Throw out Learning Styles and Replace it with UDL

Kathleen McClaskey on episode 229 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Kathleen McClaskey talks about the research on learning styles and the alternatives for teaching and reaching every child. Today’s show will help you think about the research many of us have used for years to design lessons.

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Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. All comments in the shaded green box are my own. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.


Enhanced Transcript

Throw out Learning Styles and Replace it with UDL

Link to show:
Date: January 11, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking with Kathleen McClaskey @khmmc, founder of Making Learning Personal, about personalizing learning.

Defining Personal Learning

Kathleen, how would you define personal learning?

Kathleen: Personal learning starts with the learner.

One of the big problems today is that we’ve got all sorts of different definitions around personalized learning, but I’d really love the audience to just remember that personalized learning starts with the learner — where we’re trying to have learners have ownership to their learning.

Vicki: So when we personalize learning, does that mean that everybody’s doing something different in the classroom, or what does that mean to you?

Kathleen: No, not everyone is doing something different in the classroom, but the learner’s actually having some choice in what they do and how they access information. They may also be doing something a little bit different in how they express what they know and understand.

The teacher is actually designing lessons based upon who the learners are in the classroom. I know that’s a broad statement, but we’ll get a little bit further into that as we go on.

Why Kathleen Things We Should Abandon Learning Styles

Vicki: Now you think that Learning Styles — we just need to throw that out the window. Why?

Kathleen: Well, I did about six months to a year of research around Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences, and I looked at a lot of reports and studies around Learning Styles.

There was this set of cognitive scientists who actually put out a pretty extensive report on Learning Styles about five or six years ago. It basically says that there is no evidence that knowing a child’s Learning Styles has ever made any difference or has ever impacted their learning.

In fact, it probably has done the reverse. It may have developed a fixed mindset around how a child learns. So that’s why we need to not use that anymore. There’s just no research around that.

Vicki: Yeah. But you know, I guess that I’ve always looked at it as…

We know that dual mode teaching of reading (listening to it as you read at the same time).

We know that that helps learning.

Kathleen: Right.

Vicki: So I guess I’ve used — and written quite a bit about it — more as a guide to help me provide diverse experiences in the classroom, rather than ever saying… I mean, don’t you think that where people run into mistakes? When they say, “You are THIS, and this is the only way you learn.”

Kathleen: Yeah.

Vicki: That’s where they run into trouble, right?

Kathleen: Yes, and when the child says, “This is the only way I learn.” That’s when you really get into trouble. (laughs)

Vicki: Yeah. So you’ve seen it, and some of the cognitive researchers say that it’s caused kids to have a fixed mindset.

Kathleen: Right.

Vicki: That, “This is how I learn…” OK, so what do we do instead? How can we add value?

Because I know that, for me, thinking that, “How can I have interpersonal activities. How can I make things more diverse?” That’s helped me plan my lessons, but I need something to replace it with.

Universal Design for Learning

Kathleen: Yeah, well, I’d just like to introduce you to Universal Design for Learning, and the terms, Access, Engage, and Express, that really represent the principles of Universal Design for Learning. It’s really based on the neurosciences and how we learn.

So why use these particular terms? Well, here’s what they represent:

Access means how a learner would access and process information. And let me just say then, that in each one of these, there are strengths and challenges. So it’s really important for teachers to know what those are, and to be able to have conversations about them.

The second element is Engage. How do we engage with content? How does a learner engage with content?

The third is how do we Express what they know and understand?

Now, let me just tell you that, with that particular lens, in our publication, How to Personalize Learning, we really outline how to use this with the learner. It’s about empowering the learner to be able to talk about how they learn.

I think that we’ve not spent enough time in doing that, and if we expect kids to take ownership to their learning, we have to have them understand how they learn. And then we have to find ways to help kids develop the skills around their strengths or challenges, so they can become more independent and self-directed in their learning.

Vicki: How do we help them understand how they learn?

Kathleen: Yeah. Using the lens of Access, Engage, and Express.

A learner could certainly share with you what their challenges and strengths are in each of those areas.

As I said, in our publication, How to Personalize Learning, we’ve really outlined and given some really good descriptions that any teacher could use or adapt to really find out more about the learner.

