Universal Design for Learning Literature Review

Proponents of UDL

Opponents of UDL might provide valuable insights into its weaknesses, however, no opponents to UDL were discovered during the course of this literature review.  What is interesting is the proponents of UDL.  The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC; 2005) has published Universal Design for Learning: A Guide for Teachers and Educational Professionals

(I find it ironic that Special Education groups like the CEC concern themselves with disabilities when a central understanding of UDL is that all students are differently learning enabled and it is barriers in the curriculum that create perceived disabilities. It is also ironic that inclusion has become a best practice without recognizing that exclusion was largely created by a school system that constructed barriers in the curriculum.)

I believe I have perceived a weakness in UDL. UDL is exceptionally proactive as it prepares each subject for diverse learners but it would do better to bring all subjects into one learning experience.  Separate subjects reflect the obsolete Industrial Age mentality of dividing learning into distinct units of time as it divided work for the assembly line.  Learners think they are better at Science than at Social Studies, or better at Language Arts than at Math while actually they are using the same brain networks for any one.  Perhaps if learners believed they were just as capable of learning Math as they were of learning Language Arts, which they are, there would be more happiness in schools.

There is an additional benefit to removing the artificial barrier of subjects.  In the Information Age, learners need to be able to blend all subjects into a cohesive whole instead of limiting themselves with the traditional divisions.  Going into any environment, personal or professional, they need to have a hypothesis (Science), read for meaning (Language Arts), interpret data (Math), and then reflect on their learning (Social Studies).  UDL has tremendous potential to improve offline and online learning but by accepting an Industrial Age division of learning into subjects, it is accepting a flawed infrastructure.

School Clock
Retrieved on 08-Aug-2008 from http://ibmcollectables.com/albums/album21/school_clock_1_1.highlight.jpg.

This artificial division of learning into distinct subjects also places artificial time constraints on each subject.  How many valuable learning moments have been destroyed by the bell?  How many potential learning moments have been lost because the bell has yet to ring?  Research needs to be done to discover if there are optimal lengths of time for building neural networks.  Although UDL will remove many barriers to learning, it is regrettable that it does not free the learner from the barrier of artificial time constraints.

Educators realize that change is often just the pendulum swinging from one side of the issue to the other. As UDL does not appear to have opponents, perhaps its momentum can truly move education forward into the 21st century.

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