I recently read an article for my Universal Design for Learning graduate course on a fun, universally-designed playground and it has completely changed my expectations for how I build my online courses.

Designing a universally designed playground, is a great example of how universal design doesn’t have to be boring. To be honest, before this article, I thought UDL was always going to make the course a bit boring. Where is the joy in going through learning if everything is clearly mapped out for the user. In that instance, there is no  joy of discovery. I have come to a new realization after having taught high schools and built online courses for adults. There is no joy in discovery.

Most folks want to simply get into the learning with the fewest barriers as possible. There is should be few to no barriers to learning. Like within the example of the park, students who are in wheelchairs, should still have access to the higher platforms. In courses, the pathways forward should be accessible and clearly labeled.

Now, where my view expanded more was with the way that the designers of the playground were creative with their approach. My initial idea of designing an accessible playground would be to make the modifications but do it so that they would be clearly visible; a set of separate stairs or ride-on elements that were clearly meant to be accessible.

If I were in charge of the playground, I would have added things that were clearly meant to be universally accessible and utterly boring. I have now uncovered the truth that anyone can add accessible elements as additional items to a park, but it takes someone skilled in design to make it look seamless.

Good course design is similar to that park. That all the components of the course need to be made accessible but designed to be seamless. For example, if a PDF is uploaded, it could be made accessible by having it converted so that it can be viewed by OCR readers. Or adding alt text to an online image. Most viewers will never know what alt text is or read it. But, if an image fails to load, the alt text provides a safety net that will make sure everyone has access to the image context.

Bad park design, like bad course design, is the result of lack of skill, sloppiness, or laziness. After seeing the park, I have greater expectations for the courses I design and build. UD courses should be simple, intuitive, and fun. There is no excuse for boring learning.