Learning Styles: Is it a myth?

Two pairs of women sit at a table with paper and pens. One of the pair looks to be explaining something to the other.The idea of learning styles is something many of us have encountered. But is there evidence to support the application of learning styles? Perhaps in the past it was helpful, but looking forward and using the principles of universal design in learning (UDL), perhaps not. Whether you are doing a webinar, an e-learning program or a scientific seminar it’s worth taking a moment to consider the differences in your audience. A paper from Andrea Antoniuk discusses many aspects of learning and how we can move forward with UDL and away from the traditional learning styles concept.

The title of the article is Learning Styles: Moving Forward from the Myth. In the conclusions Antoniuk says that there is no valid reliable tool to support learning styles. “Despite being debunked, learning styles remain a thriving industry throughout the world, as many books, research studies, education courses, and assessments maintain the concept of learning styles. As a growing number of teachers utilize evidence-based practices, learning styles are being replaced by universal approaches, community building, cognitive science, and motivational practices.”

 

Neurodiversity and overseas study

A young man in a blue academic outfit is smiling at the camera and is giving the thumbs up sign. Many courses include overseas study either as an option or a compulsory part of the program. This is because cultural exchange is considered a valuable enhancement to the overall education of the student. But what about students with autism? An article on this topic reminds us that people with autism, with the right accommodations, can enhance learning programs. This is because they can bring a fresh perspective, another way of thinking. Consequently, there is opportunity to enhance the overseas study experience for everyone. So, making overseas study more inclusive is a win-win all round.  

The article provides two case studies that highlight what makes an overseas exchange a success for people with autism. Such improvements are, in the end, good for all students and educational institutions.  The authors sum up at the end: 

“Both cultural observation and self-evaluation are central objectives of a university’s drive to provide opportunities for cultural competency. Thus, although the participation of students in the autism spectrum poses plenty of challenges, their increasing access to study abroad opportunities could enhance the study abroad experience. As such, while the challenges are many, we move from a framework that adjusts to the needs of these students to an inquiry into the ways in which they can contribute to enrich the study abroad experience. The case studies presented here certainly show how an inclusive program, through proper orientation mechanisms, could be beneficial for all participants’ self-awareness and ability to reflect.”

The title of the article is, How to Run Together: On Study Abroad and the ASD Experience.  In Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, Vol. XXXII, Issue 2 (January 2020): pp. 104-118.

 

Designing for autism

Floor Plan, Blueprint, House, HomeWell designed buildings support people with physical impairment, but what about people with other sensory issues or cognitive impairment? Shelly Dival argues that we can do more in the built environment to support people on the autism spectrum in educational, work, and home environments.

As a Churchill Fellow, Shelly travelled around the globe in 2018 to gather international knowledge and raise awareness in Australia of how people with autism can benefit from more positive interactions with the built environment. Her report outlines building features requiring further research, including design theories, methods and outcomes. Her findings are also featured in an architecture magazine.

One of her insights was the crossover between autism and other neurological conditions including dementia. Designing for neurodiversity rather than specific conditions may be an effective future-proofing strategy that supports everyone. That’s similar to the approach adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in their forthcoming Guidelines on cognitive accessibility, based on the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework.  

Two people, one UDL story

A silhouette of a person between two rows of books on library shelves.Two people give their perspective on inclusive (or not) education. One is a teacher, the other a student with a disability. Their opening statements provide a context for the article. They trace some of their experiences seeking to overcome barriers to inclusive education, classrooms and teaching. The teacher’s experiences show that colleagues were, and are not, interested in inclusive education. Students with disability lack a voice and are separated into special education classes. The student story includes an action project – taking fellow students to the streets to photograph barriers to inclusion and making a case to the mayor. Both the teacher and the student conclude by saying they want to find ways of helping people with disability advocate for themselves. Clearly, no-one is listening at the moment. Bottom line: there is much academic writing about universal design for learning (UDL), but it seems policy and practice still lag far behind.

The title of the article is, A Duoethnographic Journey of Inclusion to Access.
By Ashley Cartell Johnson & Courtney Hineman of  Miami University.

 

Universal Design Engineering for Learners

A blueprint of three interlocking cog wheels.We need a diversity blueprint to help students learn whether it’s a webinar, lecture, or e-learning course. According to Keith Edyburn that means taking an engineering approach to universal design for learning (UDL). He reports on nine case studies and introduces the Design for More Types model. The aim is to turn design concepts into practical “active ingredients that can be carefully defined, measured and evaluated”. Edyburn claims personal commitment to the principles of UDL is not sufficient to enhance student engagement. The table below is from the paper, where Edyburn looks at both targeted learners and others who also benefit. 

Table shows the design feature, the Primary Beneficiary and the Secondary Beneficiary.

The thrust of this paper Universal Design Engineering, is that theory is all very well but doesn’t actually make it happen. If you take a practical engineering approach, you are more likely to engage students and increase their success rate. There is more detail about turning information into digital text, testing designs, and determining cost-benefit.

The paper is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication. 

