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Universal Instructional Design and Augmented Reality

Universal Instructional Design (UID) coupled with the advent of mobile learning that can truly go almost anywhere and has the potential to be an “anytime, anywhere” learning tool is an area that is getting a lot of hype these days, but can also be a value learning tool. Our 21st century lifestyle effects all learners, even learners perhaps at the top of the food chain such as faculty at an ivy league university. Time and attention are the commodities of the day and creating learning interfaces that can capture attention and present information in pre-packaged and highly structured and efficient servings can be a way to cut through the chatter and get a learners attention.

The Project: In my project, the critical delverable is to clearly present the steps involved in developing, writing, and submitting a teaching case study for a newly constructed case study series website to be used as a resource for teaching and as an avenue for publication for facutly. In building that site and trying to get it populated with fully developed teaching case studies it became obvious that I needed to develop a seperate linked site to instruct faculty on all the elements necessary for a well constructed teaching case study. We had developed a lengthy document on the subject but nobody had the time to invest in reading it, and even when they did read it, the submissions we were getting did not have ally the elements needed and required extensive revisions and development and we still did not have any case studies for our site. 

The solution: The idea for a seperate instructional site for faculty to quickly understand the elements necessary for a good teaching case study and how and where to submit thier case studies provided that answer to the problem.  In thinking about how to construct this instructional website and what to include I realized it also provided a good example of some of the principles of UID, namely to make it readily accessible and straightforward, explicit, accessible and accommodates learners. In this case, the accommodations made are to address time constraints and the accessibility issue addressed is one of access to information in a format that enables easy and efficient delivery of knowledge in bite sized pieces that can be learned anywhere and anytime.

Multimedia Principle: This lead me to look at UID in a new way and to incorporate additional constraints on learning in terms of time and location. The idea that learning can take place, anytime and anyplace expands the definition of universal to include the remotest learners. Mobile, like other online learning uses educational tools, that gives access to education for all, which is the backbone of universal design principals. Now it is possible to design learning experiences and environments that meet all the tenants of UID, to be accessible and fair, flexible, straightforward, consistent, explicit or readily perceived, supportive and requiring minimal physical effort and provides a learning space that accommodates all students and instructional methods. (Palmer, 2003, p 3) and bring those learning experiences not only to a diverse learning community in respect to socio-economic differences, physical differences, cultural and religious differences, differences in the level of education and differences in abilities, but also now differences in physical location. This truly expands access to learning opportunities.

Universal Instructional Design seeks to expand the limits and access to learning and is an inclusive approach welcoming and encouraging students with “diverse backgrounds, experiences, and abilities” and like the general trend in our society to extend and expand access to our basic human rights, access to education for all, even those living in the remotest reaches can now have the benefit of access to education.

Often, UID is thought of in relation to educational access for people with disabilities, visual, hearing, motor or cognitive barriers, and much of the design principles address the concerns of making learning accessible to these individuals, designing interfaces that take into account peoples possible barriers and providing tools to work around those barriers such as closed captioning for hearing impaired, or screen readers for the visually impaired, but the geographically challenged individual is not able to access some educational resources as well. Field trips to local museums are the norm for most elementary students living anywhere near a fairly large city but if you live out in the middle of nowhere, a museum or cultural institution is not going to be in your future 

Mobile learning, is a new buzzword in instructional design and many apps have been developed to innovate instruction and create more bite sized learning opportunities appropriate for mobile devises. One type of app I’ve been exploring recently have found extremely exciting and useful for mobile learning are the so called “augmented reality” (AR) app like Aurasma. With AR, graphical triggers can be embedded within a text that will then display animations and videos related to that graphic.  This truly makes the text come alive, and touches many of the principals of UID, such as straightforward and easily perceived, flexible, accessible and fair. AR can be used to trigger video assets of a lecture by an subject matter expert, or it can be used to create virtual field trips to places many students would never be able to get to for whatever reason. a field trip to a local museum can be as close are the end of your arm with a smartphone or ipad and the experience is novel enough to cut through even the most bored and apathetic student. The added benefit is that it’s also really fun and engaging. Additionally, animations can aid in learning and be more accessible. As mentioned in E-Learning and the Science of Instruction, animations can serve "an interpretive function when designed with special effects that reveal relationships not otherwise visible" which provide "high interest" details and therefore learners pay more attention and learn more.

