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Minimizing Threats and Distractions in Universal Design for Learning

Minimizing threats and distractions is a universal design for learning (UDL) guideline that supports multiple means of engagement. The UDL guidelines were developed by an organization called CAST. This article will explore how teachers and other educators can reduce distractions and other classroom elements that compromise learning.

Minimizing threats and distractions in Universal Design for Learning

Minimizing threats and distractions means providing all learners with options that optimize their learning environment. For instance, learners differ in their needs for:

  • Routine
  • Sensory stimulation

While constant routine helps some learners focus, it creates restlessness in other learners. Likewise, some learners find sensory stimulation, such as noise or lighting, engaging, while other learners find it intrusive or overwhelming. Learners constantly in the wrong environment for them must focus on avoiding distractions. Conversely, learners in a less threatening or distracting environment can concentrate on what they are learning.

Strategies for Minimizing Threats and Distractions

Teachers can use many strategies for minimizing threats and distractions. For instance, teachers can create changes in routine for learners who need them, such as:

  • Changing the order of subjects taught
  • Providing different media and lengths of time for lectures and in-class work
  • Changing types of assignments or methods of assessment
  • Offering breaks for different lengths of time

However, other learners may find these constant changes in routine threatening or distracting. As a result, teachers can provide these learners with schedules or charts that outline changing routines and other singular events in the school day. These outlines will help learners prepare for changes in timing or types of activities, as well as transitions between them.

Similarly, teachers can provide a variety of sensory stimulation for learners who find it helpful. For example, some learners may find that white noise helps them focus, and could benefit from listening to it through headphones as they work. In contrast, other learners could find background noise in the classroom. Noise buffers could provide these learners with a quieter environment that allows them to concentrate.

Likewise, learners vary in their tolerance for group activities. Teachers can support all learners by varying the level of social participation required in the classroom and in assignments, such as cycling between:

  • Class discussions
  • Group work
  • Individual projects or papers
  • Presentations in front of the class

This variety of options creates a learning environment that accepts and welcomes the differing needs of all learners.