Teaching Diverse Learners

Teaching Diverse Learners Image

FIU Online’s monthly Faculty Webinar series explores relevant instructional strategies and effective ways to use technology in an online classroom. The latest webinar offered best practices and tips for teaching diverse learners using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Multiple Intelligence Theory (MI) to meet the varying learning needs of a highly diverse student population. 

Instant Replay: UDL & Inclusive Teaching

Presenter Dr. Michelle Stefano, an FIU Online Instructional Designer, showcased how designing assignments to have different types of deliverables to teach diverse learners with their learning preferences in mind increases student engagement with content and knowledge acquisition. If you missed this webinar, you can view the recording or read some of the key takeaways below.


Teaching Diverse Learners: Promoting UDL & MI

The concepts of UDL (Universal Design for Learners) and MI (Multiple Intelligences). Both theories can be applied in your courses to tap into all students’ skills and abilities by providing a more “inclusive” learning environment. They both take into consideration learners from different cultures, genders, racial backgrounds, socio-economic groups, faiths and political beliefs. 


UDL and MI
Image source: The UDL Project


Therefore, teaching diverse learners means creating assessments and course content tailored to the idea that students learn information and demonstrate knowledge using the methods they believe are most effective in light of their unique backgrounds, intellectual skills, and abilities. In addition to assessing students solely on course topics, inclusive assessments and content can allow students to share their ideas about the subject matter from different perspectives with peers.

Moreover, research in adult learning theory demonstrates that learners do best when they can use their experiential knowledge to complete course activities. Inclusive teaching practices hold that experiential knowledge is as valuable as the new knowledge students gain from a course. 


Diversity Puzzle
Image source: The Knowledge Network for Innovations in Learning and Teaching (KNILT)

Exploring Course Design and UDL

Below, there are six quick best practices you can apply to your course to teach diverse learners and help students succeed and motivate them throughout the semester:

  • Student Preview

See things from the student’s perspective! Activate the Student Preview function on Canvas to navigate your course. This enables you to see what students may or may not be able to access such as easy-to-miss files or hyperlinks.

  • Guidance

To read through the course objectively, add some additional tips in the module pages and assignment instructions can help students efficiently navigate course pages. Something as simple as “Click the link above to access Quiz” can make all the difference in guiding a  student directly to a quiz versus having to navigate to a different area of the course.

  • Quick Pointers

For clarity, always be specific about what you need from students. Explain what resources they should use when completing an assignment. Furthermore, try to see if any of your instructions are vague or prone to be to interpretation. Remember, in your face-to-face courses, students can informally approach you for those “quick questions.” Not so much online

  • Organizing Structures

For efficiency, use two or three pages of content at the modular level. Try to avoid uploading attachments or placing hyperlinks directly into the module. It’s difficult for students to navigate through the module if they are repeatedly leaving their Canvas classroom to view or download content. Students should be able to access content, assessments, and learning activities without constant clicking. 
An online course should also not contain excess page content that requires scrolling. You should aim for a good mix of navigational approaches so that students experience neither scrolling or clicking fatigue.

  • Visual Appeal

All visuals should be accessible. Use the formatting tools in your text editor, such as heads and subheads, to enable screen readers. Pictures, graphs, and formulas need alternate text descriptions, too. Additionally, break up long chunks of text with subheads and space between paragraphs.
When possible embed (not link out) videos—this will provide thumbnail videos that you’ve either created or sourced from YouTube, news sites, or library resources. Videos should also be captioned or else provide a written transcript. Other tips are to use relevant images in the module pages, dividing lines with HTML, section heading levels, and only small paragraphs of text at a time. 

  • Expectations

Finally, include your weekly learning objectives in your modules. Provide students with directions written in a conversational tone rather than like a textbook. You can create 1-2 minute explanation videos using Zoom to give students instructions, provide a rubric, or give students sample work that earned top marks.


Additional information on teaching diverse learners:


Future Faculty Webinars

Keep an eye out for future FIU Online Faculty Webinars on best practices in pedagogy and effectively using technology in your online classroom. Also, share your ideas for future webinar topics by contacting Christina Schettini (cschetti@fiu.edu). 

Read more on our previous faculty webinar instant replays:

Michelle S. brings to the table over 10 years of experience in higher education management, curriculum, design, and instruction. She is learner-centered and teaches fully online and blended courses. She incorporates micro-learning, gamification, and flipped learning strategies in her work and and strives to increase learner knowledge using digital tools .

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