Content developers can learn a lot from teachers, I think. Both work to connect with their audiences. Both strive to cultivate those audiences, introducing new ideas by a variety of means. If you focus on the top-of-funnel stuff that content developers create to inform their audiences, they begin to look a lot like, well, educators.
The similarities extend to the way marketers and teachers develop content. The best marketers use a variety of means, as we discussed in Reusing Content. They often repurpose their content by recasting it in a different format or medium to attract people from different audiences. Some turn blog posts into podcasts. Others create original work in video, then capture still images and text from the footage.
As it turns out, educators also repurpose content. The practice echoes the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework pioneered by educators Anne Meyer and David Rose in the 1990s. Many teachers work in text, images, and other media and provide opportunities for their students to do the same. By providing instruction in a variety of media and formats, teachers accommodate neurodiversity, achieving better outcomes with their students.
Helping Every Learner
UDL proceeds from the premise that every learner is unique. Each learner approaches new subject matter with a unique combination of strengths, needs, background, and interests. The universality inherent in the UDL concept accommodates this diversity. It means design for all learners.
You might think that a single, universal design can accommodate everyone, but that’s not the case. UDL doesn’t mean that a single design is appropriate for all learners. Instead it involves a layering of designs that, taken together, provide equal learning opportunities for all.
Besides education, we see universal design in many other disciplines. Ramps have become commonplace in and around public buildings, for example, because architects found that besides helping people in wheelchairs, ramps also make buildings more accessible for parents pushing strollers and people walking bicycles. Stairs are still available for people who prefer them.
Similarly, closed captioning has become common in broadcasting because programmers found that besides helping people with hearing impairments, closed captioning also helps people trying to watch television in noisy environments, like airports and bars.
A parallel example in website development is the use of alt text for images. Besides helping hearing-impaired people understand visual content through their screen readers, it also boosts SEO by helping search engine robots parse content.
UDL and Neural Networks
UDL recognizes three different neural networks in learning:
- The recognition network, which processes the what of learning. This network provides the facility for recognizing equivalent knowledge presented in different forms, such as text, pictures, or sound.
- The strategic network, which processes the how of learning. This network allows learners to express what they have learned.
- The affective network, which processes the why of learning. This network processes emotions that we recognize as interest and motivation.
While we all have the three neural networks identified by Meyer and Rose, UDL recognizes that everyone uses them differently. But we all:
- Favor a particular form of learning—the what part, based on our recognition network
- Prefer a particular mode of expressing what we have learned—the how part, based on our strategic network
- Have a unique motivation for engaging with subject matter—the why part, based on our affective network
UDL in Practice
Amanda Morin discusses the application of UDL principles in her Readingrockets post Universal Design for Learning (UDL): What You Need to Know (originally published on Understood).
In developing curriculum, educators apply universal design principles by defining goals and eliminating barriers. They ask themselves:
- What is my goal? What do I want my students to learn? What do I want them to care about?
- What barriers stand in the way of my students? How can I design learning content so that every learner has an equal opportunity to learn and succeed?
To eliminate barriers, teachers (and content developers) should develop content that:
- Offers information in more than one format, providing learners and site visitors with more than one way to interact with the material
- Offers many ways for learners to demonstrate what they have learned
- Explores a variety of reasons for engaging with the subject matter
Universal Design and Marketing
The concept of universal design is curiously apt for modern marketing. We have long since passed the days of one-way, outbound marketing, when marketers simply churned out advertisements. Marketers turned away from such methods when consumers became inured to nonstop advertising and began tuning it out.
The premise of inbound marketing, which succeeded outbound methods, is that brands achieve their goals by being of service to consumers, by helping prospects and customers solve problems they find important. In this sense, inbound marketing respects the autonomy of its audience—a concept that educators share in universal design for learning.
Universal design is important for marketers because it helps more people succeed. When we offer information in more than one format, we help more people to consume our content.
When we provide our audiences with more than one way to act on our content, we add touchpoints, which create more pathways through our marketing funnels.
When we offer many reasons for engaging with our content, we respect the diverse interests of our audiences. When we respect the interests of our audiences, we build relationships. When we build relationships, we broaden our reach and foster engagement.
If you’re a marketer, what does universal design mean to you? How can you use it to help your audience?