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Instructional Design That Makes Sense for All Learners

  • Published: 2018-05-11 : Author: Elizabeth Barker-Voss, Kristin Basinger, Lauren Critchley, and William Stewart : Contact: University of Phoenix
  • Synopsis: Instructional design that makes sense for all learners by Elizabeth Barker-Voss, Kristin Basinger, Lauren Critchley, and William Stewart - University of Phoenix.

Main Document

Instructional Design that Benefits all Learners

New technological developments have opened the door to opportunities in distance education instruction. The widespread acceptance and availability of distance education have leveled the playing field for students with disabilities. In addition to accommodating learners with visual and auditory disabilities, those with learning disabilities are presented information in a manner that makes earning a college degree not only possible, but also a positive and rewarding experience.

In an effort to increase student engagement and retention, research has focused on the use of multimedia for instruction involving non-disabled students. Multimedia provides an avenue through which faculty can facilitate a more personal learning experience and socially connected classroom, whether or not disabilities are present. Given the dramatic increase in enrollment of students with Learning Disabilities (LD) in distance education programs over the past decade however (Simoncelli, 2010), consideration of how the use of multimedia in online classroom instruction can affect these students is warranted.

The value of integrating multimedia into the classroom lies within the improvement of student outcomes through increased engagement, accommodating multiple learning styles, and helping to bridge the psychological gap that can exist in this environment. Through sight, sound and motion, students are naturally more engaged and have a more positive overall learning experience. As this is the case, then why haven't educators made the logical shift that Section 508 is not a matter of compliance, but rather a set of standards that should be present in all classrooms, for the benefit for all students? Additionally, as the use of multimedia is commonplace in distance learning environments, why aren't all of the multimedia mediums utilized in the classroom compliant with Section 508? Where these ideas logically complement each other, there still exists a gap between theory and application.

Technology and multimedia used in the online classroom lead to an increase in student engagement and learning. Because of the increase in engaged learning, integrating multimedia into the classroom is, in fact, an essential complement to traditional pedagogy (Rackaway, 2012). Of course, for multimedia to be used and be effective, it must be accessible to all. Section 508 ensures that students can access information in the classroom. This "falls under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires that federal agencies make adjustments for those with visual, audio, mobility, and cognitive impairments" (Hudson, 2002, p. 19). Students are responsible for making the college or university aware that disabilities are present and that accommodations may be needed. This translates into the online classroom, where faculty are "responsible for ensuring their course content is compatible with the various adaptive technologies in use" (Pendergast, 2017, p. 6). Faculty must be aware of accessibility requirements and how to ensure materials are accessible to all students.

There is a perception that multimedia can be more problematic for students with LD; however, research over the past decade has shown that multimedia, particularly spoken text combined with written text and symbols or images, improves recognition and comprehension of concepts for students with LD (Zentel, Opfermann, & Krewinkel, 2007). Various technology can be made accessible by, for example, including closed captioning on videos, providing a transcript for all presentations and videos, ensuring that websites and links used in the classroom are compliant with federal guidelines, and using descriptive text to inform presence and content of graphics. By ensuring that material is accessible, online learning and its content will be more engaging for all.

Combining representational formats, particularly when including information in an auditory format, is beneficial for users with learning disabilities (Zentel, Opfermann, & Krewinkel, 2007). Students with disabilities benefit "from modern, multimedia rich online course formats," which focus on bringing information to students through the use of audio, text, graphics, animation, videos, and pictures (Stewart, Mallery, & Choi, 2010, p. 35). Because of the various ways that information can be provided in an online format, students with disabilities may find it easier to learn based on their specific learning needs. Dispensing information in a variety of modes will ensure that students of varying style can benefit from the material.

Incorporating multimedia into the classroom without an eye toward cognitive implications can diminish learning for students with LD. Slatin and Rush (2002) include the distinction "used in the right way" in describing multimedia as a critical resource for accessibility. Along with the modality effect, the redundancy effect, split attention and worked samples are Cognitive Multimedia Learning Theory principles that should be considered when designing or choosing multimedia for use in the classroom (Greer, Crutchfield, & Woods, 2013). Furthermore, Heredia (2015) explains: "The technologies a college chooses should not define or lead the way of the college [or classroom]; they should be used as an assistive, differentiated model of learning" (p.63). In conclusion, technology and multimedia is not a one size fits all approach.

Given the increased number of students identifying with an LD, educators should be creating Section 508 compliant classrooms, thereby significantly reducing or possibly eliminating the need for students to self-disclose to teachers. When considering the numerous applications of multimedia and the multitude professionals entrusted to incorporate them into the classroom, the question remains; can engaging multimedia resources be created, which will meet the full criteria, outlined in Section 508 and if so, what are the guidelines which will accomplish this task?

A future study is warranted, to identify common multimedia applications, which either meet the needs of the LD and non-LD student, but not both. Also, it would be helpful to understand the driving factor for educators incorporating multimedia in the classroom, to increase student engagement or be Section 508 compliant.


Greer, D. L., Crutchfield, S. A., & Woods, K. L. (2013). Cognitive theory of multimedia learning, instructional design principles, and students with learning disabilities in computer-based and online learning environments. Journal of Education, 193(2), 41-50. Retrieved from

Heredia, K. (2015). The effects of the flipped classroom model on student academic growth in flipped and traditional community college classrooms (Order No. 10154492). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1819980145). Retrieved from

Hudson, L. (2002). A new age of accessibility. Library Journal, 19-21.

Pendergast, M.O, (2017). Evaluating the accessibility of online university education. International Journal of Online Pedagogy and Course Design, 7(1), 1-14.

Rackaway, C. C. (2012). Video killed the textbook star?: Use of multimedia supplements to enhance student Learning. Journal of Political Science Education, 8(2), 189-200. doi:10.1080/15512169.2012.667684

Simoncelli, A., & Hinson, J. (2010). Designing online instruction for postsecondary students with learning disabilities. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 19(2), 211.

Stewart, J., Mallery, C, & Choi, J. (2010). A multilevel analysis of distance learning achievement: Are college students with disabilities making the grade?. Journal of Rehabilitation, 76(2), 27-39.

Zentel, P., Opfermann, M., & Krewinkel, J. (2007). Multimedia learning and the internet: Ensuring accessibility for people with learning disabilities. Journal of Assistive Technologies, 1(1), 22-32. doi:10.1108/17549450200700005.

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