Thursday, April 20, 2017

Personalization and Universal Design for Learning

So far I feel pretty great about getting blended learning up and running in my class. My students are able to work independently and solve most of their own problems. I’m able to teach more rigorous lessons during my guided reading groups because students have already learned and practiced the skills during their online learning portion of the day. We really are off to a great start. So, what’s next?

As I consider the online content that I’ve created, I notice a few things. At the end of each online lesson, my students take a survey to give me feedback about parts of the lesson that were confusing, difficult, or just plain boring. They also share their favorite parts of the lesson so that I can design engaging content in the future. Not surprisingly, most students say that they like the video content and games, so I try to incorporate some of those elements in each lesson I create.

Beyond student feedback though, I’ve realized that my online content is pretty basic. Each student is completing the same content in the same way. Ideally, I’d like to create content that is more student centered. One benefit of blended learning is the ability to personalize learning for students, and I plan to focus future content creation around this concept.

What is Personalization?

Personalization is similar to the concept of differentiation in that students are learning the same content, but in different ways. With differentiation, the teacher controls the learning. She decides which students are doing what activities, how they will represent their learning, and when they will do these tasks. With personalized learning, the teacher creates the content, but each student makes learning decisions for themselves. Students are given the opportunity to choose how they will engage with content and represent their learning.  One benefit of personalization over differentiation is the increase in student agency, or a student’s ability to take initiative in their learning.  

According to Leila Meyer’s article The 4 Common Characteristics of Personalized Learning, personalization can take many different forms, but there are a few common characteristics, including: student ownership of their learning process, a focus on the learning process rather than big end-of-year tests, competency-based student progression, and anytime/anywhere learning. My next logical step is to move toward student ownership of their learning process.

Universal Design for Learning

The concept of personalization is closely tied to another topic I’ve been reading about called Universal Design for Learning (UDL). This 4 minute video does a great job explaining UDL.

The three main principles of UDL are:
  • Engagement- student learning is most meaningful when students are naturally motivated.
  • Representation- students learn in different ways, so it is imperative to provide multiple formats for student learning.
  • Action and Expression- students can demonstrate their learning of the same content in many different ways.

When I consider these three main principles as they relate to blended learning and creating online content, it all boils down to student choice.  As much as possible, students should have the ability to choose the content they will be studying- allowing for maximum engagement. While that is not always an option, giving students choice whenever possible is best. It is also important to provide multiple pathways for students to learn the content and then express their understanding.  

Consider my students here. They have very different preferences for learning and expression. UDL would suggest providing paths for all these learners to find the best possible success.
These girls prefer auditory learning. They like hearing instruction and
expressing their learning through verbal explanations.

My students here are visual learners. The need to see models,
and they prefer to show examples of their learning.

Written expression is a strength for these learners. They have very strong
vocabulary skills, and they enjoy being challenged through writing. 

Designing Personalized Content Using UDL

My next step in content creation will be adding student choice into the lessons I’m creating. I will most likely continue to have my class work on the same lesson, because I just don’t have enough content created yet to branch out in that way. While they are working on the same content, though, I will design lessons in such a way that students can choose their learning path through the UDL principles of representation and action/expression.

The principle of representation focuses around giving student multiple ways to engage with and learn the content. I can see my online lessons giving students multiple resources to use and having them choose a certain number to engage with. These resources could be teacher made videos, online content, teaching charts, songs, online books, infographics, interactive images, etc.

The principle of action and expression promotes student freedom in showing what they have learned. Students could express their understanding of the content by simply writing or solving simple problems, making an audio or visual recording explaining what they learned, creating a teaching tool for other students, writing a book, or creating an infographic.

Universal Design for Learning Example

A few months back I created a digital project based learning resource for my students in which they are tasked with the challenge of persuading a chosen audience to take action in conserving and protecting our natural resources.  After learning about UDL and personalization, I think my resource shows all three principles of UDL:
  • Engagement- students are tasked with persuading others about a real problem. They can choose the topic they wish to learn about from a provided list.
  • Representation- students choose from videos, websites, and online books to learn the content.
  • Action and Expression- students choose from a variety of projects to complete. They can write a song, make a TV public service announcement, create a radio commercial, write a letter, design a poster, or give a presentation aimed at an audience of their choice.

As I go forward, I would like to not only incorporate opportunities for students to choose their learning path in everyday online lessons, but also create more projects like this one to incorporate into our units.

Do you have ideas or strategies to increase student choice in learning? Share them in the comments here. I’d love to hear your ideas and try to incorporate them into my classroom!  

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