From Emergency Workers to the Classroom – Transfer of Learning is Imperative

Firefighters and two firetrucks attending to a fire.
Emergency workers constantly transfer knowledge to new contexts. Image by Jon Pauling.

Consider our emergency workers. Each time they are out on a call, the context and situation are new. They must take their skills and learnt strategies and apply them in a situation that potentially they have not experienced before. We can be grateful to the concept of transfer of learning that these emergency crews can take their skills, strategies and knowledge and apply it to new problem-solving situations.

Transfer of learning is an integral part of the learning process. It relies on cognitive accessibility, a term to describe the memory systems’ capacity (both long-term and working memory) to support recall and transfer of skills. When a student has memory systems that are less effective in supporting the transfer of learning, supports are required.

So how can we support our students? Employing techniques designed to enhance students’ memory is one area supported by CAST, the home of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). They suggest using mnemonics, strategic note-taking, visual imagery, and explicitly teaching for transfer as classroom-based strategies. Access CAST’s reference list to locate evidence for a range of strategies to support memory and transfer.

Practical Strategies

For those looking for simple-to-use, immediate action to provide transfer of learning comprehension supports for students, consider the following, adapted from CAST:

1. Support your students’ development of their organisation skills. Strategies include using checklists, graphic organisers, diary/calendar notes, sticky notes and electronic reminders

2. Support your students’ memory of information and strategies through the use of mnemonic strategies. Examples include using visual imagery, incorporating paraphrasing strategies, and employing retrieval practice.

3. Ensure students are provided regular and spaced explicit opportunities for review and practice. Then, guide opportunities in the longer term to revisit key ideas and encourage students’ to link these to new concepts.

4. Enhance students’ note-taking practice by providing scaffolds such as templates, graphic organisers and concept maps.

5. Develop a culture of connecting of valuing connections between new and prior knowledge. One of my skilled colleagues teaches her primary school class to make a specific hand signal when something they learn connects to their own prior knowledge of experience. This supports connection-making and enables the class to engage with the materials without verbally interrupting. Other scaffold methods include using word webs or part-filled concept maps.

6. Employ creativity through analogy, metaphor, drama, music, or film. for example, to embed new ideas in familiar contexts.

7. Provide explicit, supported opportunities to generalise learning to new situations. FOr example, provide opportunities to explore new problem-solving situations that use a particular strategy – this could range from maths to empathy! Also, support students to apply their learning to practical, real-world applications within the learning environment and beyond.

Find more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning in the Universal Design for Learning section of the CUDA website.

Strategies to Support Students to Connect and Comprehend New Concepts

A paragraph of text with key points being highlighted.
Highlight patterns, critical features, big ideas, and relationships to develop understanding. Image by YeriLee from Pixabay

A colleague completed her PhD in the field of dyslexia. Thanks to her expertise – her knowledge, skills and experience in this field – her ability to synthesise new information about reading difficulties, to make meaning, is masterful.

By identifying key features in information, she refines what is important. This facilitates efficient comprehension of the information, supporting her to embed relevant information from the new source with her existing knowledge. The result is a broadened knowledge base and a deeper understanding of the information. Subsequently, she takes complex ideas and distils them succinctly and with clarity.

To share or apply knowledge efficiently shows a deep understanding. For educators, this is an outcome desired for our students. But when they are not experts in every skill, concept or content area being taught, how can we support our learners to recognise valuable information? To support the assimilation of valuable information into their knowledge banks? To disregard the insignificant and focus on the substantial?

Practical Strategies

CAST, the home of UDL, recommends educators provide explicit cueing to assist students to distinguish critical information.

This may be supported by emphasising key elements in information sources (for example, text, graphics, diagrams, formulas). This may be achieved visually or verbally, through the students highlighting these points or the educator making bold or italic key information, or through expressing the points aloud.

When using highlighters, different colours may be used to distinguish different classifications of information.

Scaffolding including learning routines, mastery routines and graphic organisers may be valuable for students to identify important concepts and emphasise relationships between them.

Concept or brainstorming maps, webs or trees support learners to visually document key concepts and relationships.

Use many examples to illustrate real-world examples of concepts. Be sure to support the development of mastery by providing non-examples, too. The Frayer Model is a graphic organiser tool useful for developing critical vocabulary.

Additionally, educators should prompt students to make explicit connections between previously learnt content, knowledge and skills. This supports the consolidation of the existing content or knowledge whilst also providing an opportunity for the students to build relationships to new concepts.

Do you want to learn more to help develop your students into expert learners? Find more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning in the Universal Design for Learning section of the CUDA website.

