Introducing the 3-part Series for CompetencyWorks

The Essential Question for this series was:

“How can we create an inclusive learning culture with equity at the center?”


Part 1: Understanding the Pedagogy of a Learning Science to Nurture an Inclusive Learning Culture (

April 4, 2018 by

Creating a culture of learning and inclusivity, a non-negotiable for competency-based schools, is a tall ordereducational equity defined for most K-12 public school systems. As schools move from a traditional system to a personalized, competency-based system, we need to evaluate the tools we have used around learners and learning and teachers and teaching, and understand how a learning science can be used to nurture and build a culture of learning and inclusivity. One approach that is based on research in the learning sciences and that has been around for over 25 years is Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

The question is: What does it really mean to use a UDL lens? This three-part series explores how Universal Design for Learning can strengthen teaching and reinforce a culture where every learner feels that they are valued, belong, and is learning.

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Part 2:  Discover the Learner – Building the Skills of Agency and Self-Advocacy Using the UDL Lens (

April 10, 2018 by

A core objective of personalized, competency-based schools that is described in the Teaching and Design 3 stepprocess to develop agencyPrinciple “Activate Student Agency and Ownership,” is to cultivate agency, “the ability to direct one’s course in life.” (See Designing for Equity for an overview of the design principles.) If we are to realize a personalized, competency-based system that nurtures and develops agency with each learner, then we do need to look at how a school could achieve that. You see, once a learner develops agency, he or she can self-advocate for the way they learn for a lifetime and “lead their own learning trajectory.”

Changing Perceptions: Every Child a Learner

How do we begin to help every learner develop agency? For educators to think about how agency can be realized by every learner, we need to explore how children may be perceived currently in the classroom and how children may perceive themselves.

Schools have spent the last four decades labeling children with specific identifications based upon school evaluations. As a long time educator, it is evident that with these labels, perceptions of these children’s learning capabilities evolve. On a daily basis in almost every school, we are often responding to children based on our perceptions. At the same time, many children are comparing themselves to other children. This is common behavior for children to compare themselves to others, all the time developing a perception that they are different and do not learn like other children. It does not take long for some children to develop their own perceptions that they are not learners, a stigma that sometimes lasts for years, if not a lifetime.

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Part 3: Understanding and Meeting Learners Where They Are using the UDL Lens (

April 17, 2018 by

This is the third in a three part series by Kathleen McClaskey, co-author of Make Learning Personal and How to Personalize LearningRead the first and second posts.

In the CompetencyWorks paper based on the 2017 National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education, Designing for Equity, one of the four key issues in advancing competency-based education is “meeting students where they are.” It describes that a high quality competency-based system connects learning in relationships and requires educators to understand their learners as individuals and then select strategies based upon that knowledge. Before we look at how to meet learners where they are, let’s review what has presented in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

In Part 1, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) was introduced as the pedagogical approach based on the learning sciences to create an inclusive learning culture with educational equity at the center. In Part 2, we described how using the UDL Lens of Access, Engage and Expresstm can help build the skills of agency and self-advocacy for every learner in addition to creating partnerships in learning, an essential element for a high quality competency-based system. In the this last part of this series, the focus is how do we know where learners are, what do we do once we know where learners are, and how do we move them forward?

In order to meet learner where they are, districts and schools need to create a learning culture that is built from a shared pedagogical philosophy based on the learning sciences that will enable strong partnerships in learning. This learning culture must recognize that every individual is a learner and is valued in the community, and that each learner will have a voice to share ideas and opinions and will be supported to take risks. The next question is…

How do we know where learners are?

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Cross-posted from EdCircuit, September 14, 2017 Issue

Everyone is a Storyteller

Personalize learning by empowering every learner to tell their story

by Kathleen McClaskey

As we embark on a new era where we plan to transform education by creating learner-centered environments and have learners take ownership of their learning, we need to first empower all learners to tell their story and how they learn. Where do you begin?

Personalized Learning Always Starts with the Learner

It is the beginning of the school year and you have been handed a list of your learners along with a set of numerical data that has been collected based upon their standardized tests over the last few years. What does this data tell you? It probably contains information about the strengths and weaknesses the learner has in literacy and numeracy and it may include how they are performing at grade levels. In some cases, you may be able to locate in your school’s data system the specific competencies your learner has mastered. But does all this information tell you how this learner actually learns? Consider the personal learning data: the strengths, challenges, preferences and needs in learning, the social and emotional side to learning, the affective side of learning.



Cross-posted from ASCD Educational Leadership, March 2017 Issue

by Kathleen McClaskey

Educators can use Universal Design for Learning to personalize instruction and realize the promise of learner agency.

What do we promise our learners as they enter the schoolhouse door each day? As we strive to educate all young people to become independent and self-directed learners so they have choices in college, career, and life, our promise must be for each child to develop learner agency. How can we fulfill that promise?


The Answer: Personalization

Personalization, or what is more commonly known as personalized learning, offers a great opportunity for learners to take ownership of their learning and acquire skills to direct and advocate for their own educations. Still, there is a great deal of confusion about what personalization is and what it means for teaching and learning.

A few years ago, my colleague Barbara Bray and I defined and described the differences between personalization, differentiation, and individualization in a chart. In summary, the distinct difference between these terms is that personalization is learner-centered, whereas differentiation and individualization are teacher-centered. With personalization, the student actively participates in the design of his or her learning and demonstrates mastery of the content in a competency-based system. With differentiation and individualization, the teacher designs the instruction and monitors the learning. The clear advantage of personalization is that the student is proactive in setting goals, monitoring progress, and assessing and supporting his or her own learning.

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Cross-posted from Education Reimagined’s Pioneering Issue, September 8, 2016

The UDL Lens: Empower Teachers and Learners to Transform Education

by Kathleen McClaskey

If we want to transform education and have each learner develop agency, personalized learning needs to start with the learner.

TRANSFORMING EDUCATION SO THAT EVERY LEARNER IS EMPOWERED TO DIRECT THEIR LEARNING and experience a great education is a vision we can all embrace. We have transformational models around the country where learner-centered, personalized learning environments are creating proactive learners—directing their unique learning experiences and monitoring their progress, while simultaneously using the latest technologies to support their learning.

In these models, trust and respect are embedded in the school culture. These characteristics are developed in schools where teachers are empowered to create learner-centered environments relevant to their community of learners and to personalize their professional learning where they are designing their learning experiences.

But the big question is, how can we transform education so that every learner gains the skills to be a self-directed, independent learner—a learner with agency?

Personalized Learning Starts with the Learner

First and foremost, we must believe that “every child on the planet is a learner.” Creating learner-centered environments begins with that belief. For too long, we have been using learning styles to determine how a child learns—labeling them as visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners. Over the last 40 years, the research around learning styles has shown that these labels perpetuate the stereotyping of learners (Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 2008). As a result, many children have developed a fixed mindset on how they learn. It is also common practice to use these labels in developing how we perceive who these learners are or who they could be.

If we want to transform education and have each learner develop agency, personalized learning needs to start with the learner. So, we need to turn the page from “learning styles” to neuroscience, which shows us how we actually learn.

Over two decades ago, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) was introduced by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) as a set of three principles, based on the study of neuroscience, to guide the design of learning environments and curricula that could reduce the barriers to learning and maximize the levels of support and challenge to all learners. For the UDL principles to be used in practice by both teacher and learner—such that they would become a part of the common language—new terms needed to be developed. Thus, in 2012, Personalize Learning introduced the UDL lens of Access, Engage, and Express.

• Access for Multiple Means of Representation

• Engage for Multiple Means of Engagement

• Express for Multiple Means of Action and Expression