Music and Universal Design

men and women in dark blue shirts are signing. The bow of a violin is also visible with the orchestra in the background.It’s often assumed that music education programs are not something for people who a deaf. An article in the Journal of American Sign Languages & Literatures says this is not so. Using a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach, the authors challenge these preconceptions. The article begins, ” Music is not bound to a single modality, language, or culture, but few music education programs represent a multimodal spectrum of music…” and overlook the contribution of Deaf culture. There is no one way of engaging with music, so different ways of experiencing the sensory, linguistic and cultural diversity of music is something music education practitioner might like to look at. The title of the article is Universal Design for Music: Exploring the Intersection of Deaf Education and Music Education

An Auslan interpretation of Handel’s Messiah was performed by a Deaf choir in 2015 at the Sydney Opera House. The video below is of the complete two hour concert where there is interpreting throughout by individuals and groups. If you just want the Hallelujah Chorus where all interpreters get involved, go to 1hour 38 minutes into the video.

 

Lights, Camera, Action: Training actors with disability

A man stands against a greenbox bacground with lights and cameras around himWhat’s involved in training actors with disability? This is one topic that needs a lot more exploration now that people with disability are being included in productions. One place to start is the material that’s been developed for Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Deric McNish’s book chapter, Training Actors with Disabilities, provides an interesting perspective on the issues and discusses various approaches to theatre courses. You will need institutional access for a free read. The chapter can be purchased from SpringerLink.

Abstract: This essay presents accessible training methods for students with disabilities in college acting, voice, and movement courses. It presents teaching strategies selected from a survey of prominent professors, as well as from actors with disabilities that have worked professionally and completed an actor training program. This paper presents some valuable perspectives on a largely unexplored topic and offers multiple approaches, including ways to adapt popular acting, voice, speech, and movement pedagogies for the greatest variety of students, ways to effectively communicate with college students with disabilities, ways to apply Universal Design for Learning in practice-based theatre courses, and responsible strategies for portraying disability identity during in-class scene work.

Universal Design for non-designers

overhead view of a table with several laptops open. One person is handing another a documentThe concept of universal design is not the sole responsibility of people who consider themselves a designer. Universal design and inclusive practice involves everyone regardless whether they are a trained designer, a policy writer, an academic, a dancer or a carpenter. It’s difficult enough to appeal to trained designers to think inclusion throughout their design process, let alone getting non-designers on board with this concept. A group in China is looking at ways to reach out to non-designers for a cross-disciplinary approach to universal design education. Their paper, A Strategy on Introducing Inclusive Design Philosophy to Non-design Background Undergraduates, focuses on how to integrate design in what they term, crossover education, with non-design students. You will need institutional access to SpringerLink for a free read.  If not, try the Google Books link for a few more pages.

Abstract: Focusing on how to integrating design into crossover-education, which is a controversial topic in china’s education. And in china, all china’s colleges and universities are trying their best to set up crossover education. Cause firstly they all think that it is vital important for the college students to broaden their horizon, secondly, more and more projects need diverse and professional genius to cooperate to be finished. They need to know the design thinking. But the problem is coming, differing from design-major background students, how to make design curriculum transforming a better and easier way to accept and assimilate by the other background students. How to cultivate the design thinking in crossover education, I think, which is the most things we as educator need to concentrate. This paper focuses on how to introduce inclusive design philosophy to non-design background undergraduates. This is one of the parts of a research project “Applied universities’ design education reform and practice based on the principle of inclusive design” supported by the Shanghai Education Science Research Program (Grant No. C17067).

Not Stupid, just Dyslexic

A boy sits at a desk, pen in hand ready to write on the paper.Going out of your way to find a solution for one group of people doesn’t always work. That’s what they found when they tried to find the best solutions for helping people with dyslexia. It turned out that the best solutions were those that made reading easier for everyone – the universal design approach. The special reading and writing solutions set them apart and made people “feel stupid”. The conclusion of this study therefore advises that it is better to work within the universal design paradigm than try to develop separate materials for people with dyslexia. The title of the paper is, “I’m not Stupid” – Attitudes Towards Adaptation Among People with Dyslexia. It is available from SpringerLink but you will need institutional access for a free read. It is also a book chapter in International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction.

Abstract: A significant portion of the population have dyslexia, which is commonly associated with reading and writing difficulties. In the context of developing materials well-suited for users with reading disorders, one solution has been to develop materials especially targeted at dyslexic users. However, how are the attitudes among users with dyslexia towards adaptation? In this paper, we report the findings from qualitative interviews with 20 adults with dyslexia. The main finding was that they were sceptical towards adapted products, among others because it made them “feel stupid” and because the adapted format affected the reading experience negatively. In this paper we argue to instead work within the universal design paradigm, trying to develop products and services usable by all people, thus reducing the need for particular user groups to utilise “special solutions”.

UD for Learning: An indigenous perspective

Placed in a rural setting a wooden barn type building displays the cultural icons and two totem poles of the Alaskan NativesThe education system in Alaska is an interesting place to research the potential for applying the principles of universal design for learning (UDL) in a culturally diverse and indigenous context. The article by Krista James explores examples of implementation of the Alaska Cultural Standards for Educators within a UDL framework. Similarly to Australia, Alaska’s indigenous population has experienced loss of culture and forced assimilation with Western educational systems taking over the education of their children. James concludes that the Alaska Cultural Standards for Educators and the UDL framework are not just easy to connect, but many of the standards are already ingrained in the core principles of UDL. You don’t have to be an educator to appreciate this article.

The title of the article is: “Universal Design for Learning as a Structure for Culturally Responsive Practice”, in the Northwest Journal of Teacher Education. 2018. There is a link to a 30 minute video at the end of the article.