Balanced Instructional Support and Challenge in Universally Designed Learning Environments

Chuck Hitchcock, M.Ed.
Chief Technology Officer, CAST/Director, National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum

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This draft was prepared for the 4th Technology Project Directors Conference, "Look to the Future: TechIDEA’s that Work for Learners with Disabilities" held on January 31-February 2, 2001. This futures paper was written with support from the National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). Opinions expressed herein are those of the author.

This article is also available online from JSET. Links below will open in new browser window.



In 1958, my father and I armed ourselves with paper and pencil and sat down at the kitchen table to design the world’s first perpetual motion machine.The truth is we didn’t get much further than drawing some high-speed, low-friction gyroscopes, but we had some interesting conversations.

It is now the year 2000, and just a few nights ago I confronted a similar scenario when my own son asked about inventing an anti-gravity machine for a science project. Knowing just how impossible an endeavor this was, I quickly steered him away to some alternatives. Although we did generate a few good ideas, it occurred to me that I might not have developed an enduring interest in learning, science, and technology if my dad had responded in the same way that I just did.

Fast-forward to 2006. My younger son comments that it would be cool if we each had our own personal flying device to avoid automotive gridlock and wonders if that might make a good topic for a school project. To investigate his idea further we generate a few related questions and query NetLearner to see what kind of information is available.

From NetLearner my son is surprised to discover that Michelangelo thought about similar issues 500 years ago. After reviewing the other available information and surveying the available research supports, he narrows in on an interesting, but manageable topic: comparison of personal flying devices between the years 1500 AD to 2006 AD.

Throughout this process, NetLearner proves an invaluable resource. The NetLearner research tools provide the supports he needs to explore the broad landscape of age-appropriate resources. More importantly, NetLearner has been tailored to his unique interests and abilities: his reading abilities and math skills, his tolerance for ambiguity, his need to survey the larger picture before getting mired in the details, how he prefers to keep track of information, and his tendency to over-analyze available resources. His suite of tools is customized to exploit his strengths and scaffold his weaknesses, while providing opportunities to extend his abilities in realistic ways.

Considering some of the changes that new technologies will make possible at school, at home, and in the community, it is important to ask how these technologies will affect the learning of children with disabilities.


Technology and Learning

Many experts feel that technology has failed to demonstrate any significant advantage over traditional non-technology based approaches to learning.Yesterday’s electronic learning and productivity software placed huge demands on teachers’ time and schools’ bank accounts. Furthermore, although technology-based learning environments included a number of the essential learning elements, each element required a lot of knowledge and introduced new opportunities for error. Much could go wrong – and often did.

With a little planning, the hardware, operating systems, software applications, digital content and networks may all be made fully and readily accessible to a wide range of learners. Although this kind of accessibility was still a significant problem just a few years ago, in 2006 all students have complete access to new learning technologies. These technologies can take us beyond a modest improvement in access to learning content and activities to the stage of improving learning opportunities themselves.

In the year 2006, we understand the importance of high expectations for all learners: continuous assessment, the judicious use of technology-based supports and scaffolds, the social context for learning along with new teaching and learning strategies, and materials that are attentive to the principles of universal design for learning. More importantly, we know that the technologies used for learning have to be very easy to use – by everyone. The programs do the work of customizing so that we can concentrate on teaching and learning.

This is not a high-tech, low-touch learning environment and teachers remain a fundamental fixture in the learning process. The work of Lev Vygotsky has been extended to social and electronic learning environments, making it possible to know just how much support is appropriate and necessary for each individual engaged in the learning process. In fact, technology enables teachers to pay more personal attention to each student to ensure that every learner functions within his or her "zone of proximal development". The number of bored and frustrated learners has been significantly reduced and school has become a place of high productivity and achievement for almost everyone.


A Scenario for Education

In 2006, a Middle School is a wondrous place. Educators at this level know that in the classroom working together offers huge advantages for learners, educators, and the community at large, as we see in many enlightened workplaces. Competition still exists in the classroom. However, cooperative team efforts are generally more highly valued than individual accomplishments.

The project is core to learning. Learners agree to work together to solve difficult problems. Each student brings special talents and abilities to the table, and various project roles are assumed so that everyone experiences all aspects of the project at different times. Learners support each other because that is what is required to complete a high quality product. The products become part of a physical or electronic portfolio, and each learner’s contribution is reviewed.

