. To ensure that all learners benefit from online learning opportunities, the development of online learning materials must be appropriate and accessible to students with both physical and cognitive accessibility needs.

The VPAT serves as an excellent tool for evaluating overall physical accessibility to digital materials. The VPAT may be accessed free of charge from the ITI website. Use of the VPAT and other accessibility measurement tools, however, does not provide districts, schools, educators, and parents with measurements to assist in looking beyond physical accessibility in order to assess the cognitive accessibility of learning materials. The UDL works with the VPAT and other tools to provide assessments for materials to determine their accessibility for all learners.

Because UDL focuses on learners’ needs and provides a step-by-step framework for assessing learning products and their content, it goes beyond physical accessibility evaluations to provide developers and educators with methods for creating and assessing materials to ensure their appropriateness for all students. UDL alignment assures that the educational products provide access to the information and also facilitate access to learning. Used together, other online evaluation tools and the UDL Scan Tool determine a full scope of accessibility and and help educators ensure that both disabilities and learners variabilities are appropriately addressed so that all students may benefit from the potential advantages of online learning. Learn more about UDL and download UDL guidelines on the UDL Center website.

To download the entire report, visit the Invited In publication page.

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