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Upskill, Reskill, Thrive with James McKenna

Welcome to Episode 102 of the Think UDL podcast: Upskill, Reskill, Thrive with James McKenna. James McKenna is a speaker, learning consultant and author of the just released book Upskill, Reskill, Thrive: Optimizing Learning and Development in the Workplace published by CAST professional publishing, the very same people who brought us the UDL guidelines! In this conversation, James draws from his varied background in the military, education, and professional learning to outline a new approach to learning and development. No more staff training where everyone blindly clicks through choices without even thinking! We delve into learning in the modern world, and who our contemporary learners are. He explains how to create emotional, intellectual, and strategic connections for your learners and why it is important and even discusses the difference between friction and rigor.


Find James McKenna on LinkedIn and Twitter: @JamesMcKenna

Upskill, Reskill, Thrive: Optimizing Learning and Development in the Workplace is James’s book we discuss in this episode

Resources mentioned in this episode are:


CAST Symposium

Johnathan Haight’s idea about behavior change: The Elephant and the Rider

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

Bloom’s Taxonomies (cognitive, affective, psychomotor) from the University of Waterloo, Canada), Centre for Teaching Excellence

Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication #7



learning, learner, udl, book, work, people, thinking, students, call, world, elephant, motivate, education, universal design, space, goals, talk, design, job, training


Lillian Nave, James McKenna

Lillian Nave  00:02

Welcome to Think UDL, the universal design for learning podcast where we hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies with learner variability in mind. I’m your host, Lillian nave. And I’m interested in not just what you’re teaching, learning, guiding and facilitating, but how you design and implement it and why it even matters. Welcome to Episode 102 of the Think UDL podcast: Upskill, Reskill, Thrive with James McKenna. James McKenna is a speaker, learning consultant and author of the just released book Upskill, Reskill, Thrive: Optimizing Learning and Development in the Workplace, published by CAST professional publishing the very same people who brought us the UDL guidelines. In this conversation, James draws from his varied background in the military education, and professional learning to outline a new approach to learning and development. No more staff trainings where everyone blindly clicks through choices without even thinking. We delve into learning in the modern world, and who our contemporary learners are. He explains how to create emotional, intellectual and strategic connections for your learner’s and why it is important and even discusses the difference between friction and rigor. Thank you for tuning in to learn about a new approach to learning and development based on Universal Design for Learning. Thank you to our sponsor, Texthelp, a global technology company helping people all over the world to understand and to be understood, it has led the way in creating innovative technology for the workplace, and education sectors, including K 12. right through to higher education for the last three decades. So thank you, James, for giving me the time to talk to you about your book. I really appreciate you being on the podcast.

James McKenna  02:19

Oh, I’m just delighted to be here. Thank you for having me.

Lillian Nave  02:23

Yeah, so I loved your perspective. On the book, you have a lot of interesting background, and anyone who picks up the book, we’ll find out about the many things that you’ve done and how you’re applying that. And so I wanted to start off with my first question, which is what makes you a different kind of learner? Well, first, I’d

James McKenna  02:43

say I’m not special. But and those in UDL circles know that, you know, we’re all unique. But I think I would say that I’m certainly a much different learner than I was when I was younger, when I was an adolescent, or even a young adult. I mean, honestly, I don’t know that I realized until I was about 20, the difference between learning and memorizing, at least how I approach things. I was great at standardized tests, and just terrible at homework. And I thought I could just get by with cramming and horsepower. Yeah, that’ll pretty much crashed when I basically flunked out of linework. Flunk. But I think my, my freshman year GPA at Northeastern was like, one, six, okay. And my dad said, Yeah, we’re gonna have to do something different. Because either you’re going to change the way that you do school, or we’re not going to do this school thing, because this is not working. Yeah. And so I ended up joining the US Navy. And I started, I worked in the engine room, and I was training to learn how to work on nuclear reactors, which really complicated systems with lots of different lots of different parts. And at first, you know, we’re supposed to learn these diagrams with all these different valves and, and their numbers and all these these certain symbols. And I’m, like many other people, I’m just trying to draw this thing over and over and over and over and over. And we would spend time in a classroom and time in an actual sort of engine room that was in a building rather than a ship. And one of the senior trainers, he said, Why don’t you try to learn how this whole thing works? Like, get the big picture. And then if you understand what the pieces are, you’ll know why they are, where they are, and why they need to be in a certain series, and why we number them the way they do and how the whole thing works. He said because there isn’t an injury in the Navy that looks exactly like the diagram in the book. Right? So once you learn that, and he helped me to do I wish I remembered his name. It started with petty officer and I refer to him as Sir Yes, but i i That really helped me and that that made it a lot easier now. I took that even when I, when I left the Navy and I went back to school, and I was learning, I got my BA in music and I learned rather than just trying to memorize these pieces, like some of my, my, my classmates just saying, Well, how does a, you know, use of music to emotet work? And where does the naming come from? And what are those different pieces, and that, that was a lot more successful for me. And I became a lot more conscious of, of how I could learn and that there were different ways of learning, besides, write it down a whole bunch of times, yeah. And also learn the understanding the big picture, and, you know, going out and looking at things was a lot more engaging for me than just sitting and passively listening, you know, trying to gain information by osmosis. So I think overall, I’m, I’m a more conscious learner. You know, how do we, you try to operate as an expert learner as it were, that I had been through most of my early schooling. I recently bought a year ago, I took the I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Clifton’s, or gallops the StrengthsFinder. Yes. And learner is my number one, it’s my most natural mode of, you know, finding out more about things and asking questions and things like that. So, yeah, that’s, that’s been the sort of the evolution of me as a learner to this point. And I learned a lot just by writing a book. I’ll tell you that much. Yeah.