Captioning live theatre brings culture change

A graphic of the theatre masks of comedy and tragedy.If designs are not “born” accessible then it becomes a process of finding “work-arounds”. It can be seen in tacked-on ramps or clumsy platform lifts in buildings. Revolving doors mean another separate door for wheelchair and pram users. Special captioning apps or screenings in cinemas, and “special accommodations” at work and at school. It takes a change of culture to think inclusively and to understand its value. 

While practitioners in many fields agree with the concept of inclusion for all, the organisations they work for are slow to get on board. This is because it takes a culture change to think and act inclusively. This is a key point in an article about how introducing captioning helped change the organisation’s culture. 

Although the article is in the context of higher education, it provides some insights into how to drive culture change. Basically, it stems from the need to innovate. The article provides background to the project and a step by step explanation of the process to create live captioning for a live theatre performance.

Theatre performances require more than actors. Many people work behind the scenes from the scriptwriter to the curtain operator. So, many different people worked on the project. More importantly, they saw the results. At first they thought captioning would be a distraction, but in the end it became “traction”. Staff came around and saw the positive impact. The value of hands-on experience with the development and seeing the outcomes was the key to culture change.

The authors conclude that, “creating accessible environments doesn’t need to be expensive”. But it does take time, thoughtfulness and the involvement of users.

The title of the article is, From “Distraction” to “Traction”: Dancing around barriers to caption live theatre and promote culture change.

Abstract

Laws and policies worldwide increasingly demand that all users have
equivalent ability to interact with their environment, independent of disabilities. This includes educational and work environments as well as entertainment. Technologies have greatly facilitated the development of accessible resources and processes; however, a culture of accessible design is still not fully developed, and not all solutions are affordable, so there is still resistance. This paper outlines the steps of a team effort at a small private college to provide captioning for a live theatre production, Stepping Out, which resulted not only in rendering the performance accessible but also helped grow the culture of accessibility at the institution.

From Love to Criminal Profiling

A globe, non-fiction text, magnifiying glass and pen on a desk.
Background knowledge is crucial to comprehension. Image: StockSnap on Pixabay.

What do criminal profiling, the ‘getting-to-know-you stage of a relationship, the job application work history and reference check process, and school learning all have in common? The need for background information.

Whether it’s the earlier stages of a flourishing relationship, reference and employment checks when applying for a new job or profiling people to prevent crime, background information is crucial in developing understanding and making meaning. What we are doing in each of these scenarios is trying to comprehend or understand a person.

In the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, one of the three main principles relates to information presentation. Naturally, comprehension is a key theme.

Comprehension

So, what is comprehension?

Comprehension is about making meaning; about understanding. In Read About It: Scientific Evidence for Effective Teaching of Reading (p 25), Kerry Hempenstall defines reading comprehension as “Extracting and constructing meaning from written text using knowledge of words, concepts and ideas.” CAST, the home of UDL, explains that comprehension is about transforming accessible information into useable knowledge. Both sources agree that it is the educator’s duty to support learners to access knowledge to develop understanding in teaching.

Background Information

A key component of comprehension is background information. Pre-existing or taught knowledge of the domain studied is crucial for students to develop their understanding. So how can we help our students to develop background information?

First, take every opportunity to introduce or develop domain-specific knowledge. This can be through pre-reading or pre-teaching. Using demonstrations or models help to achieve this.

Next, support the development of general knowledge through engagement with news and current affairs, documentaries or video-clips. Link this to existing knowledge by supporting students to make connections to what they already know. Encourage linking and drawing on prior knowledge by using anchor charts, making visuals and embedding opportunity for mastery of concepts.

Also, develop a culture of curiosity in your learning spaces. Model thinking aloud that highlights your curiosity. Then, model how to uncover knowledge of your curiosity through, for example, effective searches on the internet. Mind-mapping, or developing metaphors to make connections, are other effective strategies.

Additionally, making use of graphic organisers is beneficial. Students benefit from making explicit connections across and between key learning.

Find more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning in the Universal Design for Learning section of the CUDA website.

The real lives of online learners

Maslow's pyramid diagram of needs: at the bottom are physical needs, then safety and security, then love and belonging, rising to self esteem and at the pinnacle is self-actulisation.Online learning will continue to be an important way of teaching and studying. But little is understood about unintended consequences for some learners. Some will be left behind. Ready access to a computer or device and the internet is just the start. Anxiety about home backgrounds can prevent learners from turning on the camera. Lack of good housing and adequate food can also be an issue. If education systems are to be truly inclusive, the real lives of learners need to be factored into learning processes. 

Understanding the value of diversity, equity and inclusion is important for upcoming generations who will be tomorrow’s decision-makers. This is a key point made in an article from Arizona State University. The article discusses the issues within the context of changes brought about by the pandemic. There are interesting ideas that incorporate the real lives of learners and the diverse issues they have. Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, they remind us that food and shelter are not a given for all learners.  Providing a place to sleep and eat is one example of assisting learners to complete their courses.  Other examples are included in the article. 

