Brain Networks & Universal Design for Learning

I’ve written quite a bit about emotion and online education because I am interested in its role in expression and engagement (here, here, and here). From the perspective of the connection between cognition and emotion (Meyer, Rose, and Gordon, 2014), specific improvements in both delivery mechanisms and curriculum in online education following the Principles of UDL and the Learning Guidelines of UDL could improve access for full-time online students in special education. I think many people would be surprised to find out that the number of special education students in fully-online schools is quite likely understated, and I’ll tell you why I think it is. According to counselors, teachers, and administrators I’ve spoken to in many fully-online (meaning, not blended) schools, it sometimes happens that parents enroll their children in an online school because they have grown unhappy with the special education experience the student was having in their brick-and-mortar school. Oftentimes, the student was responding well to therapy and cognitive behavior modeling, so the parents thought the child was “fixed,” or no longer needed special interventions. Despite this positive development, the parents were unhappy with the student’s experience because they perceived that their child would be held back socially by the child’s history of getting extra help or being in “special” classes. Sometimes, the parents simply switched schools. Sometimes, however, the parents addressed this issue by hiring a tutor and sending the child to an online school where perceptible information (UDL Principle #4) is inherently low. That way, they can enroll the child without noting his/her learning disabilities because they think this “labels” the student. This isn’t an epidemic or anything, but it happens enough among middle and high-income families to be notable. The UDL Principle #4 is manifest in the design of nearly all online education programs because non-verbal communication is limited or completely unavailable. In these programs, there is really only one mode of communication—exchange of text. In these text-only programs, learning difficulties can go undetected for some time. As well, learning difficulties can easily be misdiagnosed as motivation issues or a lack of parental support. Fully-online schools also have challenges in the bottom layer of the UDL learning guidelines, especially those pertaining to executive skills and self-regulation. Unfortunately, a student must have well-developed executive and self-regulation skills to perform well in expert learning as part of online education. However, if an instructor knows of a student’s challenges in this area, they can offer support as the student develops. If the trend of not reporting learning challenges when a student transfers to an online school continues, however, the student can easily be encouraged and quickly de-motivated in fully-online schools


Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2014) Universal design for learning: Theory and practice, Wakefield MA: CAST

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Brain Networks & Universal Design for Learning

  1. drfrannie says:

    Very interesting to read this earlier post by you Julie and to see how much your understanding has grown along the UDL lens. Nice! I encourage you to keep digging about UDL and online learning as there have been some articles published, some research developed and some active projects underway at CAST. I see a great UDL action plan for you here!

  2. Oh, I totally agree! It took me awhile to figure out how to balance everything as well, so things were simply not clicking at first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s