Learner Variability


Understanding, planning for and celebrating variability, your own and your students, is key to implementing UDL. The pull of standardization is strong in education. To resist the force of “average” requires constant vigilance. The concept of variability should be shared with parents, students, staff and administration. If we ignore variability, we harm students. Period. Just as physicians pledge, “first, do no harm”, so too should educators. One way to do this is to address variability, first.

In the Athabasca University online course: Universal Design for Learning in Online Education, the exploration of diversity in nature, and our natural acceptance of the variability of physical difference in our students is explored. We all recognize and expect these physical differences but often fail to recognize and expect learning differences (without making them “special”). “However, human distinctions are not limited to external characteristics. It may be obvious how the students in a class differ from one another in physical appearance, not so obvious how their brains are also unique. But the rule of variability means that it is "systematically distributed across any given population; and variability occurs along various dimensions: all people perceive, act on, and engage with information differently" (Johnston & Bosch, 2015, presentation notes). What's significant here is the idea that differences in the way students learn are as natural and predictable as other traits like eye colour or left-handedness. And, if this variability can be predicted, it can also be planned for at the...design stage...”

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