- Rummi Bassi explores Universal Design as an approach to truly inclusive learning.
- MONTY KING discusses Researching the problems and potential of open online learning in the global South.
- MONTY KING has pulled out some FutureLearn courses we love.
- ANDREW MORTON introduces the FutureLearn Learning Library.
- FELICITY PARSISSON brings a quick overview of what’s happening across the partnership.
Issue 4: February 2021
The Learning Design Bulletin from FutureLearn is a space for anyone involved in the practicalities of all things learning design, pedagogy, and course build.
|This issue we ask: How can we promote accessibility and inclusivity through learning design?|
Asynchronous online learning can be the great leveller - it can be argued that it offers more scope for increasing access and inclusivity. But how does this work in practice? In this issue’s Long Read we hear from Rummi Bassi who brings us on a deep dive into the concept of Universal Design as an approach to truly inclusive learning.
Elsewhere in this issue Monty King discusses Researching the problems and potential of open online learning in the global South, an analysis of the capacity of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Open Educational Resources (OER) to transform the way people in low and middle income countries access education.
The Long Read: by Rummi Bassi
Universal Design as an approach to truly inclusive learning
It’s natural for online learning providers to want courses to reach as many people as possible and that content should be presented in the best way possible to reach the widest audience. However, we live in a world of unseen barriers that restrict access to education.
A commonly cited supporting example of increasing access in general is that of Professor Stephen Hawking, who without the use of his chair and a computer to help him speak would not have been able to produce much of the wonderful insights into physics that we have today.
Essentially, what I mean is how do we make sure our content is presented in a ‘fair’ way without excluding learners? There are a number of different terms used in this area and they all mean slightly different things; equality of access, equity, universal design, reasonable adjustments, inclusivity and I’m sure many more.
Universal design is the most effective way to achieve this. Universal design is about creating an environment that can be accessed and understood by the largest number of people possible irrespective of any additional needs they may have e.g. a disability, language barriers, access to technology.
Let me give a learning-specific example. If the only barrier to learning content was that you had a hearing impairment, you would almost certainly favour content that has subtitled or transcripted media. This is a standard requirement for all public sector organisations in the UK. So why is this relevant to universal design?
Let’s expand the example a little to consider who else transcripts or subtitles might help. Imagine that English is not your first language; reading the subtitles can help to understand the speaker, you may occasionally have trouble with regional accents, if there is a term that you don’t understand you can see the spelling and look it up. You might imagine, instead of living with a hearing impairment, you are a learner revising. You may not want to re-watch the whole video or listen to the whole audio and transcripts provide an easy and accessible way of scanning content in a hurry. Equally, if you have issues with data allowances or connectivity – perhaps due to the area you live in – transcripts provide a viable alternative to videos and audio.
As you can see from the above examples, appropriately chosen alternate versions can serve a number of purposes that are beneficial to a wide range of learners. But don’t take my word for it. There are a number of different angles you might be approaching this. I’ve divided them into five categories or themes to highlight the wealth of literature, legislation and advice on the area:
- Diversity and Inclusion and its Impact on Education
- The UK Political Backdrop and Current and Future Legislation
- Guidance from Industry Experts
- Current educational practices
- Current IT Solutions
A note before we continue - you may notice that much of the legislation discussed in this article is from a UK perspective. However, the UK legislative guidance is informed and steered by best practice and literature and offers sound advice which I believe to be transferable across borders. It’s also useful to think about one particular setting as a worked example, and from there consider how the advice is applicable to our own setting.
Diversity and Inclusion and its Impact on Education
Diversity and inclusion extend beyond protected characteristics but rather represents a pool of different traits which, when brought together, provide a greater range of perspectives in order to facilitate improved decision making (Cichero, 2018). A sentiment echoed by Chadha (2018) who adds that even though diversity and inclusion are important, it may become difficult to assess which characteristics are being included - and whether that is at the exclusion of others.
In order to address this the UK Department for Education (2017) offers some useful ways of thinking about how to approach this by asserting that the environment in which learners find themselves should be inclusive to the extent that reasonable adjustments required are rare, and that the norm should be a culture of inclusive practice that is continuously reviewed and improved.
The report also recognised the speed at which the landscape is changing for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and the enhanced scrutiny that is being applied to them. In recognition of this, the report outlines some specific advantages to inclusive practice including:
- Brand reputation
- Increased employment outcomes
- Improved teaching and coaching
- Cost & time efficiency
- Assurance and accountability
- Improved recruitment and retention
- Better professional development
- Staff and student satisfaction
A variety of learning environments also provide space for learners who do not learn in traditional ways to explore other options (Lage, Platt and Treglia, 2000). Furthermore, a truly inclusive environment improves the learning experience for all students (All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology, 2018).
Essentially, these articles, books and papers argue that inclusive resources are an asset not only for the intended audience but serve a wider benefit to all learners, academics and the organisations themselves in terms of overall outcomes, the external image of the company/institution and satisfaction levels of stakeholders.
The UK Political Backdrop and Current and Future Legislation
The Office for Students (2019) as the independent regulator of Higher Education Institutions (HEI) have a remit to ensure any student with the ability and aspiration to attend an HEI have access and are able to achieve their potential both academically and beyond, regardless of their background.
This sits in the context of the Equality Act (2010), which forbids direct discrimination, and strongly discourages indirect discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics.
These characteristics are:
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
An analysis in 2009 recognised that Disabled students were not included in much of the existing literature connected with widening participation (Disabled students and higher education. 2009). Since 2009 and with regards to disability, there is specific guidance on the requirement to make reasonable adjustments. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology (APPGAT) have built on this legislation to provide new guidance to HEIs in terms of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs).
There is advice within the report that lays out specific legislative guidelines aimed at Education Institutions as well as going beyond the legislation to improve education for all students (All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology, 2018).
The report which comes into effect in September 2019 is also seeking to redress the balance between financial support provided by the Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) and the responsibilities of HEIs under the Equality Act (2010).
There are also parallels that can be drawn with other changes to electronic resources. The UK implementation of the Marrakesh treaty (2018) brings new laws into force in the UK and internationally with regards to copyright of published materials and the rights of users to access this in a variety of formats or for them to be reproduced to allow for this (Intellectual Property Office, 2018).
Finally, the Office for Students (OfS) in line with the agenda for Widening Participation and inclusive resources, highlights the fact that there is a disproportionate relationship between black and ethnic minorities and disabled people with those students who are from lower socioeconomic groups (The Office for Students, 2019). This further highlights the need for resources designed to include all students.
The political agenda in this area internationally appears to be moving towards inclusivity and recognition that well-designed resources will meet the needs of all learners leading to fewer reasonable adjustments being required in the longer term and a reduced financial burden on the DSA.
Guidance from Industry Experts
Reasonable adjustments are designed for the individual. However, many of these adjustments may be adapted to suit all students through universal design (Lidwell, Holden and Butler, 2003). Universal design principles have four characteristics ‘perceptibility’, ‘operability’, ‘simplicity’ and ‘forgiveness’ (Mace, Ronald L., Hardie, Graeme J., Place, Jaine P., North Carolina State University.,Center for Accessible Housing., 1996; Lidwell, Holden and Butler, 2003).
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG 2.1) recommends that web content should be accessible to as wide a range of people as possible and is dependent on content, browsers, authoring tools and a range of other factors all working together. The key is how these all interlink with each other as outlined in the W3C (2018).
Although the WCAG 2.1 is a useful framework for thinking about the web in general, its focus is primarily on web design rather than on learning content and therefore it still requires contextualised guidance for creating learning resources.