Lillian Nave  06:31

Wow. There’s so much in your background, I think that gives you like multiple perspectives on learning, you know, just your ability to, to take your kind of book course, or school learning, and then compare that and contrast it with how you really began to understand and learn. When you were in the Navy. I enjoyed all of those parts as you were bringing that into your writing. I thought that was really fascinating, somebody who I have no experience in that. So I thought that was really interesting for you to frame so many parts that way. So I love your, your evolution, as you call it, are you really understanding that whole picture, and I know in, in higher ed, a lot of our learning is in that classroom, where we’re just trying to write down a lot of bullet points. And there’s so much about universal design for learning, that tells me we’ve got to be doing a whole bunch of things differently. Right. And, and being that Petty Officer Sir, who helps our students understand the whole, the whole picture. So, so you’ve written a book? Wow. My question is, why did you feel the need to write this book? And who is your audience? And why don’t you tell us? Why don’t you go ahead, I’m gonna talk about the book. But tell us the name of the book. Why did you write it? Who’s your audience?

James McKenna  08:00

Thank you. So the book is called upskill rescale, thrive, optimized learning and development in the workplace. So if the upskilling is how do I get better at my current job and my current role and rescaling? How do I learn to do a new role and really thrive thinking about that? Not only my self improvement, but you know, being my whole self at work, right? And so how do we help individuals, teams and organizations optimize the way that they learn and learn from each other and improve? So everybody can be their best I have the saying that work is learning and learning is work. So that, you know, if you want to be innovating, that’s that’s learning, you know, we’re discovering we’re the pace of which things move is always accelerating. So we have to constantly learn, but we have to be intentional about that how we, as individuals or teams choose to learn we have to be intentional about the the context and the climate and the culture of learning. But it started, you know, I did my doctoral studies in Ed Leadership and in psychology, so how we learn and what motivates us. And the day after I graduated, I got hired, I had been an assistant principal and I moved into a central office to become what was then called a consultant. And my job was to design and deliver professional learning for folks within our organization, as well as other organizations that we were charged with supporting. And so so my job was to train educators in the first thing I was asked to design training for, was universal design for learning. Now, I had seen UDL in my two previous teacher credentialing programs as a mild to moderate special ed credential, what we have in California, and the secondary social science credential, but I think I probably saw them for a total of an hour between the two programs and it was like, here’s the color chart a bunch of bullets. Nobody does. Yeah. Didn’t really make an impression. But I got out, I finished my doctoral studies, I sat down. And for me, one thing they they had drilled into us in my program was there’s this big gap between when research happens, and then when it hits the field especially hits the field effectively, and is put into meaningful practice. And I’m looking at these guidelines. And I’m like, there’s all this stuff that I just spent three, I mean, obviously, like, you know, for those of us in the learning sciences, self regulation jumps off the page and executive function. So those are terms we use, but looking at the principle of representation, I see that as sort of a vertical articulation of the information processing model, right? And looking at things like expectancy value theory, you know, how does what do I expect to happen, my expectations of success, and my the value of A of getting into stuff affect how well I engage and sustain my effort and persistence and stuff like that. So this is a great vehicle to put all that stuff into meaningful practice in a way that could be intentional and effective. And so I started saying, well, I should really be thinking about my design of this training through this lens font for modeling, but also, because it makes sense. And though I had a lot to learn, and I was surrounded with some amazing designers and facilitators and trainers, the the level of practice at large, in my experience had a lot to be desired, there was a lot of just reading slides to people, yeah, a lot of a lot of trainings that I went to, or I sat in on that started with that phrase, we’re going to drink from the fire hose, that that never works. Like, you know, already, this is way too much for what we have. But the design constraint, you know, that may or may not have been part of their control was like, get all this at once. And you’re dealing with the technological or the organizational constraints that they had was like, Well, how can we think about this differently? And so, through that, I started