What it is… it’s a great conversation starter with kids, because we need to have conversations from kids in about how they learn.

Now some kids may prefer to Access, or maybe some children have a problem accessing content in the printed word. So a learner could say, you know, “I have a challenge in reading and decoding. I would really like you to develop a good set of skills using this type of tool.” And we’re always hoping that’s where that goes.

But this is where the learner’s more in charge of saying, “This is who I am, and I’d just like to talk about what I’d need to help me become more independent.”

So the focus in the classroom is really developing great independent learning skills, based upon who they are, using the UDL lens of Access, Engage, and Express.

Vicki: So how would I grapple with this?

For example, a student came to me some years ago. He was having trouble learning the Hamlet, “To Be or Not to Be” speech. He needed it to graduate. And he — I’m just going to use my old term, because I have to understand how to replace it —

Kathleen: (laughs)

Vicki: He learned by listening. So under the old framework, we would call him Auditory. He was more auditory. It helps to look at it while you listen to it.

So I said, “OK, let’s download it on your phone.”

He sat in the corner of the room. He closed his eyes. He listened to it for 30 minutes. He went in and said it like a pro. Actually, he ended up memorizing more that he was supposed to.

So… that obviously helped him learn it.

Is that under Access, that he may access it better in an auditory way?

Learner Preferences

Kathleen: Yes! Right! Exactly!

But just remember that that is a way — a lot of learners, by the way, like to use, you know, auditory. Just like people like to listen to books in a car. Personally, I would never choose that way at all… but that is really a preference.

What’s important is that if you could even find out what a learner’s preferences or needs are, around Access, Engage, and Express, that tells you so much about who they are and how they learn.

But if in fact we are going to create a learner-centered environment, we still need to empower that learner with that. I’ve worked with teachers who have used this Learner Profile, and they basically say, “It’s so empowering to the learner. They are so anxious to tell you who they are.”

And what happens is the teacher discovers things about the learner that they never even knew. Even after months of being with kids, they discover all new things, because kids want to have that conversation.

They have a story to tell, and we need to be better listeners about who children are and how they learn.

The takeaway of today is about empowering the learner.

Vicki: So Kathleen, as we finish up, where do they go? There are some things that I have on my blog, that we’ve done before on UDL that we’ll link to, and personalized learning and that sort of thing. But where’s a place for teachers to start?

Where do we start understanding UDL

Kathleen: Well, you know, as I said, you know, we have a publication, How to Personalize Learning. It’s a practical guide that includes virtually all this information I just discussed today. We also have an online website that has all the templates for teachers to use.

So that’s really a great way to really get started. Anyone that’s used this, by the way, has really told us that this has been so incredibly helpful to really empower learners and creating those learning environments that are far more personalized.

So that would be one way, really, to get started. A lot of people who want to learn about personalized learning start off with our first publication, called Make Learning Personal. That’s also a really good foundational work, when you’re trying to really decide what that is for your school.

But this piece here on Access, Engage, and Express? I also want to refer people to an article that I wrote for ASCD several months ago this past year. It’s called, “Personalization and UDL: A Perfect Match,” and that really gives a really good overview about how it really looks from the perspective of the teacher and the learner.

Vicki: Excellent. So we’ll link to that in the Shownotes as well.

Teachers, I would just encourage you to dig deeper. UDL has been around a little while.

I admit, and you can tell from my questions, that I’ve missed which pieces of understanding how kids learn — and when does it cross over the line into causing a fixed mindset.

We’re going to have to have some more guests on, so that we can explore this further together!

So thank you, Kathleen!

Kathleen: Well, you’re welcome! Thank you very much, Vicki, for having me.


Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford


Bio as submitted

Kathleen McClaskey, founder of Make Learning Personal, co-founder of Personalize Learning, LLC and co-author of Make Learning Personal and How to Personalize Learning. She is passionate in empowering learners with tools, skills and learning strategies so they become independent self-directed learners with agency who are future ready for college, career and life. Learn more about Kathleen at

Blog: Make Learning Personal : Empowering Every Learner to be Future Ready

Twitter: @khmmc

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.) This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post Throw out Learning Styles and Replace it with UDL appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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