Current educational practices
Support for students has traditionally been identified through self-reporting of a disability or through the DSA followed by an assessment of needs and a reasonable adjustment plan to accommodate specific learner needs (Williams et al., 2017). Williams also found that the responsibility for support for students sits at a senior management level with local support within departments and usually a central team co-ordinating the strategy. While the report suggests that HE providers feel they are providing disabled students with good support, institutions also recognise the variability in support and the need to foster consistently inclusive teaching.
Education practitioners have worked with alternate modes of delivery in the traditional classroom setting for some time by speaking to the student and ensuring that they understand their needs and may accommodate them with large print, alternate formats, materials available in advance of classes, and help with note-taking (Fichten et al., 1996; Access all areas: disability, technology and learning. 2002). Bridging the gap between educational practices, eLearning and the wider technology context are organisations such as Association for Learning Technology (ALT) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (Jisc).
Current IT Solutions
A joint report by Jisc and ALT (2002), highlighted the need for accessible materials and practices to be embedded into eLearning.he report had already identified ‘a bewildering array of assistive products on the market’. In response to this, the report identifies an online resource called TechDis Accessibility Database (TAD) where up to 2500 accessibility tools can be found (Access all areas: disability, technology and learning. 2002). TAD is now a defunct site, highlighting the rate of change in the field. Those responsible for making educational policy, academics, management and governors all need to keep abreast of technological changes and the effect that these have on teaching and learning. Furthermore, staff and learners need to be empowered to use technology in education by raising their digital capabilities (Further Education Learning Technology Action Group, 2014).
Although technology changes, the approach to inclusive learning can be thought of as breaking into distinct areas:
- Built-in productivity tools
- Free and open source software recommendations
- Institutional practice and accessible technology
- Learning platforms
- Rich media as assistive technologies
- Alternative formats
Using assistive and accessible technology in teaching and learning. 2014). The caveat with open source software is the danger of malicious software or extensions.
Academics can no longer rely on textbooks for their learning but are required to be promoters of best practices; being able to plan, choose and evaluate new resources and presenting these in innovative ways. Online learning has a large part to play in this (Holmes and Gardner, 2019).
So, what does all of this mean for universal design and how to apply it? In the FutureLearn platform there is the technical functionality to address these issues. However, I believe the article shows that there is a disconnect between what the technology is capable of, what educators are capable of, what students expect and what the law requires. It also suggests that although technology is now able to afford far more flexibility to students, educators are not well-enough equipped with the knowledge nor the legislation to deliver content that is a best fit for all students.
We need a co-ordinated approach encompassing the often-separate elements of legislation, digital capabilities and Universal Design so that educators are able to create, deliver and maintain content that suits the students’ needs regardless of disability.
In producing content that adheres to universal design principles, educators can create content that is accessible to students with all disabilities, but crucially universal design extends beyond that to assist in the learning of students with no disability or no declared disability, and this responsibility lies with all of us.
All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology (2018) Accessible Virtual Learning Environments Making the most of the new regulations. Southwark: Available at: https://www.policyconnect.org.uk/appgat/sites/site_appgat/files/report/436/fieldreportdownload/appgatreport09-18finalweb.pdf (Accessed: Jan 13, 2021)
Chadha, S. (2018) 'Diversity Matters: Fitting In or Standing Out', Human Capital, 22(3), pp. 12-16.
Cichero, G. (2018) 'Can Technology Drive Workplace Diversity?', Human Capital, 21(8), pp. 52-54.
Department for Education (2017) Inclusive teaching and learning in higher education as a route to excellence. London: Crown Copyright. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/587221/Inclusive_Teaching_and_Learning_in_Higher_Education_as_a_route_to-excellence.pdf (Accessed: Jan 10, 2021)
Disabled students and higher education. (2009) Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Available at: http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/8889/2/A9R2917.pdf (Accessed: Jan 13, 2021).
Equality Act 2010 (SI year and number). Available at: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents (Accessed: Jan 11, 2021).
Fichten, C.S., Goodrick, G., Amsel, R. and Libman, E. (1996) '[Original article and title are in Japanese]. Teaching College Students With Disabilities: A Guide For Professors 'Support for university students with disabilities: A new feature of universities Tokyo: Keio University Press, pp. 233-323.
Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (2014) Paths forward to a digital
future for Further Education and Skills. Available at: http://feltag.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/FELTAG-REPORT-FINAL.pdf (Accessed: Jan 11, 2021).
Intellectual Property Office (2018) UK implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty. Newport: Crown Copyright. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/738669/Marrakesh-Government-Response.pdf (Accessed: .Jan 13, 2021)
Journal of enabling technologies (2017) Bingley, UK : Emerald Publishing Limited, 2017-.
Lage, M.J., Platt, G.J. and Treglia, M. (2000) 'Inverting the Classroom: A Gateway to Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment', The Journal of Economic Education, 31(1), pp. 30-43. doi: 10.1080/00220480009596759.
Lidwell, W., Holden, K. and Butler, J. (2003) Universal Principles of Design: 100 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach Through Design. Rockport Publishers.
Mace, R. L., Hardie, G. J., Place, Jaine P., North Carolina State University.,Center for Accessible Housing., (1996) Accessible environments : toward universal design. Raleigh, NC: Center for Accessible Housing, North Carolina State University.
The Office for Students (2019) Good practice advice on the preparation of access and participation plans for 2019-20 . Available at: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/media/1413599d-37bc-42ae-938a-d760d98c285b/regulatory-advice-6-how-to-prepare-your-access-and-participation-plan-guidance.pdf (Accessed: Jan 13, 2021).
Using assistive and accessible technology in teaching and learning. (2014) Available at: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/using-assistive-and-accessible-technology-in-teaching-and-learning (Accessed: Jan 13, 2021).
W3C (2018) 'Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1', .
W3C (1999) 'Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0',
Williams, M., Pollard, E., Houghton, A. and Zozimo, J. (2017) Models of support for students with disabilities | Institute for Employment Studies (IES). Brighton: Institute for Employment Studies. Available at: https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/30436/1/modelsofsupport.pdf (Accessed: Jan 10, 2021).
5 minute read: by Monty King
Researching the problems and potential of open online learning in the global South
FutureLearn prides itself on the geographic diversity of both its institutional partners and its learners, who are key to the rich social learning experience on the platform. In the wider context of elearning, much has been written about the potential for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Open Educational Resources (OER) to transform the way people in low and middle income countries access education. In 2018, together with Associate Professors Mark Pegrum and Martin Forsey at the University of Western Australia, I wrote a systematic review paper in the International Review of Online and Distributed Learning (IRRODL) entitled MOOCs and OER in the global South; Problems and potential. This review drew on analysis of 98 academic papers and identified 5 emerging themes.
Access: Infrastructure limitations are a key barrier to people accessing online education, including internet-enabled devices and an affordable, reliable internet connection and power source. Mobile phones are playing a major role in improving access as shown in a growing number of M-learning projects throughout the global South, including sub-Saharan Africa, South America and Southern Asia.
Literacies: Once people can access resources, they need the requisite language and digital literacies to fully benefit from the opportunities provided by MOOCs and OER. A substantial majority are presented only in English, although there is growing diversity in courses presented in other languages. Digital literacies, including using a computer, keyboard and mouse, are a major barrier to adoption but again mobile devices are helping bridge this divide.
Pedagogies: MOOCs require learners to adapt to new, unfamiliar ways of learning, and some of the least engaging XMOOC-style elearning reproduces old didactic pedagogies. The potential for use of ‘blended’ MOOCS, incorporating online content and face-to-face sessions, was identified as a means of scaffolding course and fostering a more learner-centred, engaging experience.
Context of content: Local consultation is key when developing MOOCs and OER, and generic content leads to greater learner dissatisfaction and higher dropout rates, whereas successful courses actively encourage learners to apply what they have learned to their own personal experience through project and problem-based. The ability to effectively ‘remix’ content in a variety of contexts was identified as a key indicator resource quality.
