The current situation of distance learning has made it possible to discover that some students who did well in a structured face-to-face context struggle to succeed from home and others, who were less successful in a structured classroom environment, adapt and perform better in this new digital learning environment.
This discovery adds a dimension to the spectrum of student diversity and an additional argument in favor of inclusive pedagogy, initially considered and implemented to support students with disabilities whose number continues to increase.
In 2020, according to the Ministry of Education, since 2009, students with disabilities are up 850% and according to CRISPESH, 20% of students are disabled. These data indicate a significant increase in requests for accommodation measures, particularly in higher education institutions, on a case-by-case basis, depending on the specific needs of each student. They are also a sufficient reason on their own to increase their interest in inclusive pedagogy or the universal concept of learning.
But student diversity does not stop there…
We should also mention the particularities of older students whose reality and learning methods are different, international students whose adaptation to a new teaching environment is also an issue, not to mention the various socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, including first-generation university students, those from rural or modest backgrounds and those for whom French is not the mother tongue.
In addition to this pre-covid-19 reality, students are now more successful in digital learning.
Since March 2020, all schools have struggled to be able to provide distance education. However, one day, the pandemic that has caused this significant change in educational habits will come to an end. What will remain of these exceptional efforts for the transmission of knowledge, for the success and accompaniment of students? What will happen to the reflections made with regard to the various digital means supporting perseverance and academic success? Will the duration of the pandemic have been long enough for new habits, a new pedagogical paradigm to take hold? Will diversity eventually become the new norm?
Why adopt the concept of universal pedagogy?
The current pandemic has allowed education systems around the world to realize that they are outdated and that the hybrid model would benefit from being put forward, among other things, to reduce inequities. The obligation to turn to online teaching forced the revision of the content of the courses, the means of communication and collaboration, the methods of evaluation and accompaniment of the students. The situation has also made it clear that traditional education does not adequately prepare future citizens for the world in which they will have to evolve and in which technology is becoming increasingly important.
Moreover, although Internet access has been an essential service since 2016, the current health crisis has shown significant gaps in access not only in developing countries, but also in rural areas of developed countries. Technology is not, in itself, the solution for inclusive education, but rather a strategy among many others.
Universal pedagogy «is characterized by the capacity to innovate, to challenge oneself and by the use of a variety of strategies» (Bergeron, Rousseau and Leclair, 2011) in order to support the accessibility and success of all students whatever their particularities.
This concept goes well beyond students with disabilities or even student diversity, it represents the capacity for teaching to adapt to any situation, renew and adjust based on challenges and needs.
Taking into account diversity, both that of students and that of the means used to transmit knowledge and to demonstrate its acquisition, is an integral part of universal pedagogy. Whether it is to offer the content of the courses in several formats (videos, readings), to offer the courses themselves in various forms (face-to-face, synchronous or asynchronous distance), to allow the delivery of the works in different formats at the student’s choice, etc. The main objective is for students to achieve the objectives set out in the course, not to achieve them according to imposed means.
Not only has the forced experience of online learning and teaching over the past year greatly contributed to lowering the psychological barriers of stakeholders that usually hold back change, but institutions now have access to field data enabling them to carry out analyses with a view to modifying school curricula allowing access to studies at a lower cost.
All the elements are in place to feed a thorough reflection on teaching methods, learning, and education in general. It is an incredible opportunity to implement the universal concept of learning from the outset and to make a paradigm shift towards the pedagogical approach based on learning instead of teaching.
As John Goodwin argues in his article, of course, the skills developed under the traditional teaching model remain important, but creativity and resilience in the face of unforeseen challenges will be among the most in-demand skills in a rapidly changing world and today’s students must develop them. Universal pedagogy offers the openness to diversity and flexibility necessary in teaching and learning methods to cope with any eventuality.
We must stop seeing inclusive or universal pedagogy existing solely to meet the needs of students with disabilities; universal pedagogy is for all, in all circumstances and according to future challenges, the path to be preferred.