The cooperative trend involves teachers as well. Increasingly, teachers are shifting from their place at the head of the class to a position alongside their students, discovering, exploring, and solving problems together.Most learning is accomplished by a combination of teacher guidance, individual study, and peer collaboration. Although this new learning environment brings with it new challenges, teachers have quickly discovered the advantages over the more rigid, pedantic, and isolated classrooms of the past.

Only a few years ago, statewide assessments compelled teachers to focus on a well-defined set of skills and knowledge. Property values were at stake. Now, although everyone still has a learning path outlined in advance, much of the excitement is focused on "just-in-time" learning opportunities. When a skill is desired or needed, teachers and students log on to the Internet and engage in lessons designed by the best available educational designers.

This "just-in-time" learning is supported by mentors and intelligent agents.Better yet, the technology-based learning program knows both the type and amount of support appropriate for each learner. For example, it knows when and how best to provide outcome models, request learner summaries to support reading comprehension, check for recall of essential facts, and offer help with analysis and organization.

Technology facilitates every stage of the learning process. In the early stages, teachers can readily find the tools necessary to gather, analyze, and organize information. When the students are ready to demonstrate what they have learned, they can easily select from multiple options for expression. With these technological tools assessment is transformed from a terminal process to a continuous one where a student’s every action can be used to analyze progress. New software tools help determine what aspects of performance are most important to keep track of and how best to present these central concerns to learner and teacher. This would be a hugely difficult task if not for technology, which provides the learning team with easy-to-use data summaries that they can use to make important decisions about future directions.

A few educational publishers still produce textbooks, but most schools have found that it is more productive and cost effective to license specific content, as it is needed to accomplish particular project goals. Publishers have worked hard over the past few years to provide digital content and activities to the growing number of digital libraries used as resources by learners around the world. Most publishers have found it productive to tag their content and activities with meta-data that facilitates its selection and use for various activities. Tagging standards now make it possible for schools to quickly locate content from both large and custom publishers and use it within the context of a lesson or project.

A few schools are now experimenting with electronic locator and selector tools that build smart digital agents that help locate content, activities, and learning tools aligned with established local criteria. These new services hold great promise for saving time and money and preventing problems associated with the purchase or license of materials that are not properly aligned to established standards and local preferences.

Thus, although schools and publishers were concerned about giving up the security and predictability of the textbook and supplementary learning materials, most have now adopted the new method for selecting, licensing and using such materials

Continuous learning experiences are now available not just in the classroom but also in the library and at home. Homework is no longer simply an opportunity to independently study, practice, or perform. In fact, it is difficult to distinguish many aspects of regular classroom learning from learning outside the classroom.Project teams continue their work at home, sharing new ideas, resources, and content. Learning and assessment are continuous.

Fiber optic and broadband connections are now pervasive in most homes, and devices such as inexpensive, hand-held computers are widely used. Teachers and learners can simply identify the device in use, and the Extensible Markup Language and Extensible Style Language (XML and XSL) based learning materials can be "downloaded" to fit that device’s requirements. Only a single source of the content or activity is required, and it can easily be provided for desktop, laptop, or portable handheld PCs. A few students even do parts of their assignments on their cellular phones. None of this was very practical just a few years ago when most of the content was "hard wired" in HTML.

Furthermore, in today’s world technical requirements for schools, families, and individual learners are minimal. Very few activities require software to be installed on a particular client device. Instead, most software resides on an active server and is easily updated by the provider. In short, technology is now provided as a turnkey service, enabling educators and learners to concentrate on education and learning.

The now near universal access to the content within the technology also frees up educators to focus on improved learning. Assistive technologies such as screen enlargers, switches for scanning, voice recognition, and special type-ahead and word prediction programs are seldom required, because all approved software programs now have built-in supports for sensory, physical, cognitive and affective difficulties.

Teachers also have access to a rich variety of cross-discipline content. Although many teachers are still required to have content area specialties, teaching and learning is generally accomplished in a way that blurs the lines between specific disciplines. In this environment, cognitive development, problem solving, and socially appropriate work skills are critical. Teachers and students work together to practice these skills and monitor progress in these areas on a regular basis. No one is exempt.

In a cooperative planning session, teacher and student develop flexible learning paths. Together they devise a set of well designed and mutually agreed upon goals, suited to the individual learner’s skills. They also decide on the appropriate scaffolds for doing research, analyzing and organizing content, and demonstrating knowledge.

