Using Science to Teach in Special Libraries: Universal Design for Learning

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

March 10, 2020

The Special Libraries Association lists instructional design and development, teaching, and mentoring as enabling competencies needed by special librarians. With this in mind, let’s talk about learning.

Cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology have a lot to tell us about how people learn, and they also tell us what does not work for teaching and learning. One of the biggest myths in education is the idea that there are different learning styles. People are not visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners. Research has debunked what used to be an undisputed part of every educational program.

However, researchers have developed the Universal Design for Learning framework that is based on scientific evidence. Similar to the idea of learning styles, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), provides guidance for how to meet the needs of different individuals in various learning environments. More specifically, “Universal design for learning (UDL) is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn” (CAST, 2019, para. 1).

The UDL guidelines focus on three neural networks:

  1. Affective networks: the “why” of learning
  2. Recognition networks: the “what” of learning
  3. Strategic networks: the “how” of learning

The creators of UDL have identified ways to promote learning in each of these networks. Broadly, to promote learning provide different ways for individuals to learn through various ways to engage with the content, multiple ways for individuals to consume content, and various ways for individuals to express their learning. The ways of learning are aligned with the neural networks as follows:

Affective networks: the “why” of learning= Provide multiple means of engagement

Recognition networks: the “what” of learning= Provide multiple means of representation

Strategic networks: the “how” of learning= Provide multiple means of action and expression

UDL for Special Libraries

As we seek to create training opportunities for our stakeholders, using the UDL guidelines will help us develop content that is inclusive. Developing training content is challenging in any setting, but when working with adults who have a lot of experience learning in various settings, creating meaningful learning opportunities can be even more difficult. Instead of teaching the way we were taught, UDL offers guidance for how to create more meaningful learning for all our stakeholders.

My next three posts will dive into applying UDL guidelines in special libraries and include many practical examples. Stay tuned!

Recommended Resources

May, C. (2018). The problem with “learning styles.” Scientific American. Retrieved from

Nancekivell, S. (2019). Belief in learning styles myth may be detrimental. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from

Toppo, G. (2019). Neuromyth of helpful model? InsideHigherEd. Retrieved from


CAST. (2019). About Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from

Special Libraries Association. (2016). Competencies for information professionals. Retrieved from

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri. Please learn more about Lauren and read her other posts about skills for special librarians; then take a look at Lucidea’s powerful ILS, SydneyEnterprise, used daily by innovative special librarians.

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