saying, Well, who else is talking about training and learning at work besides the folks in education, and that’s where I sort of discovered, I was a bit aware because I went to when I was in my doctoral program, there were some people that worked in private organizations. They do teaching other places. That’s pretty cool. Who’s the head of Jack’s university on the West Coast, we have Jack in the Box, fast food, and she ran Jack’s University at the time. So I started to learn more about that. And, and thinking about that by 2018. I went to the cast symposium and, and I had this idea, it’s like, why don’t we take this UDL which is not based on just how kids learn, but how people learn? And say, where could we, you know, look at that at learning and development writ large. Yeah, right. And there’s already that already been not that there’s not room for more, but Katie Novak’s already in the space. You know, Louis, Lord Nelson, all these other fantastic people were already doing a great job, you know, in building on what they’re focusing on education. Yes. And so what about this whole other audience? So Katie Novak actually encouraged me. I asked her about, you know, how did you get started writing books, and she said, You should go talk to David Gordon. So at the 2018 cast symposium, I met with David Gordon, who’s in charge of publishing it cast, sat down with him. And within a few months, we had a contract to put out this book. And it’s it’s been a long road. But it’s been a real evolution, the book that that is now is certainly not the book that I thought it was going to be four and a half years ago. I have my editor, Billy Fitzpatrick to thank for a lot of that, because he was excellent. And, you know, from the beginning, though, I didn’t want to be an education book. And so I had to think about this new audience and say, Well, what are their problems? What are the ways that they talk about these things? And so I did a lot of interviews, I did a lot of research, of observation and say, you know, subscribing to Harvard Business Review and everything else to say, I know we’re all talking about people getting better. But where are the sensibilities like in education, we’re focused on student outcomes, but in business, they may be talking about profit and loss market share different things like that. So how does learning ultimately connect to the aims of and not to minimize business solely down to money, but because there are altruistic aims for that as well, but ultimately, how do they focus? How do they turn their learning? to outcomes, and what are the outcomes that they hope the learning will will promote? And so, and also, what are the what are some of the ways that they talk about this? So I had to think about what is the right level of language and thinking about the variability, many people in that space, we’re not prior educators. So in the, in the K 12, space, and even higher, a lot of times they were teachers or professors that now doing learning and development. A lot of folks are were maybe operations folks, a gentleman that I interviewed for the book, Paul Butler, he was primarily in the accounting and business finance space. Now he has his own successful learning and development firm nuleaf. And so thinking about that, what is what could I assume? Or how could I speak to a way that cuts down? You know, we have a lot of jargon, right? Yeah. And I’d say that haven’t been in the need. Like, we have a lot

Lillian Nave  15:56

of jobs. There’s lots of jargon. And so how do we

James McKenna  15:59

translate jargon? How do we reduce that to make it accessible to the widest and that doesn’t mean people in education can’t learn from this, but I wanted to be agnostic of fields rather than folk focus primarily on that sector. Yeah.

Lillian Nave  16:13

Yeah. So I really appreciate how it is applicable in so many areas, and you mentioning, you know, that, that realization that there are other fields that are learning and, and I had that tunnel vision that, oh, it’s only in the university, or it’s only in the school setting. And totally not true. The fact that every job has trainings continuously, all the time, every person in any field is going to need ways to teach and train and bring other folks along. And I very rarely hear from people I know from my friends, that they’ve been to a very good training, that it’s usually like what you said, a fire hose, or it’s, I had to click through, click, click, click, click, click, and I had to pass a test. But I can’t tell you a thing about what I just did. So although we, you know, we met the compliance, so the company says we’re all certified, but I couldn’t tell you, you know what, that you know, what we had to spend the afternoon on. And so I really love this new book in this space, to really change the way we do that it’s definitely needed. And I, of course, think basing it on the universal design for learning guidelines, is is the way to go. And so you start off with explaining a little bit about the modern learner. And I want to do to kind of explain what the modern learner today is, what sort of characteristics are there about the modern learner, and maybe how is UDL uniquely appropriate to reach this modern learner?

