Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Discover the Learner in Every Child

Collaborative Blog Series on Learner Agency with the Institute for Personalized Learning

For too long, schools have identified who the learner is and how they learn using learning styles. Some learners are labeled based on their disability. We ask you to open a new door and consider using the neurosciences to understand how learners learn best so you can discover the learner in every child.

“If you remove the veil of disability, 
you can see the learner.”
Kathleen McClaskey

Universal Design for Learning® (UDL)

How do you understand how a learner learns best?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a researched-based set of principles developed by CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology - in the 1990s to help guide the design of instruction and learning environments that reduces the barriers to learning and optimizes the levels of support and challenges to meet the needs and interests of all learners in the classroom.

UDL is grounded in neuroscience and provides an understanding about the what, how and why of learning and tells us that there is variability in how each learner learns, their strengths, challenges, aptitudes, talents and aspirations. Most important for teachers is for them to understand how learners can best access and engage with the content and how they can best express what they know. With this understanding of learners, teachers are informed now how to best design instruction in their lessons. UDL is the framework that applies to ALL learners and as a means for creating personalized, learner-centered environments where each learner can develop agency. (Refer to Learner Agency - The Missing Link)

The UDL Lens - Access, Engage and Express

The three principles of Universal Design for Learning are:
Multiple Means of Representation
Multiple Means of Engagement
Multiple Means of Expression and Engagement
Teachers let us know that the principles were helpful in designing instruction to meet the needs of all learners. However, we were approached by teachers and administrators to develop a clearer and more practical way of applying the UDL principles. We decided on three terms that would represent the UDL principles: Access, Engage and Express. Access, Engage, and Express (TM) is the lens for understanding how every learner learns best.

Each learner has variability in how they access and process information, how they engage with content and how they express what they know and understand. Using the UDL lens of Access, Engage and Express to understand learners can not only help the teacher better design instruction but can also offer the learner a way to tell their story about how they learn best. When the learner uses the UDL lens to share how they learn, it validates them as a learner. This is something that rarely occurs today in anyone's education but would have a positive and profound impact for any learner in a personalized learning environment.

Teacher and Learner Partnership

You can say it is the conversation starter between the teacher and the learner. In this conversation, the learner can share their Learner Profile (LP) that includes their strengths, challenges, preferences and needs in how they access, engage and express. They can share who they are, what they are interested in or passionate about and what they aspire to be. Here is an example of one learner’s LP with their strengths, challenges and how they prefer and need to learn.

From the conversations about their learning, the partnership between the teacher and learner evolves where they set learning goals, regularly monitor their own progress and modify and set new learning goals based on the learner profile. Within these new goals, skills and learning strategies are discussed, defined and planned between the teacher and learner.

During this process, the learner gains new skills and strategies as challenges turn into strengths and the partnership with the teacher grows stronger. When this happens, the learner is truly on their path to become a self-directed learner with agency.

Access, Engage and Express TM is a trademark of Personalize Learning, LLC


Meyer, Anne, Rose, David H. and Gordon, David. Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice, (

Universal Design for Learning Guidelines, version 2.0. National Center for Universal Design for Learning (

Universal Design for Learning is a registered trademark of CAST, Inc.
Access, Engage, and Express is a trademark of Personalize Learning, LLC.


Collaborative Blog Series Learner Agency 


The Institute for Personalized Learning (@Institute4PL) works with school districts through a unique action network approach to create an educational ecosystem that is student-centered and personalized for each learner. For more information contact, or connect with them via Facebook or Pinterest.

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