Universal Design for Learning, Differentiated Instruction, and Workplace Literacy
International Consultant in Adult Education
Workplace literacy education can involve a wide range of abilities among adult learners. In designing a literacy program it is important to incorporate a number of teaching tactics and strategies that can address these individual differences. This is the primary idea behind Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which emphasizes the use of various technologies to provide alternative learning materials/methods for different learners, and Differentiated Instruction (DI), which emphasizes the use of alternative teaching methods/materials for individuals within a classroom or other learning contexts.
A search of literature on adult literacy education has revealed little research on the use of UDL or DI in adult basic education (ABE), with a particular dearth of research that would meet standards of experimental research as called for by the U. S. Department of Education?s Institute of Education Sciences. To address this lack, I will describe R & D which I directed some forty years ago that involved aspects of UNL and DI, though the work was not referred to in these terms when originally conducted.
Listening as a Substitute for Reading
During the Vietnam war I was asked to conduct research on the possibility of teaching low literate soldiers using listening instead of reading. I had been doing research on ?reading by listening? with blind students and it seemed likely that some of that research could be used in designing research with poorly reading, sighted soldiers.
In conducting job analyses to find out how listening and reading skills were used on the job, my team found that less literate soldiers were more likely to access information by listening than by reading, and the tendency to rely more on reading increased as reading ability increased. In laboratory studies, we found that teaching job-related knowledge first by listening transferred to improve reading comprehension of job materials. These studies suggested the use of listening as a substitute for reading in a literacy course using audio recordings and playback technologies. This is consistent with contemporary ideas from UDL. It also lead to the design of instruction in which learners worked in peer teams of two or three and orally discussed vocabulary words from job materials, in a practice consistent with ideas from DI.
Reading Skills of Personnel
One of the things we discovered in studying the reading skills of personnel was that higher ability readers were much better than low ability reader sin identifying words, sentences, and paragraphs when they were typed running together without any punctuation, spaces or other cues to their beginning or end. Furthermore, the weakest readers who could decode words fairly well had a great deal of trouble comprehending sentences and larger segments of texts such as paragraphs. So in designing our literacy program we incorporated training in the use of a simple grammar for parsing and comprehending sentences and this was used with those learners having problems with comprehension at the sentence level. This is consistent with the ideas of DI that are in contemporary use in some ABE classrooms.
Literacy and Graphics Technology
In examining the types of literacy materials personnel used job training and on the job we found a number of different types of materials such as tables (matrices), pictures, flow charts for troubleshooting and following procedural directions and others. We therefore incorporated different types of instruction using these types of representations of information for helping learners comprehend paragraph and longer text materials. We taught personnel to read a 300 word passage on the four life saving steps and to then draw a picture of what they were reading. Next, we asked them to flow chart the material. With these multiple transformations of the information from text-base, to pictographic, to flow charts the learners mastered paragraph and longer text materials. We also had some materials that were read and used to construct tables (matrices) with rows and columns for sorting information in complex passages into organized categories in the matrix. This use of graphic organizers is consistent with both UDL and DI ideas.
In addition to the foregoing instructional techniques, we also incorporated DI in the form of a strand of curriculum that was self-paced so learners could proceed at their own rate of learning.
Evaluation of the literacy program included a quasi-experimental design in which the job-related program was compared to the existing general literacy programs that the Army provided. We found that the experimental program produced as much or more improvements on a general reading test as the comparison program made, and we made three to five times the gain in job-related reading as made by the general literacy programs. The experimental program was then implemented in all Army training programs across the nation with similar results, indicating that the effectiveness was not limited to our R & D team. Finally, an external evaluation by the American Institutes for Research reported that the program was effective and exemplary.
Need for More Research
The foregoing research is the only work I have found in adult literacy education that incorporates aspects of UDL, DI, and follows a quasi-experimental research method and includes replication across the nation and an external evaluation. Clearly there is a need for further research on these various instructional methods in adult literacy contexts beyond the military workplace literacy program reported here.
Thomas G. Sticht
International Consultant in Adult Education
2062 Valley View Blvd.
El Cajon, CA 92019-2059
Tel/Fax: (619) 444-9133