Education Websites and Universal Design

For years, schools have retrofitted curriculum to accommodate learning differences among their student population, often, those changes were made for only certain aspects of teaching, such as special education but not Education Websites and Universal Design.

When the age of the internet was integrated into education, those same disjointed approaches were applied to school web design. Perhaps coincidentally, school curriculum departments and educational web developers hit upon the same novel thought.

Schools began to consider how modifications for special learning needs made sense for all teaching. At the same time, designers experienced a very similar epiphany. The resulting concept is in the form of what’s known as universal design.

Differentiation is the key

For generations, schools have treated meeting the needs of unique learning profiles as interventions. The special training bestowed upon teachers who taught these populations emphasized practices like using accommodations for how instruction was delivered and modifications to what was being taught. When such alterations were deemed intrusive to the mathematically normal population’s instruction, these innovations were conducted in “pull-out” or even completely segregated classes. At some point it became fashionable to design curriculum that met all student needs by changing the very structure of the curriculum. The umbrella term for this practice isdifferentiation.

As teachers at all levels of schooling began to accept that differentiation was simply good teaching, web designers began following this understanding, though for a while, at a pace that trailed the curriculum.

Retrofitting Education Websites Retrofit

Retrofitting Education Websites - Education Websites and Universal DesignAs teachers began to learn that very small changes in the arrangement of a classroom could make learning more accessible for students with certain challenges, web designers followed suit. School and course websites started adding features to accommodate students with sight issues, hearing problems and mobility issues.

More trappings appeared on sites as more situations became impetus for alteration. Finally, just as in the brick and mortar spaces with which online training is now melding, designers experienced their own inspiration. Designing a web that is inclusive by its own nature is a much better structure than piecemeal retrofitting. With this, the idea of universal design took hold.

Universal Design

Retrofitting Education WebsitesWith the rise of online education as at least an equal partner with traditional learning, an ascendancy marked by students with record diversity, colleges and universities are meeting demands by making student interface friendly by design. Several guiding principles exist for this concept with this site providing one of the most concise examples: http://sloanconsortium.org/cannect/projectone/universal-design/seven-principles.php

Essentially, universal design is to school websites on what differentiation is for curriculum. Making a site accessible for all students is not only good educational practice, it is good business. Taking the time to build a good, reachable interface design means that students will spend their time learning, not trying to overcome needless barriers or worse yet, leaving to find a school with more thoughtful technology.