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When designing learning environments it is important that your approach is flexible, equitable and inclusive, accommodating the diverse needs of all students in your class. This helps to give them a good chance at learning successfully. How can you provide inclusive access to learning? An understanding about some of the aspects of diversity is a good place to start. How to use universal design to create inclusive learning opportunities is also important.

So what do we mean by diversity?

So far, you have considered learning styles and preferences, prior learning and how to assess literacy and numeracy in your learners. Hopefully, you have also used the knowledge that you already have about them to develop a learner profile. Now you need to look further, and delve into the cultural factors and practices that shape and influence the way people behave and learn. This is known as cultural sensitivity. Several factors have a role in this: ethnicity, religious beliefs, socio-economic status, location, professional responsibilities, belief systems and gender. People develop particular perspectives and values depending on the group or community in which they reside.

In some situations diversity also relates to disability in terms of physical, psychological and learning challenges. All these factors can prevent equitable access to learning. For example, using a lot of online resources when learners cannot easily use or afford computers and the Internet makes the learning environment difficult or impossible to access.

Universal Design

Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. –Ron Mace (2008). Center for Universal Design, College of Design, North Carolina State University. The Principles of Universal Design poster provides us with a really clear overview.

This means that flexible choices must be provided with multiple alternatives for access and use. This is to ensure that people of any age, ability, gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity or culture etc. can be accommodated. To do this, spaces, products, and information systems etc. that humans use, manage or create must be designed appropriately.

Applications of Universal Design in education

Cultural Diversity

For this topic it is useful to have an understanding of how the culture of learners influences how they approach their study and respond to the learning environment. Guiding students to understand their learning styles and how they prefer to learn (learner preferences) can assist them to engage more effectively in the learning environment you create. However, to design a learning environment that is optimal for all your students, it is essential that you have an understanding of the factors associated with diversity. How can you design a learning environment that is inclusive, fair and equitable for all concerned? To do this any barriers to learning need to be recognised so that equitable access to the learning environment is more likely.

In most vocational disciplines, the cultural identity of the teachers can have a strong influence on what is conveyed to students about the industry, and it also impacts on how the subjects are taught. For example, trades teachers have a very different culture to nursing educators. Articles about these two areas are available in the Resources section for this page.

Cultural diversity is a vast area, so you may need to focus your explorations, basing them on factors specific to your teaching context.

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Reflect on factors associated with diversity in your context


Select the resources that are applicable to your explorations, and teaching context.


  • Kaminski, J. (2005). Editorial: Nursing Informatics and Nursing Culture. Is there a fit? Online Journal of Nursing Informatics (OJNI), 9, (3) [Online].
  • Maurice-Takerei, L. & Jesson, J. (2010). Nailing Down an Identity - The Voices of Six Carpentry Educators. New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work,7(2), 156 - 170.
  • A report of a research study where six polytechnic carpentry tutors were interviewed about their identity and perceptions of their work as trades educators. The findings "challenge assumptions about what constitutes ‘good teaching’ in a trade related environment" (p. 156).