The title of the article is, Inclusive Campus Environments: An Untapped Resource for Fostering Learner Success  It is part of a series, Shaping the Futures of Learning in the Digital Age. 

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to consider new possibilities for higher education, where the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provide a framework for creating digital and physical environments that honor every learner’s unique lived experiences and support the expectations of learners for their individual life goals. Each learner brings their own unique lived experience; multi-level intersectionality; and cognitive and social learning variabilities to their educational journey. Many of these present obstacles to their realizing successful learning outcomes. Understanding the lived experiences in the learner’s journey and creating environments that remove barriers to learning requires a deep understanding of inclusion, which is central to the framework of UDL. How can we create a campus that promotes a sense of belonging, community, and well-being — a campus that has the potential to increase the number of learners who persist to completion? It begins with honoring the uniqueness of every learner.

 

UDL and Comprehension Across Languages

A collection of phrasebooks
Making vocabulary clear increases accessibility. Image: Tessa Kavanagh, Pixabay

Recall the halcyon days pre-COVID. International travel was relatively accessible for many. An essential travel tool was a phrasebook, translator app or digital translator to aid understanding across languages. These tools facilitated at least a basic opening into communication, culture and comprehension in a foreign country, in a foreign language. Without a sound grasp of the language, life and learning can be difficult. Everyday activities that are taken for granted in a home country may suddenly become complex, confusing and result in a heavy cognitive load.

Imagine then, the complex process of learning for students for whom we teach in a language outside that which is familiar. For some, it may be learning new jargon, for others it may be learning in a second language.

As with all principles and checklists in Universal Design for Learning (UDL), the overarching goal is to make learning accessible to all. The following strategies are based on recommendations by CAST.  Educators may employ these to facilitate accessibility where the language used may otherwise present a barrier to learning:

    • Make all key information in the dominant language also available in first languages for learners with limited-English proficiency
    • Provide information in Auslan for learners who are deaf
    • Link key vocabulary words to definitions and pronunciations in both dominant (eg. English) and first languages
    • Define domain-specific vocabulary/jargon using both domain-specific terminology and in common language or alternative representations, such as illustrations, charts, images
    • Create a culture of shared learning through activities such as a word wall, group glossary or word bank, where all learners may add contributions of vocabulary and their translations
    • Provide translation tools or links to multilingual glossaries on the web
    • Embed visual supports for vocabulary clarification (illustrations, charts, images, infographics, videos, etc) into learning experiences
    • Make use of concrete materials to support abstract concepts, as in maths learning

Find more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning in the Universal Design for Learning section of the CUDA website.

UDL: A practical guide

A row of female university graduates in gowns leap into the air with joy. The picture indicates their happiness in graduating.There is a myriad of academic papers on the topic of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). So it’s good to get some practical assistance from practitioners. A guide from Canada provides a great introduction for newcomers to the topic. The three key areas for designing learning are multiple means of:

    • engagement: the why of learning
    • representation: the what of learning
    • action and expression: the how of learning

The guide begins with a Quick Start, then looks at Opportunities and Challenges, User-Centred Design and Case Studies. It’s titled,  Universal Design for Learning: A Practical Guide.

The guide lives the message with easy to understand text and logical structure. Here is an excerpt from the Introduction: 

“Post-secondary instructors are facing more challenges nowadays because the student population is increasingly diverse. Students with diverse cultural backgrounds, skills, abilities, interests, experiences, and social-economic status require instructors to reflect on their teaching practices and adopt user-centred approaches for course design and delivery. But how do user-centred approaches look like in practice? And how can instructors deliver quality learning outcomes to maximum number of students? Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a curriculum design, development, and delivery framework that could help answer these questions. 

LOL: It’s Funny Until it’s Not

A graphic of a pink cloud with the letters LOL in white.
LOL! Funny, except when acronyms create a barrier to learning.

What is your story of a misunderstood emoji or text message abbreviation? My uncle, upon learning of a significant and upsetting event, signed off his text message with ‘LOL’! Whilst confusing, it was bemusing that he would ‘Laugh Out Loud’ at this unfortunate scenario. Of course, it transpired that he thought LOL stood for ‘Lots of Love’.

Although this example is a simple and funny example of potential barriers to communication, it is symbolic of the challenge some learners face. Symbols, icons, emojis, labels, vocabulary, acronyms, abbreviations, and more are often taken for granted, But they may act as a barrier to learning for some. For reasons including word knowledge, world experience, background, language, context and learning ability, some learners may find such terms or symbols a barrier to accessing meaning.