James McKenna  17:55

You know, there’s been a an ever growing conversation in the Greater L&D World, Learning and Development world about what learning looks like and expanding beyond just the formal and thinking about the social and just in time learning. And there’s this great study by a man named Josh Burson in his center at Deloitte. And it talks about how the modern learner is really pressed for time to learn, has to deal with often being, you know, say disconnected. So they’re in a different place, maybe even a different timezone than their colleagues. They have to work very collaboratively. And that understands like being having to regulate their own behaviors and be cognizant of how they impact a space. Right. And, and understand the need for diverse perspectives and respect for that. And they also know that they, they have to continuously learn and grow they have to upskill and reskill because the world keeps moving. And they’re not going to stay in that same job for the rest of their career that those days have largely pass. And they know they can’t wait for their managers or their organizations, they, we’ve come with a plan for you in everything. So these are all the things that you have to learn. You know, and sometimes they don’t have time for that, and they can’t wait for that. So they have to be resourceful, and they have to be self determined. Now, self determination is great. They have the will to learn and they know they need to learn. But self determined doesn’t self determination doesn’t always come with the skill for learning, you know, the understanding of how to learn and how having learning strategies and the impact of the environment on your ability to learn. And so they may be able to operate more as expert learners but we can’t assume just because they want to learn that they have that. And even if they do, there’s the contextual elements They have to be provided, you know, the right context for learning, because even the most, you know, well intentioned expert learner, who is not given time space or emotional safety to learn, really can’t operate that way. Yeah, right. And so I think, really, as we’re talking about continuous learning, continuous improvement, collaborative learning, that there’s really an opportunity for UDL to come in and not just look at that formal space, but the space where a lot of learning happens, which is right there on the job. So I talk a lot about in the book, it’s not just about the climate within your training session, or your online course. But what about in a brainstorming meeting? What about in the, you know, whatever collaboration that has to happen? What is it like, where people are trying to figure things out? Is it safe to do that? Is Are there a lot of distractions? You know, is there space in their day, to learn and innovate? Or have we push too much on them that there’s not time for that? So also, even what do we incentivize? Have we incentivize people to learn and share their learning? Or have we incentivize people to be individual experts and hoard their own ideas? Yeah,

Lillian Nave  21:16

yeah, those are really good points about what motivates people as well. So yeah, I was interested and fascinated by that. Those ways you describe the modern learner, which reminds me a lot of our students that they’re kind of untethered, they’re Ultra mobile, they’re collaborative. And you place though, that you take the learner and then you talk about the learning environments. And I wanted to ask a little more about that. What sort of things should we be aware of when we think about learning environments? And you you give it a plural not just to a learning environment, but learning environments? Are there things that you think are commonly overlooked? And tell me what you think about that, as you’re kind of setting the scene?

James McKenna  22:04

Yeah, you know, in, I hit on some of it already. But I think, because I get excited. So I run it. But I think that certainly, learning in itself has to have a value. If we look at folks not having time, then we’re overlooking the fact that learning is integral to work. And I think sometimes we overlook explicit conversations around what is the role of learning at work. That’s why I highlight, you know, you thinking about who learns outside of education, the United States military is the largest educational organization in the world. Wow. Eric column, Colin Powell, say that years ago, on a Harvard idea cast, and I was like, Wait a second. Yeah, kind of, because they train all the time. And they’re learning all the time. And then, you know, I’ve talked about how the Marine Corps came out with a publication called learning, as in this, a series of of publications are about what it means to be a Marine, and what the Marines do and what the culture is supposed to be, how they operate. And they have a whole book on learning, and what the role is, from the newest recruit all the way up to the top person, the commandant of Marines, that it’s their requirement to continuously learn that they have to be reflective, that they have to help each other learn that they have to give critical feedback and receive critical feedback, right? Because, though, they look at the battlefield as a dynamic space, and, you know, we look at the world of work as a dynamic space, you have to continuously learn. And so I think, one we have to be intentional about learning. Sometimes in some organizations, it is just that sort of compliance piece that you laid out, and not realizing that learning is figuring out how to do hard things, right? It’s discovering new ways of doing things. It’s bringing in new information from the outside and contextualizing it to your purpose. So I think that there’s this growing emphasis of learning in the doing of work, where they call it just in time or point of need. And what I’m seeing a lot of that, and they’re talking about how AI can help with that, but a lot of that conversation is still on the content generation, how can we get content to people faster? Yeah, but we have distinct think about the context in which we are receiving that content. Right. And, you know, do I have time for it is as applicable to me and beyond just receiving content and we think about UDL, not just in that recognition piece, but in the effort and persistence, this the emotional piece, and then what am I going to go do with this? How do I contextualize it? How do I use it to solve you know my problems, hit my goals, our team’s goals, our organization’s goals. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  25:00

