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In the model proposed by UbD, learning content is the central element of the third stage of Backward Design: it is what we create to provide learners with the elements to deal with assessment tests and activities constructed on the basis of the learning objectives. Not only that, it is also the part of the learning journey where the influence of DI is most immediate.

In this module, we will focus on a particular aspect of content that is relevant to the inclusive classroom: its accessibility, declined in three types of content: text, images and audio-video.

Secondly, we will consider the learning environment, in particular reasoning about what is possible in a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

Accessible learning content for Differentiated Instruction

True accessibility is not easy to achieve: there are multiple sets of guidelines, numerous reference standards, but above all there are users (and learners) who are different, variable - as we saw in Module 2 with the UDL framework.

A very common risk is that of not knowing where to start: there are so many problems to tackle, so many barriers to remove, that it is not possible to think of facing and solving all of them at once.

In this module, we will focus specifically on some universally valid measures to improve the accessibility of one's own materials, considering three types of content: text, graphics and audio-video. A special attention will be given to the specific content type represented by slides, as they are a convenient way to aggregate the above mentioned types of content into a unique support for classroom presentations. The three main types of content are quickly described here and then discussed in more detail in section 4.2.


Textual content refers to written information that can be displayed and read. It includes documents, articles, lecture notes, slides, and any other form of written communication. When improving accessibility for text, measures may include using clear and concise language, ensuring proper heading structure for easy navigation, and using appropriate font sizes and colour contrasts for readability.


With “graphics” we will refer to visual elements such as images, diagrams, charts, and illustrations. Making graphics accessible - in most accessibility guidelines - means providing alternative descriptions or captions for images, allowing individuals with visual impairments to understand the content through screen readers or text-based alternatives. But there is more to know, for example about the possibility to make an image interactive, or how to build graphics like schemes and diagrams that are truly understandable for all.


Audio-video content involves multimedia elements, including audio recordings, videos, and presentations. To improve accessibility for audio-video content, providing captions or transcripts is crucial. Captions are text-based representations of the spoken dialogue and relevant audio elements, while transcripts provide a written version of the entire audio or video content. This allows individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to access the information, but has positive implications for many other categories, i.e. students who just prefer reading over watching a video, to skim through text more effectively. Additionally, ensuring good audio quality, clear visuals, and easy navigation enhances the overall accessibility of audio-video content.

By considering these three types of content and implementing appropriate accessibility measures, all individuals can have equal access to educational materials, fostering an inclusive learning environment. Differentiating content means providing multiple ways to access it, on both a sensory and strategic level.

Setting up a learning environment for Differentiated Instruction

Setting up a learning environment for DI involves creating a space that accommodates the diverse needs, and abilities of students. The environment can be digital, but also face-to-face. As the possibility to directly change the physical environment is often very limited, or even outside the powers of a HE teacher, digital learning environments allow a certain degree of flexibility. There are many ways of thinking about online learning environments, but three approaches have become widespread in this field. A VLE (Virtual Learning Environment), a PLE (Personal Learning Environment), and a PLN (Personal Learning Network) are different concepts related to learning and technology. Here's an overview of each term and the distinctions between them:

Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)

A VLE refers to a web-based platform or software system that facilitates online learning and course management. It is typically used by educational institutions to deliver and manage educational materials, resources, and activities. VLEs provide a centralized platform for instructors to create and organize course content, communicate with students, administer assessments, and facilitate interactions and collaborations among learners. Examples of VLEs include Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, and Google Classroom. VLEs are institution-driven and often used within formal educational settings.

Personal Learning Environment (PLE)

A PLE refers to the collection of tools, resources, and networks that an individual learner uses to pursue their own personal learning goals. It is a learner-centric approach that emphasizes the autonomy and agency of the learner in selecting and organizing their learning resources and activities. A PLE is typically composed of a combination of online tools, software applications, websites, social media platforms, personal files, and other resources that the learner finds useful for their learning process. PLEs allow learners to personalize their learning experience based on their preferences and interests.

Personal Learning Network (PLN)

A Personal Learning Network (PLN) consists of individuals, but also includes tools and platforms that facilitate learning and knowledge sharing. In a PLN, individuals make use of various services to connect, collaborate, and access resources. These tools and platforms play a crucial role in enabling communication, information sharing, and engagement within the network. Some common elements that contribute to PLNs include Social Media, Online Communities and Forums, Blogging and Microblogging Platforms, Content Aggregation Tools like RSS readers and Online Learning Platforms as MOOCs.

These services, along with the individuals within the network, collectively form a Personal Learning Network, as they enable individuals to connect, exchange information, collaborate, and access a wide range of resources to support their ongoing learning and professional development.

The digital learning environment is thus the place where content is organised and made available in different ways. In this module we will reflect on some possible useful elements to consider for the setup of an online learning environment that can truly support both the indications coming from UbD and the issues posed by DI.

In this module we have learned:

Various types of content require differentiated solutions to overcome barriers and promote accessibility.

Different approaches to the design and conceptualization of a learning environment can generate different learning scenarios.

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