Small, easy-to-implement strategies have the power to diminish potential barriers for these learners. A range of experimental studies, scholarly articles and studies support the strategies below.

Practical Strategies

CAST recommends the following strategies to minimise potential barriers for some learners;

    • Pre-teach vocabulary and symbols, especially in ways that promote connection to the learners’ experience and prior knowledge
    • Provide graphic symbols with alternative text descriptions
    • Highlight how complex terms, expressions, or equations are composed of simpler words or symbols
    • Embed support for vocabulary and symbols within the text (e.g., hyperlinks or footnotes to definitions, explanations, illustrations, previous coverage, translations)
    • Embed support for unfamiliar references within the text (e.g., domain-specific notation, lesser-known properties and theorems, idioms, academic language, figurative language, mathematical language, jargon, archaic language, colloquialism, and dialect)

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide a single, global guide to web accessibility that meets the needs of individuals. Recommendations cover a wide scope and greater detail than those above. Although designed to support creators to make web content more accessible for people with disability, the features are useful options for all learners. Refer to WCAG Guideline 3.1 for information regarding the goal of making text content readable and understandable.

Find more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning in the Universal Design for Learning section of this website.

More Than Meets the Eye

A photo of a woman standing with her back to the camera, looking towards a contemporary painting, suggesting that providing supplementary sources of information to complement visuals can reduce barriers to learning.
There’s more than meets the eye in many visuals. Supporting learners with alternate sources of information reduces barriers to learning. Image by Béla Dudás from Pixabay.

Picture yourself, head cocked, eyes squinting, posing thoughtfully in front of a newly acquired work in your favourite gallery. Overheard, muted voices share their musings on the meaning of the work. At odds with your initial perception, you struggle to make sense of the piece. Reading the print description and listening to the narration on the audio guide provide some insight. You learn there is so much more embodied in the artwork than meets the eye .

Now consider learners for whom visual representations are not accessible. Vision impairments, visual processing disorders, or just difficulties in interpreting visual information all create barriers to learners in accessing information.

Visual information is often complex – representations and relationships between objects, graphics, tables, infographics, illustrations, datasets and more –  lead to difficulty for some in synthesizing and making meaning. Additionally, visuals, such as artworks or symbolic representations often contain multiple meanings. Context, experience and prior knowledge may be required in order to comprehend the intended meaning.

Providing supplementary sources of information to complement visuals reduces barriers to learning.

Practical Strategies

CAST, the home of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) recommend the following practical strategies to reduce the barriers to learning that visuals may impose:

    • Provide descriptions (text or spoken) for all images, graphics, video, or animations
    • Use touch equivalents (tactile graphics or objects of reference) for key visuals that represent concepts
    • Provide physical objects and spatial models to convey perspective or interaction
    • Provide auditory cues for key concepts and transitions in visual information
    • Follow accessibility standards when creating digital text 
    • Allow for a competent aide, partner, or “intervener” to read text aloud
    • Provide access to text-to-speech software

Find more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning in the Universal Design for Learning section of this website. 

 

Sound Advice!

Sound Advice: ET, the ExtraTerrestrial wrapped in a white blanket standing against a backdrop of a starry night sky.
Sound is fundamental to both films and learning but alternatives or supplementary supports must be provided. Source: Couleur from Pixabay

Did you know, that according to Empireonline.com, an ice-cream cone was used to produce the sound of raptors hatching in the film, Jurassic Park? Or that jelly, popcorn and liver were used to create the sound of ET’s movement in the film of the same name?

Auditory input is integral to most films, so too is it an important part of learning and teaching. It helps explain learning content and express emotion. However, for some learners, processing auditory information is challenging or impractical. Challenges may stem from hearing impairment, competing sources of auditory information (eg background noise, multiple people speaking at the same time, music, etc), the location of the learner (eg on the train), the time it takes to process auditory information or even difficulties with memory, so here is some sound advice!

Practical Strategies

Awareness of these potential barriers allows educators to provide alternatives or supplements to auditory information. Captioning videos is a relatively simple way to allow an alternative to auditory information. Speech-to-text options also serve this purpose. Transcripts of lessons or seminars provide an alternative, too.

To supplement auditory information, enhance learning with visuals. These may include posters, infographics, diagrams, illustrations, photos or notations of music and other sounds. Making use of symbols and emoticons to supplement auditory information is another option. Where required, sign language and braille options must be considered.

Other visual and tactile information serves to supplement auditory information, too. Consider the ‘yellow line’ on a train platform. In addition to announcements over the intercom to stand behind the yellow line, train stations have signage sharing the message and tactile ground surface indicators (the rows of slightly raised circular markers). The provision of auditory, visual and tactile messaging serves to reduce barriers to understanding.

Find more sound advice to reduce barriers to learning on the CUDA website.