Basic reading, writing, math, and thinking skills are no longer taught apart from compelling project-based subject matter. Beyond the third grade, skill development is embedded within the project work. Curriculum experts can continuously examine what is worth knowing, because facts are easily obtained, organized, and applied to new learning situations. Exemplars can be generalized, and learners are proficient at using reference materials and pattern recognition and generation tools.

Teachers and learners fully understand the difference between access and learning, and when high degrees of access and support diminish opportunities for learning, resistance is introduced. Just as resistance can build muscle in the weight room, it can provide appropriate learning challenges in the classroom.If the automatic "main topic highlighter" stands in the way of the learner becoming independent and strategic, its supports are diminished.


A Scenario for Accessibility

Access to content and learning is simply a first step. In 2006, it is no longer considered an educational solution but rather a basic right. All learners now have access to information and learning experiences in the necessary and preferred modalities.

Following guidelines developed by the National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum in conjunction with other organizations like the World Wide Web Consortia Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C-WAI), and NISO, publishers provide content that is accessible from the start. Images, links, charts, and tables have long descriptions; digital movies include captions and video descriptions, and auditory media incorporate text and other visual representations.Electronic books are published in a format that make them usable in many environments and by individuals who require unique supports while reading.


Electronic Books

Publishers routinely include features that make text both accessible and more intentionally supportive of learning since text is now widely available in digital format. Synthetic speech along with synchronized highlighting of the spoken text is readily available. Direct links to reference materials are simple to use, and definitions are provided with consideration for the context in which the term or phrase was originally used. Content is presented with usability in mind. Presentation is clear and straightforward, and selected tools, supports, and scaffolds easily integrate within the learning environment. Simple navigation controls allow learners to quickly find what they need.

New standards and technologies make access even more automatic by making it possible to create content just once and then provide opportunities for multiple expression suited to the needs and desires of each individual learner. For example, the same XML content source can be displayed in a browser, printed, used as a source for refreshable Braille devices, or spoken with high quality expressive synthetic speech. It can be displayed and voiced on desktop computers, notebook computers, handheld PC’s, personal digital assistants, and digital portable telephones.


Goals for Learning

High standards for all learners remain a critical component of our nation’s year 2006 effort to improve educational opportunities for learners with diverse backgrounds, styles, and abilities. Access to, participation in, and progress within the general curriculum remains the cornerstone of school reform efforts for diverse learners. Fewer than two percent of students require significant alternatives to the general education curriculum and the built-in educational assessments.

Inability to graduate from high school due to poor performance on high stakes assessments was once a significant barrier to entering higher education programs and acquiring productive employment. Over the past few years, many public schools have retained students with identified special needs until they demonstrate proficiency in reading, mathematics, and writing as well as basic knowledge of science, history, and government. The increased costs associated with providing educational programs beyond the 12th grade have provided schools the incentive necessary to implement improved programs of early identification and support within the general education program.

What has changed are not the standards, but the options for reaching those standards. We can now more carefully individualize the goals that we derive from standards, as well as the paths that lead to those goals – through more flexible methods and materials. With those options has come a closer scrutiny of the learning needs of students, and the educational alternatives with the curriculum. Identifying the proper balance of support and challenge demanded by a particular learner within a selected context is now critical to the provision of a properly "tuned" educational experience. When the goal is to improve knowledge of some historical event, for example, it is now commonplace that we allow learners to use a variety of needed supports and scaffolds – such as text-to-speech reading – for accomplishing that specific goal. However, when a struggling reader is easily able to grasp the concepts within a history lesson, it may make sense to reduce the reading supports and give the student an opportunity to practice reading and comprehending completely without supports. In this case, the goal is both greater independence in reading and improved performance in history.

This is a topic rich with opportunities for future study. We do not yet know whether students who read a great deal of their subject-matter content in a supported reading environment (e.g. with text-to-speech capabilities) will learn to read more quickly or more slowly than students in unsupported print environments. We might also ask what is the proper balance of the familiar and novel for a particular learner within a particular learning activity. The learning technologies available in 2006 enable us to experiment with these settings, but much more data collection and analysis must be completed before individualization can be accomplished automatically, without human intervention.

