Author: Dr. Petyo Budakov from Budakov Films, XU Exponential University of Applied Sciences, Germany
Digital education has emerged as a powerful tool, revolutionizing higher education and breaking down traditional barriers to access. In today’s interconnected world, digital education has the potential to foster inclusivity and provide opportunities for a diverse range of learners. This article explores some good practices of how digital education promotes accessibility and inclusivity at XU Exponential University of Applied Sciences, Germany, enabling students to overcome geographical, physical, and socio-economic limitations as well as sticking to the highest academic standards. During the Erasmus+ co-funded project “United – Inclusion and Diversity of Learners with Diverse Backgrounds” (2022-2-DE02-KA210-VET-000092335) our academia experimented new strategies successfully and re-considered how the academic learning environment could be further improved and become even more inclusive by using digital education as an effective way of digital transformation.
While the use of the right communication digital tool could be a choice based on various aspects, such as: number of users, license cost, privacy and security, collaborative features, GDPR requirements, etc., the instructional resources shared to the students must be designed in a format that are accessible to everyone. When delivering lectures in on-site, online or hybrid mode is crucial to ensure that all students have equitable access and can engage effectively in the learning process. Therefore, for creating an instructional design concept for producing an inclusive training resource, the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) theory was considered. It suggests that instructional materials and strategies should be designed to meet the needs of diverse learners from the outset. In the context of digital education, UDL encourages the creation of flexible, widely-accessible and customizable learning experiences (Kelly & Lieberman, 2022). This includes providing multiple means of representation, allowing students to access content in various formats, multiple means of engagement to cater to different interests and motivations, and multiple means of expression to enable students to demonstrate their learning in diverse ways. By implementing UDL principles, digital education can accommodate learners with different abilities, backgrounds, and learning styles, promoting inclusivity and diversity. The main purpose of using UDL was to ensure that the creation of inclusive learning environment at our classroom that value and respect diversity will be created and regularly maintained.
A successfully conducted experiment by Prof. Dr. Budakov two of his training modules which constitute part of the undergraduate program ‘Digital Marketing and Social Media’ B.Sc. suggested that digital education could support the implementation of the UDL in the following manner:
- Multiple Means of Representation. Various training resources were produced and included a variety of formats, such as interactive videos, infographics, and interactive simulations, to represent learning objectives and its related training content.
- Accessibility Features. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) principles have been implemented in all training resources. While WCAG is primarily focused on web content, many of its principles and guidelines can also be applied to training resources, including digital documents and multimedia elements, e.g. accessible layout of the digital training content was produced and tested among students as well as validating the readability and the formatting by granting that the text was presented in a legible format. Moreover, an appropriate font type and size, with sufficient contrast between the text and the background was used.
- Customizable Learning Experiences. Students can also control the pace of their learning (according to the academic calendar and their workload), reviewing materials as needed, and access additional resources or scaffolding to support their understanding.
As a conclusion, when used prudently, digital learning could break barriers and promote inclusion and equality in the academic classroom. When implementing the UDL theory and the WCAG principles for designing accessible training resources, the student satisfaction raised with 29% in the training module where the experiment was conducted, and student performance was with 19% higher than the year ago (where the UDL principles had not been used). An inclusive instructional design alongside with the right didactic approach and sticking to the institutional regulations cater to diverse learning needs by offering flexible and inclusive academic learning environments. Students with physical disabilities or health limitations can effectively access all digital training resources with options for adaptable content delivery and assistive technologies. By providing alternative formats, such as captioned videos or text-to-speech tools, digital education ensures that students with different learning styles and abilities can participate fully.
Kelly, O., Buckley, K., Lieberman, L.J. et al. Universal Design for Learning – A framework for inclusion in Outdoor Learning. Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education 25, 75–89 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42322-022-00096-z
Credit: XU Exponential University of Applied Sciences, Germany