By Meegie Wheat, MS

Learners striving to obtain a degree in higher education come from many diverse backgrounds including locations, experiences, access to technology, preferred learning method, language abilities, dexterity, age, and prior knowledge of the course content. This multi-level diversity gives faculty opportunities to create course content that provides multiple means of representation in the course design for all learners.

At the onset of thinking about designing an online course, many assumptions come into play regarding students’ ability to perform the following tasks:
  • Visually interpret the content
  • Hear and interpret what is spoken in videos
  • Participate in class activities
  • Articulate and apply new knowledge
  • Follow the flow of navigation information in the course
  • Locate support
Although this list of functions may not seem demanding for college students, it could be overwhelming to many learners. Some students may have to spend more time comprehending or accessing the content, which will take them longer to complete the tasks. Activities that include a video or software require learners to know first, where and how to access the tool, second, learn how to use it, and finally, focus on the course content. The chart below contains various ways to assist diverse learners in achieving expected course outcomes using multiple representations of course content and support, a principle of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Framework.

View the table below to learn more about UDL and how to apply the UDL framework in online courses. For a deeper understanding and hands-on course design tips, consider attending one of eLearning’s workshops on Universal Design.

Multiple Means of Representation Examples

Course Material Design Strategies
Canvas LMS and Document page formatting Images - should contain alt text to provide low vision learners the same benefit for having the image in the course as their peers.

Headings - help all learners locate and see the variance in topics. Headings are located under Styles in MS Word. Heading hierarchy:
  • Heading 1 - Title
  • Heading 2 - Major section
  • Heading 3 - Sub-section of Heading 2
  • Heading 4 - Sub-sections of Heading 3
Hyperlinks – Instead of “Click Here,” use a short description that alerts learners of what they are going to open, visit, or view.

Benefit - All learners will be better able to identify the content and see the relationship of the textual components. Headers are easily read by screen readers that will alert learners of these aspects.
Video Closed captioning - learners can hear, see, and read what is being spoken in the video or turn off the closed captioning if they do not want to use it.

Video transcript - learners can download the video transcripts for note taking or read the information rather than viewing the video.

Benefit - All learners can benefit by using the captions or transcripts in the library, in noisy locations such as public transportation, or in overcoming a language barrier.
PowerPoint (with/without animation) Add the presentation as a handout in a downloadable OCR PDF.

Save the PowerPoint as a PDF using the Print to Adobe PDF rather than to a printer. Next, under Settings, change Full Page Slides to 2 slides or 3 slides per page.

Open the PDF in Adobe Pro to check for accessibility using the Accessibility Checker tool.

Benefit – Screen readers can recognize the text and not interpret the text as an image. Students can download the PDF to take notes while viewing the video and use it as a study guide.
Discussions Provide discussion expectations, (e.g., how to post a video response or how many responses to peers are required).

Discussion Rubric - Provide a rubric to be used in Canvas as a guide for learners and for grading discussions.

Linking to the Discussion in Canvas video and/or the Discussion printed guide will help learners see how to use the discussion tool before participating in the discussion. It also minimizes missed discussion assignments as well as multiple questions from learners.
Course Structure Construct uniform content layout in each module.

  • Overview and Learning Objectives
  • Learning Activities and Assessments
  • Lecture
  • Discussion
  • Module Summary
Benefit - Learners can quickly learn how to navigate the course and not be stressed searching for content.
Student Support Support information is listed on the syllabus but adding a link to supportive information at the location when support need it will help keep learners to stay on task.

Canvas Guides - students can search for help on any Canvas course topics in the Canvas Student Guide Table of Contents or instructors can direct the learner to specific guides. View How do I search the Guides? to learn more about how to help learners in online and blended courses.

Virtual Classroom Support - Canvas Virtual Classroom Video guide will help learners to be prepared to participate in the online synchronous session.

Academic Technologies – view UAB eLearning academic technologies guides for a list of multiple technologies that can be added to Canvas courses.

UAB Writing Center - provide learners the added support in the online environment by offering online tutoring services with flexible hours.

Benefit - text and video guides are available at our learners’ fingertips, they just they need to know how to locate them when they are needed.