• Opinion
  • 2 de May de 2024
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  • 7 minutes read

Dealing with UDL and Scientific Evidence

Dealing with UDL and Scientific Evidence

Dealing with UDL and Scientific Evidence

The school cannot limit itself to students’ interests

Photo: Pixabay

License Creative Commons



Santiago Herrero

There is an academic article available online that all teachers in Spain should read. It is titled Decoding Universal Design for Learning: What Evidence Supports It? by the inspector and Ph.D. in Education Sciences, Miguel Angel Tirado Ramos (you can find the link to the full text at the end of this review). My intention here is to summarise the text after having read it, making it more accessible to fellow educators.

The author begins by explaining that the concept of “Universal Design” was originated in architecture to make it more accessible. When applied to education, it was conceptualised in Boston at the Centre for Applied Special Technology, where the aim was to adapt computer tools for students with disabilities.

UDL now seeks to take inclusion a step further by replacing traditional curriculum adaptations, in which the teacher tried to individualise the curriculum to the students according to their needs, with a methodology to attend to all of them in their diversity.

The starting point is the idea that each student has a unique way of learning (in the words of one of its advocates, “learning styles are as unique and diverse as fingerprints”[1]). Therefore, students should be able to choose how they receive information (video, text, tactile, etc.) and the way in which they demonstrate their acquisition of knowledge, all according to their interests and motivations. Supposedly, this would activate different areas of the brain (affective or recognition networks, etc.) that contribute to learning. Of course, the best way to design our classes in this multifaceted manner is through the extensive use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), which is ‘strictly necessary’. 2

Discerning readers may have already identified several objections to this methodology which, on the other hand, is a fundamental part of our latest education law (LOMLOE). The author, who is also aware of these issues, dissects and analyses them one by one.

To begin with, although every good teacher knows that presenting information in diverse ways enhances understanding, UDL and its emphasis on individual choice based on students’ interests and learning styles relies on a hypothesis that has already been dismissed by research but still remains the most influential and popular neuromyth in the education world: that of learning styles.

Miguel Ángel Tirado points out that research on the benefits of UDL are also lacking in consistency. For example, it does not take into account variables such as the socioeconomic background of students. It also does not detail the UDL guidelines applied and the methodology used. Moreover, no one considered that the involvement of different teachers in the study teams could disrupt the results, what indicates that it is already thought that the pedagogical model applied is, for the learners, far more relevant than the teacher and his or her ability to teach. Furthermore, elements that UDL creators consider part of their innovative method are already being widely used by teachers (activating prior knowledge, qualitative corrections, involving students, evoking learning experiences, etc.) so, how can we attribute success to UDL if these techniques are not exclusive to it? Or as the author says, “what makes UDL truly UDL and not something else?”

One could also point out the intense faith in technology demonstrated by UDL. Aside from the problems that the entry of Big Tech into schools may cause (with its inevitable commercialisation because, as the author rightly points out, Apple, Google, and Microsoft are among the five most influential lobbying groups in the EU), various studies indicate the harm of screens, as opposed to the practice of reading and writing on paper, for the development of reading comprehension. This is not about demonising ICT, but if UDL is to be truly universal, and if it has to go hand in hand with digitalisation, the teacher will no longer have a choice about when to use and when not to use ICT in the classroom.

Finally, research also shows that we learn based on what we already know, forming new connections, and that the possession of a larger vocabulary predicts better academic performance in the vast majority of cases. Since critical capacity cannot be developed from nothing but from a base of prior knowledge, and since schools must aim to provide equitable education to citizens regardless of their social class, the central idea of UDL that learning pathways should be offered ‘à la carte’ according to the interests and choices of the students would only deepen the initial cultural inequalities. The school cannot limit itself to students’ interests or what motivates them as teenagers. It must “offer windows of knowledge that students would not open on their own initiative”.

The author of this article, being a conscientious professional, questions at the end of it what role the school inspection should play regarding uncertain pedagogical approaches like UDL, especially when these support an entire education law. UDL may be one approach, but it should never be the only one, as conclusive evidence of its effectiveness is still lacking.


Access to the full article by Miguel Ángel Tirado Ramos, which contains all the academic research cited, not included here due to length constraints: https://usie.es/supervision21/index.php/Sp21/article/view/690/1332

Source: educational EVIDENCE

Rights: Creative Commons

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