Check out this short video on how to use Aurasma, one of the many free AR apps available.


I'm hoping to use the technology in my next conference program to trigger a "flipped classroom" video for one of the sessions being presented where we need the participants to view some material in advance of the session. I’ll tell you how it goes if it works out so stay tuned.


Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2011). E-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning. Third Edition. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Palmer, J., and Caputo, A. The Universal Instructional Design Implementation Guide. University of Guelph: Ontario, Canada. Retrieved from http://www.cer.jhu.edu/pdf/uid-implementation-guide-v6.pdf





  • Teresa Worman

    Well, we are a perfect example of learners with geographic needs and so glad universities like ESC have these kinds of online learning environments and programs - otherwise I would be trying to find something similar in the Chicago area.

    I thought your conversation about mobile learning definitely warrants more discussion. More and more people are using mobile devices for much of the online experiences, even with their iPhones. It would be interesting to be able to create bits of online learning that could work on such devises, although there would be some real accessibility issues, especially for individuals with visual impairments. I don't know how you could create text with large enough print to be effective on the small mobile screens. But, as with any online, e-learning, virtual or AR instruction, we have to choose what e-learning environments would be best for any given topic or skill being taught - when would those methods add greater value than in more traditional settings? Interesting video you included. Would like to learn more about the Aurasma technique - although, personally, I did find his video a bit disorienting and hard to follow. What is interesting is that I watched it the first time on the same screen format and the prompts were almost too small to see. Using full screen mode helped but it definitely showed me the difficulties of how that might show up on an iPhone - creating things that show up small will be tricky. Thanks for raising this issue.

  • Maja Anderson

    There are other reseouces to learn about AR apps including Aurasma. I picked this one because he gave an overview and it was a low tech, cheaply produced video. Some of the videos are very glitzy and highly produced and show the commercial aspects of how AR can be used which I don't have any interest in. Yes, AR can be used to promote a brand through a logo graphic, or and ad in a magazine and these are often what is depicted in the videos you can find online, but AR can also bring something to life for an elementary student who is bored by text on a page, or a geographically challenged student learning about something they physically can't get to in person, and through a device they carry around with them all the time.

    Regarding the other issues of UID, it's true these tiny mobile devises are not appropriate as a delivery device for those with visual handicaps except where additional accommodations are included like audio and alt tags for screen readers. I imagine there are such things for smartphones already. Actually, I just googled that and found a ton of links that are fascinating. Here's one: http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/06/02/smartphone-accessibility-for-the-blind/2373611/


  • Teresa Worman

    Thank you so much for sharing that link, Maja. What great information just in general for understanding what is out there for accessibility possibilities. I am so amazed at the apps and features of technology these days that are building in universal design! As the gentleman said, sometimes it takes advocates and laws to encourage companies to offer accessible design and the consumers are ready to use them. And I could see many of those features used by any of us.

  • Marjorie Thompson

    This Aurasma app looks really great-I might try to use it in the learning environment that I am working on. I really like how it seems like it could be integrated into an environment so that a person could move their mouse over a photo or visual to various areas and go into video screen with instructions. 

    There are really great things for people with Smartphones. I have to say that this is kind of an access issue because there are so many people who don't have a Smartphone. This is definately an area that I have to become more familiar with.

    I think your project sounds really interesting. Time is definately on limited supply. Maybe you should make animations or something which breaks the material up into smaller amounts of information. Including something to motivate faculty to include case studies would help but I don't know what that would be.

    I am looking forward to seeing how this progresses. Thanks for the interesting information.

  • Maja Anderson

    Yes, the issue of uneven access is a big one. I never had a smart phone (not even a cell phone) until it was required by my job. It's an expense I could not have taken on. 

    I acutally don't mean to use AR with the project I'm working on for this course. I'm sure my blog post was confusing in that regard since I mostly got carried away with how cool AR is and want to use it. I'm going to use if for an unrelated conference where we want all the particants to view certain content before hand and thought this would be a cool way to get them to do that. We'll have it accessible in other ways so this would not be the only way to access the content. It's a conference that is partically about technology so I wanted to use a newish technology somewhere. We'll see if it works

  • Mark Lewis

    I subscribe to an e-mail list from Metaio AR - http://www.metaio.com/

    They often have interesting web cast examples and have free (watermarked) software.

  • Maja Anderson

    Thank you for the link. I'll check it out.