The future of Learning: Educating people with diverse needs 

By February 20, 2018March 13th, 2018No Comments

It is becoming increasingly important to consider diverse audiences when designing robust learning that will prove to be sustainable. Many of us become narrow in our thinking when we’re busting to satisfy performance criteria or some other bureaucratic overlay that has come to characterise education.

While I’m not completely disregarding the need for structure, we do need to consider that education is more than the expectations we set. We need to consider the learner in all of this. Who are our learners in a modern Australian economy? What can we do to reach as many of these learners as possible?

International students make up a significant proportion of our learning community in higher education in Australia. People of different abilities and from varying socio-economic backgrounds, cultures and age groups are more involved in learning owing to digitisation and the growth and popularity of adult learning. If we haven’t already, we need to review our learning methods to meet the growing demands of a diverse audience.

If we want to truly see ourselves as educators of the future, there are several enhancements we can make to education to improve its universal appeal and accessibility. Here are some strategies BRG Learning and Development has discovered in its research and considers when designing learning:

  • Make the curriculum, learning resources and digital content accessible for people with diverse needs by applying universal design principles and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
  • Understand that education should be ‘portable’; geared toward developing skills that will translate across a number of cultural contexts. For example, evaluation and analysis moves students away from traditional, rote learning methods. Critical thinking is a transferable skill no matter what language is used.
  • Use case studies and examples that represent global thinking and diversity, not just strongly localised case studies or examples that are biased toward Western countries. Many Australian education providers present examples that are primarily Australian, North American or European.
  • Refrain from overusing slang, jargon and culturally specific humour that could be inaccessible for some students – unless time is taken to explain the reference. Speak to a universal audience and invite the opinions of students of different backgrounds.
  • Represent learning in multiple formats; lectures, digital resources, audio-visual recordings, group work, discussion and workbooks – to ensure a range of experiences for different learners and to increase capacity for understanding.
  • Use ‘content chunking’ to ensure information is logically ordered and links to a clear, unmistakable point or concept. Also use tools like concept maps to offer visual representations of content that will be covered.
  • Support readings or audio-visual material with questions to help students build a summary of ‘must knows’. ‘Should knows’ and ‘nice to knows’ are secondary to ‘must knows’. Focus mostly on students grasping the ‘must knows’ first.
  • Define key terms and explain key concepts when they are first introduced. Offer glossaries and summaries to clarify what needs to be remembered.
  • Problems regarding referencing and plagiarism can occur when students have not yet developed the necessary skills to cite, paraphrase and synthesise information. Students may need support in applying these skills in formal writing tasks.
  • By tying learning to a ‘real-world’ project, you make the learning both personal and practical for students. This can help to break down cultural barriers and expose students to myriad ideas and support via new networks and connections.
  • Ensure advice and any feedback on performance and assessment is explicit and specific. Ask questions to clarify that what has been communicated is understood and make reasonable adjustments to ensure tasks are accessible, if required.
  • Encourage peer to peer learning and online discussion forums that allow students access to support in less formal, more relaxed ways. Also ensure formal avenues for support and guidance are made clear.

If you have any tips or recommendations for teaching diverse audiences, we’d love to know! Please get in touch or comment and share your thoughts below.

Arkoudis, S n.d., Teaching International Students: Strategies to enhance learning. Centre for the study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne, viewed 19 April 2017, <

CAST 2011, Universal Design Guidelines for Learning 2.0, UDL, viewed 19 April 2017 < http://www.udlcenter.org/sites/udlcenter.org/files/updateguidelines2_0.pdf>

Henry, S & Dick, W (eds) 2011, WCAG At a Glance, Web Accessibility Initiative, WC3, viewed 19 April 2017, < https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/glance/>

Leanne Roulston – THINKA Co-founder, Learning

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