Teaching Excellence

Wanna Get Engaged?

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We all have different things that float our boats, and in learning it’s no different.  The variability in learning is HUGE! Every learner’s ideal learning environment has different elements in it.  You might like to learn outside, I might like inside.  You might like reading from paper, I might like reading from a screen. You might like to listen, I might like to read.  You might like face to face, I might like online. You might like teams, I might like individual. You get the idea.

Sometimes learning preferences aren’t preferences at all – they’re necessities.  For example, if I can’t see, having text in an accessible electronic format isn’t my preference, it’s my requirement! I would need a document that interacts with my navigation and text to speech technology so I access the information (BTW – accessible electronic texts benefit all learners, not just those with sensory disabilities… more on that another time.)  So accessible electronic options aren’t just a nice to have, they’re a requirement for learning environments.

These environmental preferences and needs are incredibly varied and so are our brains.  Every brain is unique and ever-changing (Cue: Your Fantastic Elastic Brain https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch3kbXBah5Y ).  We each have varying strengths in cognitive processes such as memory, attention, language, processing speed, and spatial reasoning. We each have different capacities for this at different times.  For example, my memory is generally quite good, but if I’m tired, my memory does not operate at the same capacity. We see and experience this variability every day in our learning environments.

As we all know, the variables I mention here are just the tip of the iceberg. With so many varying variables (see what I did there?), how can we design learning spaces that engage everyone?

Help is on the way!

The Universal Design for Learning framework is a learning design framework that is based on neuroscience research about the immense variability in how the human brain learns. From this research, CAST (the pioneers of UDL) have created a framework with 3 broad principles and each principle has guidelines and checkpoints.  All this is to help educators design learning experiences that work for the widest range of learners.

CAST is focusing more and more of their work and research on learning engagement, purpose and motivation because it plays a critical part in learning and learning design.  Such cool stuff.

CAST has put together the Top 10 UDL Tips for Designing an Engaging Learning Environment. These tips are a quick and dirty overview of designing for engagement.

  1. Create clear, specific goals
  2. Minimize distractions
  3. Present flexible assessment options
  4. Provide frequent, formative feedback
  5. Incorporate authentic and relevant examples
  6. Ensure resources and supports meet the demands of the task
  7. Increase opportunities for collaboration
  8. Share examples and non-examples
  9. Offer time for active reflection on learning and engagement
  10. Support risk taking

Your learning design probably includes many of these elements already. Way to go, you! Knowing that these design choices will improve engagement provides even more incentive to expand these options and celebrate what you’re already doing for your learners.

For the full text of these tips with more information, resources and suggestions, go to this link 

Engagement isn’t just a happy coincidence; engagement can be designed.

For more about designing engaging learning environments, come to our Academic Retreat on May 3rd! More information here.

What are some ways you design for engagement? What tips would you add to this list?

P.S. Want more in depth info about designing engaging learning environments? Check out this free webinar from CAST is about learner variability with a focus on designing for engagement.

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