Virtual Gallery Insights: Universal Design

I initially began Module 1 of Introduction to Learning Design in June, near the time when the course first launched. Life happened, so I found myself starting back at the beginning two months later. I’m enjoying it more the second time around as I am also studying Universal Design for Learning at my current job, and it feels like learning the building blocks of LEM is helping me think through issues of accessibility.

I really love the diagrams that the course provides outlining the formal/informal, physical/virtual, and synchronous/asynchronous model. Who doesn’t love a good visual? It feels like 3 easy choices to make at the beginning of designing a learning environment – choices that make the design process easier by concretely outlining your goals from the get-go. It’s personally hard for me to design in a sandbox, so this model provides a nice starting off point. The imagination is the limit as long as you stay within the three parameters you have set for yourself.

I especially appreciate this, because it feels like it gives a good jumping off point for incorporating Universal Design for Learning, which as it’s heart is basically designing something for the broadest types of users imaginable – not the average Joe Schmoe. If I wanted to design a synchronous, formal, virtual learning environment then I could make an live-streaming video feed, complete with live captioning services. If I was designing an asynchronous, formal, learning environment, like a module for an online course, I could direct my concerns towards making sure the font was readable, every image had alt-text for screen readers, and any embedded videos within the module had available captioning. Knowing what a learning environment has been designed for can be a great first step for making sure your environment is as accessible as possible to the widest variety of users for an individual setting.

To further build on that, I’d like to re-visit one of my gallery pictures: my Playstation 4:


Perhaps I should say this is a gateway to virtual learning environments, as this can be used for multiple functions and purposes, synchronous, asynchronous, informal, and formal. Plus, each individual game you slide into the machine represents it’s own encapsulated system.

It is interesting to see how games attempt to – successfully or not – access broad levels of players across the different types of learning systems that games can represent. Many asynchronous and informal games give players the capability of choosing their own difficulty level. Some players choose to learn by selecting the hardest level available and learning informally through through trial and error, while some users may select the easiest level in order to learn at a slower pace. Additionally, many games give players the options to turn “Tutorials” on and off so that the experienced aren’t annoyed and the inexperienced aren’t lost. Tutorials can often add a level of formality to the virtual in-game learning process not seen in other aspects of a game.

In terms of time, synchronicity and asychronicity can impact how accessible a game is to an individual.  In terms of game-play, I personally struggle with the reflexes necessary to play more synchronous games – games where the actions such as fighting happens in “real-time”. An example of this would be the popular Halo series, where players run around shoot aliens in (mostly) real time. Synchronous games, informal and virtual learning environments, often have a hard time making themselves accessible to non-traditional gaming audiences. Many synchronous games I have played employ aspects like choosing your own difficulty level to compensate for the inherent inaccessibility of the game.

On the other hand, asynchronous games allow you the ability to pause, or present the available actions in such a way that you do not experience them in “real-time”. In Pokemon games, when a player is battling an in-game character, time pauses between each round of the fight. This gives a user extra time to make decisions and decide on a strategy. In this way, accessibility is built in. Many asynchronous games I’ve played do not allow players to choose their own difficulty – the player doesn’t need the slower combat to be easier. Instead, many asynchronous games might employ tutorials to teach players how to user their robust systems.

Whew! So now that I’ve meandered from LEM to UDL to MMOs I’m going to call it a night. I’m in awe of this course so far because it just inspired me to willingly type over seven hundred and forty words. What are you liking about the course?



2 thoughts on “Virtual Gallery Insights: Universal Design

  1. Wow! Great insights about gaming and its incredible flexibility and power as a learning environment. I think one of the things that I like most about gaming environment is the sense of learner agency they inspire. I they make you want to take control of the situation, explore options and discover new solutions. I know it’s terribly old school, but I think back to old text adventures like Zork. Even with a simple command line and extremely limited command option — North, Take, Look etc. — users were immersed as actors with consequences and impact. This is the holy grail for learning environments as far as I am concerned.


    1. I was going to link to an article I wrote title, “All you need to know about Twine Games” but it looks like the article was lost somewhere between my recent hosting switch :/

      Twine as a medium harkens back to games like Zork, they’re mostly text based games and people have done some incredibly cool things with the tool. Again, I wish I could find the article I wrote… That said, a colleague has written another good article about it here, “3 Twine Games to Introduce People to the Medium” I’m looking at this list now and wondering if some of these games are too young for you 🙂


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