North-South knowledge imbalances: The final theme centred on the growing North-South inequality divide in the production of MOOCs and OER, and the domination of academic voices from the global North. This reproduces the familiar centre-periphery dynamic privileging universities in the North, particularly Europe and North America, as creators of knowledge to be gratefully consumed by the South. There are a number of projects involving the Southern Higher Education institutions giving more voice to a greater diversity of academic voices.
In the next section of the Bulletin you’ll see we have highlighted a number of FutureLearn courses produced by partners and collaborators across the global South giving voice to local expertise.
These courses demonstrate what can be achieved when academic voices from a diversity of geographic and cultural perspectives. They expose learners to a broader range of academic perspectives, which is crucial for a diverse, inclusive online education ecosystem.
The paper concluded that while considerable problems remain, there is potential for digital education to lead in correcting knowledge imbalances, and that the progress made through mobile technologies offers a clear future path.
To reach Futurelearn’s mission to transform access to education we need more academic voices from the global South, designed to reach a diverse learner audience.
Examples we love: by Monty King
Get inspired with courses delivering accessible and inclusive learning.
This course discusses the air pollutants issue that potentially impacts Asian and continental cities while opening up discussion for learners to reflect on their local context.
Learn how development and planning help urban actors to make cities just and sustainable for all.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global problem, however, this course explains the specific problems faced in Africa, and the strategies developed to combat these problems.
Designed for learners with limited bandwidth, an interesting feature of these courses is that they do not include video. They feature simple illustrations instead of high resolution images.King’s College London as part of the PADILEIA project.
Introducing the Learning Library: by Andrew Morton
Supporting partners efficiently deliver effective courses
Designing courses can be a challenge, which is why the Learning Team at FutureLearn have been working hard to create a resource that will help you develop effective courses efficiently. That resource is the Learning Library, a repository of best in-class templates and exemplars that can be used across your course.
Using the resources within our library we hope to improve the overall quality of courses that can be delivered. We hope to do this in two ways:
- making the process of designing high quality courses easier
- demonstrating best practice across different aspects of course design.
Let’s look at how the Learning Library addresses each of these two aims in turn.
Making the process of designing high quality courses easier
FutureLearn currently hosts thousands of courses covering a huge variety of subjects. However, the basic building blocks of each of these courses are the same. Rather than reinventing the wheel each time you want to plan, build and create a new course we want to provide you with a variety of ready made templates that can be used within your courses.
These templates are currently available for numerous types of course outline including short courses, and microcredentials. There are also templates for effective sequences of steps to meet an activities learning type e.g. investigative / collaborative etc.
Demonstrating best practice across different aspects of course design
FutureLearn is a social learning platform, and so in the spirit of social learning we want to ensure that course builders and designers can also learn from each other. Coming soon to our library will be a database of open access steps that you can explore. This database gives you the opportunity to observe best practice course design from across our course catalogue.
In addition, we want to be able to provide exemplar language that can be used across standard types of step, for example within peer graded assignments. Our learning library will contain manuscript copy that can be tailored to your course and used to introduce peer graded assignments to learners. We will also be developing exemplar copy to brief learners on specific types of tasks within peer graded assignments, for example investigative or reflective assignments.
While the process of learning design can be a challenge, the Learning Library is a step towards simplifying the course development process and enabling you to learn from our FutureLearn’s community of expert learning designers.
News from across the partnership
- Discover Director of Learning Matt Jenner’s wonkhe article This lockdown makes it clear we need to invest in educators
- Ever wondered who the Learning Team at FutureLearn are? Well, click here to find out.
- Take a look at FutureLearn’s Linkedin page for up to date news about the company and courses, and spotlights on our learners.
Next Issue’s Focus:
The Learning Design Bulletin turns one year old!
The fifth issue of the Learning Design Bulletin will be appearing in April 2021. It’s our first birthday so you can expect a bumper issue which explores contemporary topics in learning design and course creation! If you’ve got ideas or something you’d like to share, please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org