This pandemic hit fast and hard and has really shaken up the way we think about learning, however UDLPartners was weirdly equipped for the moment because of the mindset fostered by Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  Now, more than ever, we feel it is the moment for more people to join us in this learning.  In a time when the systems are still stressed, substitutes are worth their weight in gold, and teachers are at capacity, how do we lean on design and flexibility to ensure we can make learning obtainable?  This question is best answered by revealing the design of one of our many offerings that is now available, and we are going to reveal how Lauren Benfield and Mary Budzilowicz designed our virtual learning experience. 

We will first identify the barriers that were noticed and then explain the thinking, actions, and resources we utilized to help us achieve our desired goals.

Barrier 1: Virtual Teaching Skills

Our preferred method of helping people explore UDL was interrupted by a global pandemic.  When we are used to working with learners in a face-to-face environment, the shift to remote was a struggle.  We, like the rest of our colleagues, tried to learn how to interact and teach in a virtual environment. We recognized that we needed to continue to improve our skills as we saw value in the virtual format beyond it being just a temporary resource for pandemic learning.  The virtual experience brought access and flexibility to learning.  This awareness brought a dilemma to our team that we attempted to answer… “How can we expand our UDL offerings in the virtual classroom that highlight engagement and interaction?”

Barrier 2: What is the goal?

First, it is important to recognize that when we started this process we needed to be clear in our learning outcomes.  UDLPartners decided to begin this project in November of 2020, with the goal of launching it in January of 2021.  The project was just released this month, March of 2022.  We soon realized the grace we would require with regards to our desire to be timely, but because we are purpose driven, we became more concerned with the quality of our offerings rather than our desire for a quick turn around. 

During the creation of this course, Lauren and Mary met frequently at Cabrini University to lay out the learning intentions that they hoped would result in a robust introduction to UDL.  Then the long process began of determining the right platform.  The MCIU and Office of Professional Learning had a strategic team committed to this goal for many initiatives that come out of the office and Lauren, who was a member of this team, leaned on the guidance and findings of this team to explore options.  It did result in many false starts for the work.  Lauren and Mary started working and then had to shift, as better resources would become available to them.  The key word is “better resource”.  As long as Mary and Lauren were able to make the course more engaging and meaningful, they took advantage of those opportunities. 

Barrier 3: What can educators handle?

Our team was and still is concerned with the current capacity of educators and the systems when it comes to professional learning.  We value our work so we know we must move on, but we also know that people need options.  Lauren and Mary designed a full course that goes into depth about the core concepts of UDL. By the time they finished building, they estimated that this course would take about 20 hours to complete.  They knew that not everyone would be able to participate in that time commitment, so that is where the second course was developed using the foundation of the first course, with opportunities for meeting synchronously to supplement the material.  This course is estimated to take about six hours to complete in the asynchronous sessions and four hours in synchronous learning.   We intentionally designed the course to be customized to meet the needs of districts.  In addition, the length of time can be modified to best accommodate the outcomes districts desire.  Due to the attention of the design in the full course, the one design is creating many entry points into the learning.  The virtual nature of the course also allows us to reach more people, more efficiently to deliver core ideas, leaving opportunities for our team to help make the core ideas a reality for learners across the county. 

Barrier 4: How do we model UDL through the course itself?

Our courses have been designed to provide a predictable and accessible learning experience. 

  • Content: Our content has been divided into chapters by foundational concepts: The UDL Framework, The ULD Core Concepts, The UDL Guidelines, and The UDL Design Process. Each chapter was designed to stand alone or build upon each other, which allows flexibility in designing a learning path. 
  • Learning Structures: We have designed a variety of learning experiences within the course that allow participants to engage in and demonstrate their learning in a way that responds to their own learner variability. 
      1. Each chapter follows the same predictable structure: introduction activity, core learning lesson, chapter reflection, and chapter activity. Each chapter has also been designed with a plethora of additional resources available if a participant would like to explore more deeply. 
      2. Core learning lessons incorporate readings, videos, audio, and multimedia options to support learner choice in engaging with content. 
      3. Complete reflections, activities, and chapter culminating activities, with multiple options for learners to express their understanding. (Text, voice recording, video recording, sketching). 
      4. Interact with peers and facilitators in both written and video discussion posts to foster collaboration.
    • Resources: We thought long and hard about how best to provide multiple options for support during our virtual learning courses. The course guide was designed to support accessibility, organization, and course completion. It is like a road map for the learning experience. We have provided multiple formats for the course guide, based on participant preference. 

    We would love to create and customize Universal Design for Learning virtual learning opportunities with you! Reach out to a member of the UDL team to talk more about our virtual learning opportunities for your school or district. 

  1. Erin Barry
    Lauren Benfield
    Jesse Gluckman
    Sarah Misner