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Popular Learning Designs: What's the Difference and How to Implement

There's so much research and information swirling around about different learning designs and the benefits/disadvantages of each that it can get confusing to differentiate. Use this guide to help you decide where you stand on effective modes of teaching for your desired goals in the classroom.

Universal Design for Learning

What it is: The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a learning model intended to engage all learners in the classroom regardless of ability in order to provide individuals with an equal opportunity to learn. This means that UDL is essentially the opposite of personalized learning in that it ensures the teacher can reach the brightest learners and the lowest performers at the same time, including special needs studies and English language learners (ELL).

Principles: According to TEAL, UDL framework is founded on three principles: Multiple means of representation, multiple means of action and expression, and multiple means of engagement. In other words, several options for learners to receive information, demonstrate what they know, and motivate them to learn more.

To Implement: Check out The National Center for Universal Design of Learning's site to see ways to implement all three principles in your classroom.

Project-Based Learning

What it is: Using projects as means of teaching and assessments to thoroughly engage and immerse students in the content.

"If traditional education is classical, PBL is jazz. In a PBL classroom, teachers present problems that students must solve together in groups. Rather than reciting facts and hoping some of them stick, teachers give students the resources they need to research concepts and apply them in a practical form," according to

Principles: Teach Thought  describes four "must-follow" rules when using PBL in the classroom.

First, the site says "learning spaces" must be designated to "set the tone." By providing a central area where students can work and express ideas, engagement and organization is promoted. Learning spaces will differ based on the subject of the project based learning, as science projects will likely need more space than English ones.

Next, it says students will need access to information through supplies and resources such as internet access. The third rule is using that technology with a purpose and to monitor against distraction.

Finally, Teach Thought says teachers must be willing to act "as the ultimate resource."

"Unlike traditional classrooms where teachers follow a set curriculum, PBL classrooms are by nature unpredictable and, to an extent, student-guided. Teachers must be flexible, supportive and engaged in the learning process, even if they sometimes feel like spectators," the site says. 

To Implement: According to Edutopia, in order to implement PBL, educators must ensure they know the difference between PBL and just having students do projects. Educators must be teaching through a project, not just having students finish assignments. Starting small and a lot of planning, the site says, helps to make PBL successful. 

Blended Learning

What it is: Blended learning is seen as a way to personalize education for students and though its definition is complex, can be defined simply as delivery of education partly through online content with some student control over time and partly in a supervised location away from home, according to The Clayton Christensen Institute.  

There are several different models to blended learning and sub-models to these, so it goes to show blended learning has lots of ways to be practiced and implemented across different classrooms.

Principles: Mindshift has defined several principles necessary for blended learning to function. To start, it says every school needs a vision for "how technology will enhance learning goals." A common theme with blended learning and most learning models is to not let technology be over-used to the point where purpose is defeated and distraction is prevalent.

Next, the site says every school needs to keep its specific student population and their needs in mind when designing blended learning.

Finally, the site tells administrators that teacher input and briefing is essential to understanding needs and how the new learning design is functioning.

To Implement: In order to implement a successful blended learning in your classroom/school, check out these five examples of blended learning success stories. Research on the benefits of blended learning in general is inconclusive because it varies so much on a case by case basis, but do your own research to find out how similar classrooms are making it work. 

Compiled by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor