The eLearning industry has grown tremendously over the past several years and shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, studies show that the global eLearning market is expected to reach $400 billion by 2026. For instructors and administrators, eLearning presents an opportunity to enhance their teaching strategies to work for every student, at every level. Each student may have their own preferences for how they learn; however, it’s generally accepted that a combination of visual, auditory and hands-on teaching methods tends to be the most effective approach.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an instructional framework that enables educators to take a flexible approach to individual learning needs. Through the use of technology and adaptable lesson plans, the aim is to help the maximum number of learners comprehend and retain information by appealing to all learning styles. By combining UDL principles and voice technologies like text-to-speech (TTS), students are empowered to engage with and absorb content in multiple ways according to their learning preferences.
What Is (and Isn’t) UDL?
UDL guidelines encourage educators to present information through multiple methods to accommodate individual student preferences. Rather than relying solely on a standard text, they can provide interactive and adjustable text-based information and use visual elements to facilitate comprehension. UDL also offers guidance to help educators improve the effectiveness of their lectures, with tools such as live TTS or multimedia slideshows that incorporate video, text and charts to reinforce information.
While UDL and assistive technology are related, they should not be confused with each other. Assistive technology includes tools and devices that can help individual students with disabilities to complete tasks and interact with others. UDL assists all students, allowing them to use the tools that fit their needs and customize their learning paths.
How UDL Reaches All Students
As online learning continues to grow in popularity, educators must have certain key design components in place to help ensure effectiveness and achieve learning goals. In online learning environments, learners may struggle with everything from using course technology and adapting to reduced engagement with instructors to self-motivation and discipline.
UDL is based on three key design components that can help address these challenges:
- engagement, which represents the “why” of learning
- representation, which represents the “what” of learning
- action and expression, which represent the “how” of learning
It recommends multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression, with the end goal of offering a variety of learning formats. Digital tools like TTS, which can work in multiple environments, are the key to providing these means.
Combining the Powers of UDL and TTS
TTS technology can help educators apply UDL principles. In the past, reading text-based materials out loud was mostly for students with visual or learning impairments. However, educators have since realized that this approach can help all students, improving comprehension rates and creating an environment where students can be more successful. Students have also discovered that TTS helps them retain information by replacing reading with dense texts or by reinforcing what they have learned by reading. Other students practice bimodal learning, having text read aloud to them while they read along. The flexible approach enhances the experience by making information more understandable for all types of learners.
Not only do UDL and TTS help students, but they help educators as well. Giving students who struggle with reading the opportunity to listen to the content gives them more independence and the teacher more time to assist with other issues. When students are disengaged and not able to understand the material, it can lead to lower academic performance and cause educators to feel frustrated and demoralized. By integrating TTS and UDL principles into learning plans, educators can improve learning experiences, foster better engagement and promote outcomes for students.
Whether teaching a group of students in a classroom or online, UDL concepts enhance the experience for all learners by making the information easier to digest and understand. Leveraging TTS can further this goal, letting students learn at their own pace while improving how well they comprehend the material. Establishing a UDL framework that considers the diverse needs of all students can provide instructors and administrators with greater confidence in their students’ potential for success.
Amy Foxwell has 25+ years of working in education and is a member of the ReadSpeaker team, which offers powerful and easy-to-deploy text-to-speech solutions to more than 10,000 customers around the world.
ReadSpeaker solutions are integrated into the D2L Brightspace learning platform, and adding the ReadSpeaker Listen button is simple. Administrators simply request it to be added to their Brightspace platform via their D2L account manager and the tool is automatically activated for all courses.
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