Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Personal Learning Backpack: Empower Learners using UDL Lens

Part 2 of the 3 Part Series on Using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage, and Express

Once a learner has indicated their strengths, challenges, and interests along with their preferences and needs in the Learner Profile (LP), then the teacher can work with the learner to develop a Personal Learning Backpack (PLB).

The UDL Lens: Access, Engage, and Express

The PLB using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens is for all learners. It is about teachers understanding how learners access information, engage with content, and express what they know and understand. This lens is also for the learner to understand how they learn best. It validates the learner and prompts conversations about their learning between the teacher and learner. To understand this process and how tools, resources, strategies and skills can support learning, we created this table as prompts to use for the learner to apply access, engage, and express.

By transforming information into useable knowledge through:
  • Digital media
  • Touch
  • Audio
  • Visual media
With content using:
  • Interactives
  • Video
  • Problem-solving
  • Designing
  • Self-assessment
  • Reflection
Actions through:
  • Writing
  • Presenting
  • Storytelling
  • Multimedia
  • Building
  • Making sense of learning

When you identify how you learn best using the Learner Profile (LP), the next step is to determine what you prefer or need to do or use to support your learning using the PLB.

The PLB Process using Preferences and Needs

The PLB includes the tools, apps and resources that can be used to support learning plus the learning strategies and skills that he or she can develop to become an independent expert learner.

This process is all about the conversations that you have with your learners. The PLB is the place to include what you both discover to support learning. If a learner has indicated in the LP that he or she would like to learn how to use a tool or app to support a challenge or a strength, then this can be included in the PLB. Let’s first review the learner and her preferences and needs for Access, Engage, and Express that we described in Part 1 on the Learner Profile.

Preferences and Needs
I need step-by-step instructions for better understanding.
I prefer to use video to learn concepts.
I need tasks to be broken down into smaller tasks.
I prefer to work with a partner but love to do my artwork alone.
I need to be able to take notes using sketching and drawing tools.
I need to use a speech-to-text tool for writing.

When the teacher and the learner sit down together to review the preferences and needs, they build a story around how her strengths, challenges and interests impact how she learns from their conversations. This is where they can design the PLB based on her talents as an artist and her passion for drawing along with her aspirations to become a teacher or business leader when she grows up. She also mentioned that she would like to learn about social media and create a logo to showcase her artwork. These types of conversations validate her as a learner and confirm that the teacher really listened to about her strengths and challenges and her love for art.

Empower Learners to Build their PLB

The PLB is where the teacher and learner pull together ideas for resources, tools, apps, and learning strategies and skills to support learning. Below is a chart with examples for tools, apps, learning strategies and skills that could support Access, Engage, and Express for this learner. 

Tools, Apps, Resources
Learning Strategies and Skills
Graphic organizer

Video Collection
I need to understand instructions using a graphic organizer or use drawing tools on the whiteboard to collaborate with others.

I need to know how to find the right videos to help me understand the meaning of what I’m supposed to be learning.
Brainstorming Tool
(e.g., Trello)

Task Builder

Graphic Logo Design

I would like to learn how to organize and prioritize my tasks into smaller tasks that I do alone and with others.

I want to keep track of my tasks.

I am interested in how to create my own logo that I can use on my website and give out on business cards.
Note Taking Tools


Book Authoring Tool
(e.g., Book Creator)

I want to learn how to take notes using drawing tools so I can see my ideas visually and maybe even capture audio.

I feel it would be better if I can speak and my device  types for me.

I enjoy storytelling and want to combine words with my drawings in a book.

To determine what skills or strategies the learner needs to acquire, she had to really think about both her strengths and challenges. She loves to draw but needs help with taking notes. So the teacher helped her decide to use her strength (drawing) to help her visualize what she was capturing using different note taking tools. As soon as the learner started sharing what she wanted or needed to learn, she opened up about needing a speech to text tool to help her with writing. Dragon Dictation can help her write down her thoughts. This process guides the learner to determine what she wants and needs to build her skills to become successful as a learner.

Every conversation the teacher has with learners can open a new door or bring up new ideas that may reduce any barriers they may have and can maximize learning for them so they can become independent, self-directed learners with agency.

This post is one example describing a process for the LP and PLB for an older child with higher executive functioning. This same process can be adapted by changing the language for a younger child or any learner who is at-risk or been identified with learning challenges. It is all about the conversations between the teacher and learner. If there is a language barrier or confusion about the process, this is an issue that the teacher can address by revising the LP and PLB with audio options, graphics, simpler language, or even translations. A young child may need help in understanding what he or she is being asked. A teacher can invite a parent to join in the discussions.

Developing Learning Goals

The PLB is the first step in identifying learning goals. Each of the learning strategies and skills the learner wants or needs to learn can be developed into learning goals in a Personal Learning Plan (PLP).  In the PLP, learning goals with action steps to develop independent learning skills will be illustrated along with college, career, personal and citizenship goals. These steps and the PLP will be explained in more detail in Part Three of this series.


Part One defines how the UDL lens of Access, Engage and Express and introduced the Learner Profile (LP) and how it can be used by both teacher and learner to discover the learner.

Part Two explains how to take the Learner Profile and develop a Personal Learning Backpack (PLB) that includes tools, apps, resources and the skills the learner needs to become an independent, self-directed learner.

In Part Three, we will take the PL and PLB and demonstrate how to help learners develop agency with an effective Personal Learning Plan (PLP).

All of this along with similar templates are in our new publication, How to Personalize Learning: A Practical Guide for Getting Started and Going Deeper, premiering on October 18th, 2016.

Universal Design for Learning is a registered trademark of CAST, Inc. 

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