How can we design OER for students with diverse learning needs?


Students learn differently. Learning experiences that match a student’s individual learning needs result in the best learning outcomes. OER should be open and accessible to students with a diversity of learning needs. Learning needs are affected by:

  • Sensory, motor, cognitive, emotional, and social constraints;
  • Linguistic and cultural backgrounds;
  • Technical, financial and environmental constraints; and
  • Preferred modes of learning.

Accessible learning is achieved by matching the individual learning needs of each student with a learning experience that addresses those needs. This can be accomplished through the resource delivery system by reconfiguring the resource, where possible, augmenting the resource or replacing the resource or parts of it with another resource that addresses the same learning goals.

A related concept, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), is a set of principles for curriculum development that gives all individuals equal opportunities to learn. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone. Rather than a single, one-size-fits-all solution, it offers a flexible approach that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.

To accommodate students with diverse learning needs, learning materials or educational resources should:

  1. Include labelling to indicate what learning needs the resource addresses;
  2. Allow the creation of variations and enhancements through open licences;
  3. Support flexible styling (e.g., enlarging the font, enhancing the colour contrast and adjusting the layout for students with vision impairments or mobile devices);
  4. Support keyboard control of functions and navigation (for students who cannot use or do not have access to a mouse or pointing device);
  5. Provide audio or text descriptions of non-text information presented in videos, graphics or images (for students who have visual constraints or who have limited displays);
  6. Provide text captions of information presented in audio format (for students who have hearing constraints or lack audio interfaces);
  7. Cleanly separate text that can be read in the interface from underlying code or scripting (to enable translation);
  8. Use open formats wherever possible to make it easier for alternative access systems and devices to display and control the resource; and
  9. Adhere to international standards of interoperability so that OER can be used on a wide variety of devices and applications.

Finally, the resource delivery system should also enable each student, or her/his support team, to identify the student’s functional learning needs.

OER, students, diverse needs, disability, learning needs, constraints, learning styles, cultural, linguistic, accessible learning, augmenting, labelling, open licenses, formats

UNESCO and Commonwealth of Learning (2015). Guidelines for Open Educational Resources (OER) in higher education. Retrieved from
Amanda Coolidge, Sue Doner, and Tara Robertson. (2015). B.C. Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit. British Columbia: BCcampus. Retrieved from