One result of this flexibility is a decreased insistence on the same performance goals for every student within a given standard. Instead, we recognize the value and opportunity that lies in diversity. We spend less time trying to make all of the students perform at the same level in one limited area of expertise, and more time trying to identify every student’s strengths across a wider range of capabilities. As a result, we provide more balance for developing and demonstrating proficiency in all receptive and expressive modalities. We now know how to provide opportunities for basic development skills such as reading and listening, writing, speaking, drawing, sculpting, and computing, as well as higher order ones such as research and analysis. We know how to provide a balance of individual and group learning opportunities that encourage the development of self-esteem, sociability, self-management and integrity. Smartly embedding what is already known within classroom and electronic learning environments will continue to challenge curriculum developers and publishers for many years.


Universal Design for Learning

The Universal Design movement in architecture was motivated by the realization that designing buildings with built-in accessibility to everyone was a far superior approach to making posthoc modifications. On the heels of the Universal Design movement in architecture came a similar movement in education. For those designing educational environments, building an accessible building from the start provided many financial and practical advantages. For those designing educational instruction, parallel advantages became clear at the beginning of the third millennium. Educators and curriculum designers realized that teaching approaches and curriculum materials that were designed to be flexible and supportive of diverse learning needs would have a clear advantage in the marketplace.

CAST developed the idea of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as an educational application of the concept of Universal Design. The basic premise behind UDL is that curricular content should be provided in multiple representations or in a transformable format such that multiple means for expression, control and engagement are built into each learning activity, enabling every student to learn from that curriculum. Thus, UDL promotes new standards requiring teaching curricula flexible enough to accommodate the entire spectrum of learners.

Together with educators, CAST realized that the educational materials best able to meet these new requirements are digital materials. Electronic learning environments readily overcome physical disabilities that could prevent access. Supports such as keyboard shortcuts and access keys provide access to those whose physical challenges prevent them from using a mouse. Simple switches may also be used to navigate the electronic environment.

However, UDL goes beyond mere access. With digital content it is easier and more cost-effective to provide multiple representations of the same content (e.g. image and sound), to transform one media to another (e.g. text-to-speech), to alter the characteristics of a presentation (e.g. size, color, contrast), and to provide the same basic content at varying levels of difficulty. Furthermore, digital content is usable by a wide variety of display and presentation devices (e.g. computer, handheld, phone), enabling students to express themselves using writing, speech, or drawing within the same electronic environment.

Publishers have responded to UDL in an extremely positive fashion. UDL has helped them to produce content that can be customized to regional and individual needs and will eventually provide a mechanism for the elimination of multiple versions of the same content.

UDL also considers learner engagement essential. Digital technology offers the means to tailor learning to personal interests and abilities. Students who need to feel that they are in charge of their own learning now have the tools for working with educators to establish appropriate learning activities.

Thus, in a universally designed classroom, the goals for learning are flexible, assessment is continuous, and students are provided with the tools necessary to adapt media and materials to their individual needs. This may have seemed impractical just a few years ago when most curriculum materials were provided on paper, and instruction was primarily provided by frontal teaching methods. However, in 2006 the electronic learning environment – supported by searchable and flexible digital libraries, knowledgeable teachers and learning specialists, and an appreciation for the value of diversity within schools – has significantly altered our conception of what is possible.


Support and Challenge

We now know that students with disabilities – in fact all learners – fall along a continuum of learner differences. Although standards should remain high for all students, it is realistic to assume that they must be adjusted for a few. The goals for a particular learning activity will differ depending on how information is presented and how strategic the learner is within the context of the activity. The goals set must also take into account various affective issues such as the need to be in control, the amount and type of feedback needed, persistence, and tolerance for frustration.

Recent studies have taught us that productive learning richly engages the brain. However, if a task becomes too challenging, learning is less efficient. Educators know that low expectations are detrimental to learners of all abilities, but determining the proper amount of novelty and the appropriate balance of support and challenge can be vexing, even to the experienced teacher.

In 2006, most decisions about support, challenge, and novelty are determined cooperatively, by teacher and student. These decisions are made based on data from past performance, which can be maintained on a central server.Thanks to newly available tools, this data can be visualized and analyzed rapidly and efficiently by teachers trained to support all types of learning. It is worth noting that the flexibility available within these data analysis tools provides an important exemplar for educators who quickly realize that they, too, need to be strategic in ways that may differ significantly from their peers.