you know, you, you give a really wonderful and holistic picture of this of learning. And I really appreciated a chapter both on the learner another chapter on that environment, where you’re looking at all of those, what we call when I’m doing course design situational factors. So like, if it’s in the course design area, it’s, you know, is this a freshman level course? Or senior level course? Or is this for a practicum? To get a job? Or is this introduction, right? So knowing who your learners are these transfer students are these is this for non majors, which is all of my classes that they don’t want to be there. And so, right, nobody signed up for my class willingly, they just took like the best time that they could take a class and it was mine, or something like that. And so knowing your learners and those situational factors, and as you call that the learning environment is so important. And often, as you know, we talked about gets overlooked. And we have to be thinking about that. First, before we get into the actual content. And I love how the UDL guidelines just a few few years ago, probably more than five, now they switch the engagement column, it used to be on the end, like that was the last thing, and then they and then cast moved it to the very beginning. Because it’s so true, we really have to get at what motivates people, what is going to make a safe, a good environment, a positive one, a one where people can take risks and not, you know, be worried of failure right away, or that there’s, there’s ways to learn from failure, all those sorts of things. And that was, I guess, it was really one of the first times I was seeing it in the real world applications. I do it in academia. But looking at all of those other factors, not just the the student or the learner who, in the modern world, like our students are untethered, they are empowered, they’re collaborative. They want on demand, you know, learning, and that’s what our companies want to you know that you’re getting it just in time. And then then we have to think about that environment, where it’s all happening and making it a good environment, that it’s not drinking from a firehose, where you feel like you’re just drowning, and in this and you’re not absorbing anything. So you really set up the, you know, the next part of your book about the different kinds of learning, like you talk about the difference between an emotional intellectual and a strategic connection. And I wanted to ask you a little bit about that. Why are those so important? And how do you connect those also to Universal Design for Learning?

James McKenna  27:53

Well, those are really thinking again, about the audience’s like, how do I explain this without just immediately hitting them with the jargon of the principles and, and I like to work with with analogies. I love that you talked about the like the the prominence of emotions. And you know, I mentioned in the book with Jonathan Haight, the well known psychologist has a great analogy about behavior change, which is what learning kind of really is, right? You know, it’s I can do now I can now do something I couldn’t do before, you know, provided I have the opportunity and the motivation to do it, but talks about analogize it to an elephant and a rider and saying that, you know, you have to address the rider, tell the rider what it is this new thing to do. But then you have to motivate the elephant. And that’s that size differential is really important. Because, you know, all the logic in the world can’t move that elephant if it doesn’t want to move. And then with those, you have to give it a place to go, a clear place to go. So I know what you want of me. I now feel like it’s worth my time and effort to do this. It’ll lead to something positive. Where am I going with this? And so I look at that and think about another analogy I use. Back to the Navy, one of the first things you learn in the Navy is about fire. And fire is the biggest enemy aboard ship. Yeah, that makes sure we all learn about. Yeah, yeah. So we learn about the fire triangle and what a fire needs. So a fire needs oxygen. It needs fuel, and it needs heat. So if you want to start a fire, you need those three things. And if you want the fire to keep going, you need those three things. You don’t need one than another than another. You need them all the time. If you take the oxygen away, the fire goes out, you know, it’ll dim it’ll even go out depending on How much if you take it all away? It’s gone, right? That’s how we we extinguish things a lot, we put something, we have to remove all the heat or we get rid of the oxygen, right? And so learning is that same way, you need to have that emotional connection that why, right in UDL terms, we need that why. And we also need the what, and we need the how. And so we need those three things. And we need those connections all the time. Some people who are new to UDL will look at that progression, especially as it is now, right, left to right, starting with engagement than representation than actual expression, say, Oh, this is like I design my lessons. I get them interested, then I give them some content. And then I give them an assess, yeah. And it’s like a relay race. Yeah. But the brain is not doing a race, these networks in the brain are not operating as a relay race. It’s a dance. They’re happening all the time. So if I want you to get engaged with something, engagement, I have two representation give you something about which you can get excited. Yeah, right. I can’t just say be excited. Yeah. Right. And then you have to make a conscious or unconscious decision strategic of where you’re going to focus your attention, right. And you’re continuously doing that. It’s a dance, and if someone drops out of the dance, and it’s the three projects, it’s it’s not like a relay where engagement is done after the first part, and we don’t need it. And yeah,

