Everybody in the Boat!

Design a course for ALL learner needs

In today’s world, people have different backgrounds, cultures and learning needs, from all age groups and genders. Yet to move a whole group from one place to another, everyone needs to get in the boat. In education, we must get everyone in the boat to move them all to a learning goal, from one point of knowledge to another.

How can one teach a diverse group of people, to reach the same learning outcome?

To include all learners, consider Universal Design for Learning (UDL) which provides more flexibility in the class while eliminating barriers to learning.


Flexibility in learning is key, yet the content objectives and goals are the same for the class learning (Lancaster, 2008).

While the concept of UDL may, or may not, be new to you, consider it while looking at your class or course with a fresh set of eyes. With each lesson and activity, review your curriculum and answer these questions:

Is the boat structurally sound?

Is the structure of your curriculum and course format one that allows all learners to thrive?

  • Tools, methods and technology need to be well planned to enhance learning and be inclusive of all learners [Grouping students or offering choices in assessments or projects]
  • Feedback needs to be planned, deliberate and given often to create a deeper learning experience for all learners [Instructor and peer feedback] (Murphy, A 2017).

Do you have tools, such as life jackets and oars, in different sizes?

Is content and activities structured for different learning paces? (from the gifted, fast-paced learner to the struggling, slower processing learner?)

  • Do you have a couple lessons ahead open or available for fast paced learners?
  • Use tiered activities, for more depth and breadth (not more work) for the higher level learner [How do you determine which activity option a student will do? How do you pre-assess and group students?]
  • Do you offer a tiered activity option covering the same content yet in a simpler option for the struggling student?
  • Offer a couple lessons ahead but not ALL lessons visible at once to avoid students being overwhelmed

Are the life jackets and oars in a place that one is aware of, with easy access to use?

Is course content presented in a way that encourages success for students with disabilities?

  • Do you have a video as well as written instruction for tasks so students with disabilities can have it in both formats?
  • Are your .pdfs accessible for online or device readers?
  • Do you use some color (not too much), for highlighting sections or titles in online content delivery for organizationally challenged students (Fenrich et al., 2018)?
  • Offer a task checklist for each weekly modules for student organization.

Regardless of the style of boat, as long it’s sound, well equipped and passengers can use different tools needed to succeed, they will be able to get to their intended destination as a group. UDL used in your class for flexibility and inclusiveness can help your students reach their learning goals together.

Written by: Kelley E.B. Senkowski, M.Ed., Online Design Consultant


Fenrich, P., Carson, T., & Overgaard, M. (2018). Comparing Traditional Learning Materials with Those Created with Instructional Design and Universal Design for Learning Attributes: The Students’ Perspective. Bulgarian Comparative Education Society. Retrieved from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED586138

Lancaster, P. (2008). Universal design for learning. Colleagues, 3(1), 5. Retrieved from: https://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1070&context=colleagues

Murphy, A (October 26, 2017). Embracing the UDL Classroom: 4 steps to a More Flexible Education. Retrieved from: https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2017/10/4-steps-implement-universal-design-learning-classroom

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