Analysis software is now being modified to provide a customizable mix of teacher, student, and technology adjustments to the learning content, activities, and tools. Although it soon may be possible for the software to do much of the work, many teachers are finding that the process of evaluating progress and determining the appropriate future path is an extremely valuable exercise and are therefore likely to use the computer generated data simply to monitor their own decision making. In fact, so much is being learned about maximizing learner opportunity via continuous assessment that the more formal terminal assessment tools have not been able to keep up. Those who wish to recapture testing time in order to maximize learning opportunity view this turn of events in a very positive light.


Cognitive Scaffolding for Individuals and Groups

Awareness of connections to personal experience, the past, other fields of study, and even the future help to make us smarter in our day-to-day endeavors. Only recently have researchers and developers begun to seriously address how making these kinds of connections can help us to learn and create in the classroom. They have found that technology can help us to discover links that are not obvious to casual observers. In years past, learners worked long and hard to discover relationships. Now, a growing population of learners can do it quickly with the benefit of scaffolds and supports that display keyword connections, provide "compare and contrast" summaries, generate concept maps that expose main ideas and supporting details, show relationships between current and past events, and step learners through an active inquiry process designed to expose relationships. Some feel that these new tools can be likened to the sensory and physical assistive technologies of the past, but others view them as much more, as tools that extend one’s capabilities.

The key is that these cognitive supports are increasingly available within all curricular materials, a normal and expected part of educational design. In addition, new reading and display devices can now keep track of essential points using colors and sounds designated by the learner for specific purposes. For example, items which are likely to be useful for a particular project can be highlighted in green if they are deemed "sort of interesting and worth revisiting". At the appropriate time the marked text and media, together with annotations and bibliographic information, can be easily collected for the development of a project or presentation.

So far, we have focused on individual supports. However, group supports for working collaboratively are also now common in 2006. Students often contribute to a common document stored on a remote server. The document is developed over time by a team that agrees in advance how different individuals would best contribute to its evolution. Content is marked to indicate authorship, and annotation by anyone in the group is possible at any time. Of great value to the working group is the ability to build a common favorites file on the server so that everyone benefits from the Web-based resources located by each member. Members can even use a rating scale to rank order the resources by perceived value.


Fostering Growth and Independence

Learning takes place just about everywhere and at any time in 2006. It was difficult to accomplish, but deliberate planning has finally made academic achievement for all a desirable outcome. All of this was accomplished within the context of a social learning environment that encouraged and rewarded group work and project based learning and placed a high value on problem solving and continuous improvement of basic skills. Team achievements in the classroom now receive higher recognition than success on the football field.

In this new educational environment, each individual’s contribution is critical. No one is left behind or allowed to slide by because of the efforts of others in the group. Students are taught to provide feedback to other learners and to self-monitor their performance. Technology is used to record progress. Teachers, parents, and students often meet to review the data in an environment where self-monitoring is highly valued and asking for help is considered beneficial to all.

The systematic withdrawal of supports and scaffolds within and across the various projects is considered necessary to foster growth and independence. Over time, novelty and challenge within the project activities are introduced more frequently to provide opportunities for developing new strategies for independence. For example, the server software makes fewer links and connections, and students are periodically challenged to work on a more individual basis. Depending on feedback and conference discussions, some supports and scaffolds may be withdrawn altogether for brief periods to ensure easy access to a wide range of educational supports is not creating unnecessary dependence.


A New Role for Special Education Services

Now that accessibility is built in, teachers spend very little time inventing new accommodations and modifications for basic access to content and learning experiences. Their focus is not on "disability" and identifying problems in children. Instead their focus is on learning, and identifying barriers or opportunities in learning materials. A learning specialist in 2006 knows a lot about learning and knows how to plan and adjust support within the content of the general curriculum so that every child is maximally in their zone of proximal development. She knows how to evaluate performance data and how to collaborate with teachers, parents, and students to provide recommendations for the right balance of social interaction, on-line customized content, skill advancement, performance, and teacher consultation. The disability and special talents training she has participated in provides her with general guidance for making adjustments to the learning environment.

Diagnostic testing was banned in 2005, because it provided limited, decontextualized "point-in-time" data and was used mostly by clinicians to label and categorize children in ways now thought to be unproductive.Categorical labels are now of limited value. Individual Educational Plans are prepared for all students, but these plans are based on day-to-day performance and periodic conferences with learning specialists, educator teams, and parents. A continuously updated record of activities, preference settings, computer mediated adjustments and performance provide the summary recommendations, and predictions that are needed by the learning specialist to optimize learning with consideration for social and emotional development.