Lillian Nave  31:33

you know, I read a book a couple years ago that use that same analogy with the rider on the elephant. It’s called Switch, How to Change Things When Change is hard, right? So I loved it. So I’ll put that in our resources to and just learned so much did some faculty reading with it as well. And really helped him in designing classes and your, your connection to the UDL guidelines. I can’t believe I think it was before I started UDL that I read this book, because it, it totally maps on and makes all the difference in the world. Because that elephant is those emotions. So that is a heavy. It is a large force, right? That takes a long time to change direction. And then the rider is the brain and saying, we’re going to make a change, like how do you stop smoking? Well, the elephant has a very strong proclivity to continue smoking, even if the brain says it’s better if we stop, right. And then the third part that I thought was so interesting to me is the clearing the path. So you have the writer, and the elephant, and then the path. And a lot of what I found my job as a professor, was to make the path as easy as possible for my students to kind of do the right thing, just like Amazon has the Buy Now button, right? They make it really easy to do, I’m going to use air quotes on a podcast here, the right thing, and the right thing for Amazon is to buy something right. But make that that click that thing, the easiest thing to do to clear the path. And that I think does, that’s that strategic connection. Like we don’t want to throw barriers in front of our learners to say, make it harder for them to demonstrate what they’ve learned. We don’t want to give them 85 questions. When five would do, right, we don’t want to throw in barriers to getting to the finish line. And just like an elephant is probably going to go down an open path rather than try to make its way through a forest jungle with lots of trees. Right? So we want to clear the path. And so that connection to me, the emotional, intellectual and strategic, I think is what when I hear folks outside of the educational world do their kind of compulsory training. That’s what’s lacking. And so that’s why I think your book is so needed in that space.

James McKenna  34:18

I love that you bring up Amazon because Amazon is one that I I studied because they are fanatical about what you describe reducing friction, right? reducing friction and I think that as as designers and owners have a space in which learning happens we have to be reducing that friction to learning right? So some barriers we can eliminate and some barriers we might have to mitigate and empower folks to circumnavigate and any other eight words but really be fanatical about that is how do we make this easy so that people can take it especially it’s that that that path because we know that learning we profit but if we don’t use it, we lose it. And I don’t think anybody teaches a course or training. They say like, jeez, I’m just so glad they’re gonna forget this next week Exactly. Why nobody wants that, because that’s a waste of your time. It’s a waste of their time, right? It’s really about how do I make this and connect this so that they continuously do things and then build upon it and that learning is sustained. It’s endured over time. Yeah. You know, I think that’s really important. Yeah.

Lillian Nave  35:26

And when you said reduce friction, I think that’s that that’s the word I’m going to use for now. And because in the academic world, we often hear this word rigor, right? And the there’s a difference, I think, what you’ve come up with it, for me, the difference between friction and rigor. And so we can, we should still have, you know, rigorous courses, but we want to eliminate the friction. So things that are barriers, an end, yes, we need our students to learn certain ideas, certain skills, we want them to be proficient and things I’m not saying at all, we dumb it down, we change our outcomes or our goals, we want to keep those very high standards. But what has happened over years and years of, I guess, establishment, and whatever it is, whether it’s a university, a school, a job, a profession, a, you know, an association, whatever, there’s often the, this is how we always did it. And so you have to do it this way, even though that way, may or may not be helpful at all. And I think it just requires a constant re looking at just like you started, who are our learners? What’s our environment? And what can we do that reduces the friction, but gets us to the learning the standards, the objectives along the way?

James McKenna  36:50

Yeah, I love that you are talking about that, that rigor versus, you know, the, the, the, making it hard, right, for no reason versus the challenge, because it’s, it reminds me of, you know, I’ve had teachers in the past who, you know, it’s a difference between, I’m going to challenge all of you and push you to learn more than you think you can do, and those who are like, you’re gonna have to fight me for an app. Yeah. And sometimes, that is a byproduct of, you know, it’s really easy to own our students successes, I talked about ownership in the book, in the book, it’s, it’s not as easy to own their struggles, right. You know, they’ve learned it if they if they wanted to, if they really wanted to, they do this, rather than saying, Okay, how, if I really have high expectations for them, what is what is it incumbent upon me, as the architect of this learning environment to see what’s getting in their way? And help them meet those high expectations that I hopefully have for all the kids? Yes,

