The Medium is the Message: Using UDL to Provide Multiple Means of Representation

Canadian philosopher and author Marshall McLuhan introduced the popular phrase “the medium is the message” in his groundbreaking 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. McLuhan suggested that mediums carry more than just a message; they also can shape our learning experiences, memories, and comprehension.

 

Michael and Just (2001) of Carnegie Mellon University used brain imaging to show that our brains process spoken and written language differently. The study suggested that listening and reading create different memories and activate different brain regions. For instance, listening activates more working memory than reading, likely because spoken language is fleeting and requires immediate processing. The study doesn't say which method is better, but rather that the best method depends on the individual, the content, and the purpose.


Designing Accessible Materials and Methods:

Learners are highly variable in how they perceive information and construct meaning, meaning the way information is presented (text, video, lecture, etc.) dramatically impacts how well we learn it. This idea echoes the famous quote, "The medium is the message," meaning the format can shape the content. Research indicates that the Recognition Network, a specialized region located in the back portion of the brain, is heavily involved in how learners process information and turn it into learning.

The Recognition Network is like a filing system in the brain, helping learners identify, interpret, and build connections, which ultimately help construct meaning. This brain region excels at interpreting information and recognizing patterns in new information, such as identifying a red apple. Then, information is further broken down into categories (red color, round shape) and connected with background information and similar patterns stored in your memory (other red objects). The initial groundwork of identifying familiar elements lays the foundation for higher-level brain regions to operate.


Apple


Therefore, educators should consider providing learners with multiple options and formats to represent new information. This approach can assist learners in identifying, interpreting, making connections, and constructing meaning more efficiently. Additionally, the accessibility of materials and communication mediums should be considered, as each has its distinct advantages and limitations. For instance, offering learners only printed text can create unintentional barriers to learning (see graphic below).



Multiple Means of Representation

Educators can create a more inclusive and engaging learning environment if they understand that each communication medium has distinct characteristics. Additionally, learners need information offered through multiple formats through the UDL principle of Multiple Means of Representation and its supporting guidelines.


A table containing tips for applying UDL

Applying UDL


Here are a few tips and tricks for increasing the accessibility of instructional materials.
  • Multiple Formats: Offer information in various formats beyond just text. Include audio recordings of written content, captions and transcripts for videos, and visuals with clear descriptions.
  • Closed Captioning. Utilize closed-captioning when showing videos or having a synchronous video discussion through platforms like Zoom.
  • Digital Accessibility. Ensure digital materials are compatible with screen readers and other assistive technologies. Use clear formatting, proper heading structures, and alt text for images.
  • Visual Design: Use high-contrast colors and clear fonts in presentations and documents. Avoid relying solely on color to convey information.
  • Variety of Instruction: Present information in multiple ways, using verbal explanations, written instructions, and visual aids.
  • Flexible Learning Materials: Offer options for taking notes or completing assignments. This could include allowing recordings of lectures, providing graphic organizers, or offering alternative assignment formats.

Here is a blog post on 5 Tips for Redesigning Your Reading Assignments with UDL in Mind.

Links to an external site.

 




Matt Bergman (2024)






Blended Learning and UDL Lesson Planning Flowchart

If you are a UDL practitioner, Blended Learning is an excellent student-centered approach that can be incorporated into the classroom. It emphasizes the importance of using technology to personalize learning and give students autonomy over their path, pace, time, and place. There are seven different Blended Learning models, which require educators to make the shift from a teacher-centered to a learner-centered approach to learning. 

However, how do you plan with UDL and Blended Learning in mind? I developed the following flowchart to guide educators through the process of planning blended lessons with accessibility, flexibility, and student engagement in mind! 

Want a PDF version? Click here





Matt Bergman (2024)








10 Tips for Building Better Learning Goals

Goals are not just the foundation; they are the roadmap for effectively planning a UDL lesson. They often serve as a roadmap, providing students with a clear direction for their learning journey. They answer the essential question: "What will I be able to know or do by the end of this lesson/unit/course?"

Goals are often derived from broader academic standards designed to help students develop essential skills and knowledge over the long term. For example, a science goal might be "Students will be able to explain the water cycle and its impact on weather patterns." This aligns with a specific science standard that emphasizes understanding core environmental processes.

Clear learning goals are not just tools, they are powerful tools for educators and students. They provide a sense of purpose, allowing students to track their progress and celebrate their achievements. Students who understand the "why" behind their learning become more engaged and motivated to reach their full potential.

With this in mind, here are ten tips for building better learning goals. Click here for access to the PDF with active links. 




Matt Bergman (2024)





4 Ways to Use Brisk AI in Teaching

I recently came across an AI tool called Brisk, which operates as a Chrome Extension that you can use to inspect student work, detect AI, and generate content! Brisk has four important features:

1. Create 

Teachers can used Brisk to create lesson plans, exemplars, quizzes, and more! Note: There is a free and a paid version of this tool, so some of the paid features are identified by a lock icon. 

Library of features


2. Inspect

Teachers can use the Inspect feature to see a video history of the creation of a Google Doc, which is perfect for identifying potential plagiarism issues by copy and paste. In addition, there is an AI detection tool that identifies potential use of AI in the assignment. 


 

3. Change Reading Level

Did you know that you can change the reading level and language of a Google Doc? This is perfect for providing students with differentiated options for reading a text. 

Change reading level box


4. Give Feedback 


Need a tool for providing better feedback to students? Brisk provides a variety of options for providing the right type of feedback for students. I personally like the Glow and Grow option! 


Feedback styles box

Conclusion

Brisk is a simple, but powerful tool that teachers can use to save time, increase efficiency, and provide valuable feedback through a variety of means. It saves you time, while increasing your effectiveness as a teacher. Check it out today! 




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