The learning specialist is considered an integral part of each education team and provides support for other team members, parents, and students. They are available to address the unique learning needs of all students and are trained to facilitate a decision making process that results in improved learner performance. In 2006, fewer than ten percent of all learners require special amendments relating to their specific significant sensory, physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and health issues.



In the year 2000, teachers indicated that they found it difficult, if not impossible, to modify teaching methods and curriculum materials to meet individual student needs. Some thought that this condition was due to years of special services provided by special educators who were all too willing and able to assume responsibility for students identified as having special needs.

In 2006, we do not think about special education as a separate program or service. Instead, all learners benefit from the work of the school’s learning specialists. Access to the general curriculum, as well as participation in and progress within the general curriculum, is considered a right. We now have the social learning environment, trained educators, instructional methods, flexible content, and technology tools necessary to guarantee this right for everyone.

As my son searches the Internet and his personalized learning environment using NetLearner, he quickly collects, organizes, and analyzes information he will need to discuss his personal flying device project in school the next day. In other homes, students approach the same task but perhaps in very different ways. In the year 2000, some of these supports would have been impossible, and some of these students would have been considered "disabled". Instead, they have grown up with tools that are as varied and as flexible as they are. Tomorrow, in school, they will form a diverse team to collaborate on this project, and they might just make something very special.

Credits (content enhancement and readability review)

David H. Rose, Ed.D., Co-Executive Director, CAST


Additional Resources on the Web

The Technologies for Achieving the Vision

The technologies that will be needed in 2006 are mostly available today. However, they have not been fully developed, nor have the development and monitoring tools required by publishers and educators been standardized.

Extensible Markup Language (XML), Extensible Style Language (XSL), and secure personalization and digital rights technologies will soon provide benefits to learners that eluded educational developers for years. Format, structure, and content selection by XSL can render appropriate content on browser screens or for printing and even generate refreshable Braille. Since there is now some agreement on which meta-data are appropriate for education, course developers and on-line content delivery warehouses can provide educational programs customized for selected standards, needs and interests. Standalone XML pages will give way to those controlled by a Document Type Definition (DTD) file customized for a given purpose or field of study. The tools for creating custom tags for XML are just emerging and within a few years, it may be practical for educators to create their own.

XML Pointer Language (XPointer) and XML Linking Language (XLink) can provide essential resource connections over the Internet. In addition to simple links, XML can provide links between multiple resources and links between read-only resources. XPointer describes how to address a resource, and XLink describes how to associate two or more resources. As these technologies mature, customized content and personalized learning activities will become pervasive within our schools.

The IMS Global Learning Consortium, Inc. delivered open specifications for the technical building blocks of online learning in June 2000. The IMS Content Packaging Specification and the IMS Question and Test Interoperability Specification, as well as Version 1.1 of the IMS Learning Resources Meta-data Specification, were approved and released. The specifications are designed to provide standards, such as meta-data, for educational purposes and will be used to provide the greatest possible integration of various competing on-line learning environments. The IMS Content Packaging specification will allow us to define course content and then deliver it using a standard XML-based descriptor.

Tools for acting on content will also mature. Talking browsers will provide a visual representation of content while offering text-to-speech or SMIL controlled MP3 digital voice files to read while highlighting the content. SMIL is the Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language that will be used extensively with Scaled Vector Graphics (SVG) to offer high quality customizable multimedia presentations. Cognitive support tools will become easier to use and will be integrated with our content presentation browsers.

Interwoven support and scaffolding capabilities will be built into the server side applications, the client-based tools, and the educational content.Wireless Internet access for all media types and handheld personal computers will become pervasive for communication and learning. The goal is to provide every learner with the ability to log onto his or her learning environment from any available device from any location. In 2000, this is not practical. In 2006, it is a necessity.


This content was developed pursuant to cooperative agreement #H324H990004 under CFDA 84.324H between CAST and the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. However, the opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Department of Education or the Office of Special Education Programs and no endorsement by that office should be inferred.


Cite this paper as follows:

Hitchcock, C. (2001). Balanced instructional support and challenge in universally designed learning environments. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. Retrieved [insert date] from


Last Updated: 10/22/2013

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