Lillian Nave  37:47

absolutely worthy? Yes. Right. Our learners in general. And that’s so, so true about what’s our role as the facilitator or instructor. And I ask a lot of people this one I do workshops is, whose responsibility do you think it is to motivate your students? And is it the students they have to do it? Is it you, you have to do it, or is it somewhere in between. And oftentimes, we get to that part where we’re all in a team really to do this, to motivate our students, but they also have to be motivated as well. But it’s finding that sweet spot where it’s not adversarial. But it’s also not really changing your outcomes to make it easy, but there, then you lose the learning. We’re not advocating for that at all. So yeah, and that can be cultural. You mentioned when you talked about environments, the culture of the learning environment. And you know, there are some work situations, and there are some jobs, there are some classrooms, there are some teachers, that it is adversarial. And I have yet to see where that has been an advantageous place for the learner to to actually succeed, they might get through, right, they might survive and feel good about surviving, but it’s not necessarily the best place. And so I appreciated how you kind of set up so many different things about who the learner is how variable the learner is, or worker or whoever it is in that situation. And then looking at all those environments. So this application of UDL in these other areas has been really helpful, I think, I think would be helpful for our listeners who want to pick up this book. Because I see a lot of applications in, in higher ed as well. So

James McKenna  39:47

yeah, it was a real challenge in writing the book because in many other books by chapter three, or whatever we’re getting into the guidelines. Yeah. Right, especially as we’re going forward because As the fields become more aware, there’s less sort of conceptual setup that’s necessary. But in a new audience, you know, it’s really, I don’t want the UDL to be just oh, just let me skip to the things you do. It’s like, why do we do all those? Yes. Right. And then you can make strategic decisions, right? And think about those things. Yeah, just so it’s a little different that all the all the real, all the checkpoints and stuff are all in the appendix. Yes.

Lillian Nave  40:29

Right. Okay. Well, that brings me to my last question, which is about this. What a great segue already. But you mentioned that UDL is more of a lens and a series of checkpoints. And yeah, you’re the checkpoints are all the way in the appendix. And so I wholeheartedly agree with this. How would you explain what UDL is to a colleague outside academia in learning and development? Who is maybe trying to do the Jack in the Box training, right, or is trying to train their bank employees or has to come up with something, and they’ve never heard of UDL before, and you want to convince them, let’s say in an elevator pitch, so some way to concisely say why that UDL is the lens they need to use.

James McKenna  41:17

But what I love about universal design for learning in this learning space is how well it can overlay and enhance things that people do already. And so there are a lot of design methodologies around there. They all have like a space at the beginning for sending some very clear, measurable, challenging goals. Right? There’s a space in there. They may call it different things, depending on if we’re doing the SAM Successive Approximation Model, or Addie, or what have you, that there’s a place for thinking about the learner, whether we use learner personas, or what have you to think about what is the learner? What is the learner need? What are they coming to us already? And so I think there’s, there are, it’s not about telling people that everything you’ve done is wrong, but it’s the way how could we that’s I love you know, the word optimize in the book, how do we take what you what good things you do already, and expand on them? So typically, in a learning space, our learning goals are focused around what, and maybe a little bit of how to demonstrate that what, what about. And this was an idea that came up at a cash convening from some of my other brilliant colleagues, Alexis Reed and Joanie Dana and I was just privileged to be in the room, but they said, why don’t we write emotional goals? And then intellectual goals and strategic goals? Why do we write write goals around those? So I would say? Could you go beyond the learning objectives? And say, how do you want people to feel? As the end is, at the end of this? How prepared Do you want them to feel? How committed to putting into practice? Do you want them to feel? How supportive Do you want them to feel about this in the first place? Because those are the things and if we think about our measurements, right, and Kirkpatrick, whatever, you know, a lot of it, if they liked the Danish, or if it was too cold in the room, none of that predicts whether or not they’re actually going to do it, but how they feel about their confidence and their likelihood of being able to be successful. That’s more predictive. Right? Yeah. So setting goals around, you know, the, the, what the why, and the how, and, and just thinking about, there’s the environment at large, rather than just within the design, so not just the elearning course. But what is it like for the person where they’re consuming that elearning? Course? Right, if it is supposed to be done, I worked. I had an interview with a person that worked at a national chain that I will talk about, but basically, the learning had to happen at an outdated computer station right next to an oven. Oh my gosh, okay. Right. No greatest content in the world is not overcoming that as a bad place to try to learn with plates climbing and, and it’s hot. And you know, you feel like this is in the corner and wood crammed in. Right. So I think in a nutshell, the way to introduce it, is that UDL doesn’t require you to throw away all the good things that you do, like, you know, thinking about the learner and setting clear goals and having ways for them to show what they know and apply that. But it does think, have you think about that expanded and maybe get rid of some things that are not so good, like incentivizing people to hold on to their their knowledge instead of sharing it or using shame as a motivator, you know, giving you alternative more effective means of meeting those individual team and organizational goals. Yeah, I know that there’ll be a really long elevator ride, right? But if I practice it, I could probably shrink it down. But yeah, really about it’s not about throwing away the good stuff you do. But it’s about taking that enhancing it being more intentional, and thinking about the whole learner and the whole learning space.

