Multiple means of representation is one of the three principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Teachers and other educators can use multiple means of representation to make their lessons accessible to a wide variety of learners.
Multiple Means of Representation
Multiple means of representation refers to presenting information in multiple ways. Teachers use this principle when they find more than one way to explain a concept or provide information.
For example, in early elementary school, students learn about three-dimensional shapes. Teachers may explain this concept through two-dimensional diagrams drawn to look three-dimensional. When teachers use this method of representation, they expect all their students to perceive how each diagram relates to the shape it represents. However, this method of teaching is not accessible for many students with print disabilities. Teachers may try to teach these students using tactile copies of the diagrams. Nonetheless, these tactile images show how a shape looks, rather than how it feels. As a result, students who do not learn visually may never understand how a diagram’s lines and angles represent three-dimensional space.
Alternatively, teachers can present the concept of three-dimensional shapes by making three-dimensional models out of paper. Folding the paper could give students with print disabilities a clear understanding of viewing a whole shape in terms of sides, edges, and corners. In addition, other students in the same class gain the chance to look at shapes in a different way, and to engage in a learning activity instead of simply observing.
If teachers can present this lesson in both ways, students have more opportunities to learn in ways that work best for them.
More Ways to Represent Lessons
Some other ways educators can represent the content of lessons or course readings are:
- Handouts with paragraphs and charts
- Videos with captions of audio and descriptions for visuals
- PowerPoint presentations with speaking notes and alternative-text (alt-text) image descriptions
Alt-text descriptions are brief written explanations of images that people include in presentations. These descriptions do not appear visually in a presentation. However, if a student reads a copy of the presentation with their screen reader, they can access any alt-text that the presenter has added to images. Writing these descriptions can help teachers plan lessons. While writing alt-text, teachers have the chance to think in advance about:
- What elements of an image they want to draw students’ attention to
- Why that image is important to the lesson
Educators can also produce lesson resources that easily adapt to students’ accommodation needs. For instance, handouts created in Microsoft Word or another text-based program are easy to print in Braille or read with screen readers. On the other hand, formats like PDF or Google Docx are less accessible.
Multiple means of representation help teachers plan and deliver lessons that more students can learn from.