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Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Implementation
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UDL in 15 Minutes with Liz Hartmann

Building Authentic Learning Communities: Taking One Step

In her return to the UDL in 15 Minutes podcast, Liz Hartmann shares how her understanding and implementation of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has evolved over time. Liz is a professor who teaches both pre-service and graduate students about UDL and reflects on how the shift to online learning during the pandemic prompted deeper reflection on her own experiences as a learner.

This reflection led Liz to focus more intentionally on designing learning experiences that cultivate belonging and community. She realized the importance of “creating a community of care” and empowering learners by helping them feel like authentic parts of the learning experience. Surprising to some, even those students at one of the most elite universities in the country benefit from this kind of community. Why? Because they are human. Our psychological needs are a root driver of our learning outcomes. So, what is one step you can take using the UDL Guidelines to move toward these same outcomes?

Checkpoint 7.2, Optimizing Relevance, Value, and Authenticity, is a wonderful place to begin when designing for authentic learning communities. Why? When learners feel their identities and voices are welcomed into the community, they are more likely to perceive the work as meaningful and motivational. What does that look like in a learning environment?

  1. Listen to learner experiences and open space for identities to be shared among the whole community.
  2. Establish an authentic community. This encourages collaboration over competition by valuing diversity of perspective and experience.
  3. Model your own reflection and growth.
  4. Most importantly, acknowledge that UDL implementation is something that is ongoing rather than something you complete. Use your frustrations and curiosity as an impetus for more equitable design.

With compassion for ourselves and empathy for learners, communities designed through a UDL lens support everyone to develop as expert learners alongside one another.