Lillian Nave  45:00

Ah, you know, you brought up the until emotional goals, intellectual goals and strategic goals. We talked about that earlier. And that reminded me of something that’s really ubiquitous in higher ed. And that’s something called Bloom’s Taxonomy, where when we write goals for our students, it’s all about cognitive knowledge, you know, like, do you remember understand, can you apply, analyze those sorts of things, and we even have, you know, charts of verbs to use to put Bloom’s Taxonomy into it. And it wasn’t until, you know, well into my teaching career, because I wasn’t, I didn’t have an education background, I had an art history, religion background. And so you don’t learn educational, you know, things. When you do that, that bloom had actually other taxonomies, not just the cognitive realm. And but that’s all we ended up looking at, when we do a lot of these, you know, how to create a goal that there’s an effective realm and psychomotor psychomotor realm, and so things like responding and valuing and organizing, and feeling ready to act, you know, things that we seem to often ignore, when we’re only looking at those cognitive goals or intellectual goals. And so, what I really appreciated about your longer elevator speech, but I thought was just fine, is that it’s, you have to look at the whole person, the whole student, the whole environment, the whole, like, design of what you’re trying to do, or else it goes back to drinking from a firehose, you forget it right away. And it’s been a waste of time. And I must say, I use I talk about that in my first year seminar, because I have students who don’t want to be there, nobody wants to take my course it is required. They just have to check it off their list. That’s their motivation. They can’t graduate without passing one of them. So they they chose mine because it fits in their schedule. And I asked them about, do you remember what you what math you took your sophomore year? And they often don’t. And I said, you know, I don’t want to be the thing in five years, where you think that was a waste of my time. I showed up for class, I spent all this time doing it. I got some letter on my transcript. But it was a complete waste of time. Yeah. And so we I feel like I have to start from there. And say, this has got to be useful, this has got to be helpful, not just because it gets them on the transcript to graduate. But because it’s motivating, because it’s, it has something that’s helpful for their lives that they could use later, right, that they can take forward. Otherwise, it’s just not really worthwhile, right?

James McKenna  47:57

I love how you’re, you’re shifting the value proposition there and say, Okay, you’re here anyway, maybe you can who gets that? How do we how do you get something else out of this? Right, yeah, you know, that is very frank terms, how do we make this not a waste of your time and not a waste of my time? You know, we’re gonna be here together, let’s make the most

Lillian Nave  48:17

Yeah, yeah. And so often, it’s flipped when I see kind of, you know, even the trainings we have to do as employees of the university, you know, so not necessarily teaching learning, you have to, like, everybody has to be in compliance, and you have to attend the seminar or do this, you know, training on the computer. And to have that in mind in the beginning, not just we have to get through this. But to change it on its ear to talk about why the importance of it, the how, and all of those really individualized factors that you bring up, I think is so needed. And really, the reason why I was so excited and sought you out, I was like, Oh, I really need to interview you. So. So thank you. Well, I’m

James McKenna  49:05

so glad you invited. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  49:07

I really appreciate it. And but when people hear this episode, we’ll have a link to the book in our resources page. And so they should be able to, to get it and reach out and ask a bunch more questions. So thank you so much, James. I really appreciate it. Thank you. You can follow the Think UDL podcast on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to find out when new episodes will be released. And also see transcripts and additional materials at the think website. Thank you again to our sponsor, Texthelp Texthelp is focused on helping all people learn, understand and communicate through the use of digital education and accessibility tools. Texthelp and its people are working towards a world where difference, disability or language are no longer barriers to learning and succeeding, with over 50 million users worldwide. The Texthelp suite of products include Read and Write equates to an orbit note, which work alongside existing platforms such as Microsoft Office and G Suite, enabling them to be integrated quickly into any classroom or workspace with ease. Texthelp has changed the lives of millions worldwide, and strives to impact the literacy and understanding of 1 billion people by 2030. Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University where if you call it Appalachian, I’ll throw an apple at-cha. The music on the podcast was performed by The Oddyssey Quartet comprised of Rex Shepherd, David Pate, Bill Folwell and Jose Cochez, and I am your host, Lillian Nave. Thank you for joining us on The Think UDL podcast

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