Universal Design: Diverse Learners

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Section 2: Using Universal Design to Teach Diverse Learners

Universal Design for Learning is being used in higher education as a means to address an increasingly diverse population of students.

  • First generation students
  • English Language Learners
  • International students
  • Academically underprepared students
  • Students who are primary caregivers (to children or other family members)
  • Students with disabilities (diagnosed and undiagnosed)
  • Full-time workers
  • Digitally savvy students
  • Technology-phobic students
  • Students with specific learning styles

Universal Design for Learning offers strategies to meet that diversity. Faculty can provide course materials that are digital and flexible enough to meet the diverse learning styles of their students.  Students benefit from understanding their own learning styles and applying strategies to support their specific learning needs. Faculty can use the following list (handout: 5 Tips for Helping Students Understand Their Learning Styles) to help students according to their specific learning styles.

5 Tips for Helping Students Understand Their Learning Styles

  1. Empower the individual to identify their learning style— Google this topic and use one of the many online surveys or see the Learn More section for suggestions.
  2. After the individual has identified a particular learning style, discuss what it means to learn in specific ways. Offer concrete and practical suggestions such as the ones listed below for Visual, Auditory, and Tactile Learners.
  3. Help the individual articulate what strategies will work in a classroom, in a workplace and when learning independently. Different strategies might apply to each situation.
  4. Encourage individuals to share their specific learning style with others (i.e. peers, faculty, colleagues and advisors). Students like to talk about how they learn! See more in this video (link to video TBA).
  5. Have fun! Discovering a learning preference can make learning more relaxed and often more fun.

Making Learning Styles Work For Students

Once faculty have determined all the various learning styles in their classroom, it helps to share specific strategies with students. Faculty can also try to incorporate these ideas into their instruction. For example, for the visual learners in a course, use a highlighter when going over important information. The bright color would appeal to their artistic sense and could help them concentrate on the important points.

Here are more practical suggestions for students for three of the most common learning styles:

Visual Learners

  • Use visual materials such as pictures, charts, maps, graphs, etc.
  • Have a clear view of instructors when they are speaking so you can see their body language and facial expression.
  • Use color to highlight important points in text.
  • Take notes or ask your teacher to provide handouts.
  • Illustrate your ideas as a picture or brainstorming bubble before writing them down.
  • Write a story and illustrate it.
  • Use multi-media (e.g. computers, videos, tablets).
  • Study in a quiet place away from verbal disturbances.
  • Use concept maps to organize ideas.
  • Visualize information as a picture to aid memorization.

Auditory Learners

  • Participate in class discussions/debates.
  • Make speeches and presentations.
  • Record class lectures (with instructor permission).
  • Read text out loud.
  • Create musical jingles to aid memorization.
  • Use mnemonics (memory aids)  to aid memorization.
  • Discuss your ideas verbally.
  • Dictate to someone while they write down your thoughts.
  • Use verbal analogies and story telling to demonstrate your point.
  • Use speech to text functions on computers.

Tactile/Kinesthetic Learners

  • Take frequent study breaks.
  • Move around to learn new things (e.g. read while on an exercise bike, mold a piece of clay to learn a new concept).
  • Work at a standing position.
  • Chew gum while studying.
  • Use bright colors to highlight reading material.
  • Use flashcards, sticky notes,  or other note-taking devices to organize materials.
  • Dress up your work space with posters.
  • Listen to music while you study.
  • Skim through reading material to get a rough idea of what it is about before settling down to read the content in detail.

(Adapted from http://www.ldpride.net/learning_style_work.html)

Considerations for students with ID

The strategies in this module are useful for all students, including those with intellectual disabilities. Universal Design for Learning is just that, a set of strategies that can apply to the wide universe of students.   Just like all students, students with intellectual disabilities have preferred learning styles and associated learning strengths. Use coaching or tutoring time to practice and reinforce those strategies.  Help students to see that there are ways to learn that work best for them. 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory



This video features a faculty member at Northern...Read more

A 20 question online survey from Education.org that allows students to discover their learning style (visual, auditory or tactile).

 Read more

A list of five ways educators can encourage students to understand and communicate about their own learning style.Read more