Teaching, Learning and assessment in the 21st Century and Inclusive education

Learning  in this information and knowledge as is very different from a couple of centuries back where the educators were the experts and they were the owners of knowledge whose job was to disseminate that knowledge to their passive learners who were receivers. Learning in this day and age is now underpinned by the constructivist ideology and learning environments need to be designed in such a way that allows learners to explore, experiment, construct, converse and reflect on what they are learning and construct knowledge from their experiences. This type of learning is heavily undergirded by technology which enables students to be creative and to generate learning while sharing it with colleagues in a collaborative manner. Wang (2009) called these technology based learning spaces, and they have no walls, no time specifics and no——-. This type of learning and learning spaces are advantageous in that they are very learner-centric, collaborative and reflective in nature, while highly engaging which enhances critical thinking. It allow learners to be both producers of information as well as being critical consumers.

Learning environments in this new era should be inclusive enough to;

  • Support and satisfy learners’ various needs, learning intentions and interests (Kirschner, et al., 2004).
  • Flexible enough in content and assessments so that the specifics can be negotiated with learners (Hase, ).
  • Allow multiple presentations of learning through the use of a range of activities and technologies that support active learning, multiple ways of expressing their learning and multiple ways of engagement ( Vermont, 2017, Chen, 2003)

This type of learning can be designed by using the Universal design for learning (CAST, 2012).

UDL is built on three guiding principle

Vermont (2007)

UDL is built on three guiding principles:

  • Multiple methods of representation(providing a variety of ways for students to learn new skills and knowledge)
  • Multiple methods ofstudent action and expression (providing a variety of ways for students to demonstrate their learning) and includes multiple ways of assessing.
  • Multiple ways of engagement.
  • Multiple modes of student engagement (finding ways to keep students interested, challenged and motivated and to cater diverse learning styles of students), (Meyer, Rose & Gordon, 2014).

UDL encourages educators to anticipate how their activities and teaching methods cater for multiple means of representation, expressions, and engagement. (“Constructivism in Education”, 2014)

Neuroscience research has shown that there are three main networks that are activated during learning: affective, recognition and strategic. The affective network determines the ‘why’ of learning, recognition is the ‘what’ and strategic is the ‘how’, (“UDL Core Principles and the Brain”, 2017).This could also be equated to the Assessment for learning framework by Michael Absolum (2007) where learners need to know the “What”, the “Why” and the “How.”

Affective, recognition & Strategic

‘UDL’ is often a term we hear bandied about in education circles but what does it actually mean?

There are many, many definitions out there explaining the education framework that is Universal Design for Learning, however, the following definition has been selected as I believe it clearly states what the framework emphasises and the reasons why it is needed.

Universal Design for Learning ( UDL) is “an approach to curriculum design that emphasises flexible goals, methods, assessments and materials so as to decrease the barriers that typically limit student access to learning” (Eagleton, 2015).

UDL requires educators to plan and deliver programmes to cater for the learning needs of all students, it can be adhered to in any curriculum area and all education sectors, “It applies to all facets of education, from curriculum, assessment and pedagogy to classroom and school design” (Mitchell, 2010).

UDL is based on the practice of educators planning for all students before delivering the material, as opposed to adapting for learners with diverse needs at a later date – it builds differentiation in from the beginning. “‘Pre-fitting’ not ‘retro-fitting’ is the aim”. (Mitchell, 2010).

The design of Learning environments and the online component needs to be underpinned by the theory of connectivism and the tools we embed in the learning materials enable learners and tutors to form professional relationships with international experts. The use of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and other Web 3.0 tools makes learners and educators more connected and increase user generated content due to advances in mobile technologies. Learners’ access learning anywhere anytime and they can learn using their own learning styles while connected to arrange of experts online. Social media technologies and other educational technologies are used in such a way that as learners use them to learn, they improve critical thinking, solve real world problems while engaging in lifelong learning. These technologies also allow them to expose their skills out there and we have had several students who were offered jobs before they even qualified because of professional relationships formed through e-learning technologies.

 Application to practice

Every classroom setting in any location in the world will have a group of students who are diverse and who present a wide range of learning needs and interests. UDL is an approach that helps teachers meet the wide range of needs as it promotes planning for the range of needs from the outset. It shouldn’t be viewed as ‘another’ approach to incorporate into what is an already crowded curriculum. UDL is not a single approach but a combination of options that are made available to students. The following diagram shows how existing instructional methods fit with UDL principles.

Some teaching strategies are particularly effective in engaging and supporting learning in students from a wide range of backgrounds. Methods that encourage active and collaborative learning improve student engagement and learning for all students, and close the achievement gap between underrepresented and majority students.

Active learning does not have to be complicated. It does take time , thought and knowing your learner as educators find ways of engaging their students in learning. It is moving away from the lecture method and integrating methods and technologies that help students to explore, experiment, test hypothesis, create and apply new knowledge and ideas. Using a range of technologies gives learning an augmented boost.

Active learning doesn’t have to be complicated. It does take time and thought, though, as instructors find ways to ———


“Active learning” can be a mushy term, but in general it means moving away from lecture (a passive model of information delivery) and integrating activities that help students explore, experiment, test, create knowledge.

How to use technologies to achieve UDL principles: