Empathy Mapping as a Tool for Igniting UDL Mindsets for Online Engagement

Concurrent Session 2
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Brief Abstract

Empathy mapping and design thinking provide a glimpse into the mindsets of learners. This session will provide learners with an opportunity to explore the value of embedding empathy into e-learning experiences by starting with empathy mapping and Universal Design for Learning as tools for designing for all online.


Dr. Suzanne Ehrlich is an Assistant Professor in the Educational Technology, Training and Development program at the University of North Florida. She has presented nationally/internationally on the topics of e-learning, implementing the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework for improved learner engagement and learning design. Her recent research focuses on university faculty members and student mindsets and experiences with UDL. Her latest publications include her co-PI pilot study on: Increasing Learner Engagement in Online Learning through the Use of Interactive Feedback, a co-authored article: Accommodating in the Online Course Environment for Students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing, and: The Use of iPads to Bridge Education for Post-secondary Deaf Students. Her service includes university-wide committees focused on faculty enhancement and distance learning, statewide groups for workplace learning, and national groups including Educause (ID2ID) and Designers for Learning. She is a Quality Matters (QM) certified reviewer and Voicethread Certified educator, among others.

Extended Abstract

Empathy Mapping as a Tool for Igniting UDL Mindsets for Online Engagement 


Online learning has been long-standing but those who are engaged in online course development have grown by leaps and bounds due to Covid-19. Much of what we knew has also highlighted from experience where we can continue to advance our online instruction through the eyes of all learners. This presentation is designed to engage participants in an exploratory talk which encourages empathy mapping as a tool for enhancing online instruction. Participants will reflect on current practice and participate in dialogue with fellow colleagues in activities that apply the empathy map to current online learning environments. 

Embedding UDL into Empathy Mapping

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in its growing momentum to support all learners has been in high demand by learning designers, educators, and administrators as an opportunity to address existing instructional challenges. With an increasingly diverse student body participating in online experiences, designers have the opportunity to support all learners by understanding their needs from their view, not just from the view of an educator (Rao, 2012). Empathy mapping, a tool that guides designers through a process that reveals what users (learners) potentially think, feel, does, and says. Through this iterative process of applying the empathy map to their current practice, we will guide participants not only through mapping their learners’ perspectives but lead them into identifying opportunities to apply the UDL framework (Cha, 2019). 

Session Learning Outcomes

In this session, participants will:

  1. Identify strategies and curricular opportunities for implementing empathy mapping as an online design tool.

  2. Share challenges and opportunities for applying UDL principles to further weave empathy into course activities and engagement that support diverse learners including but not limited to equity and social issues present in online learning.

  3. Develop ideas that advance reflection for instructors and learners on how UDL and empathy can play a critical role in humanizing online learning for effective social learning experiences.

Session Outline/Timeline

The session will include the following timeline: 

  • Introduction/review to core concepts of Universal Design for Learning (3 principles), Design Thinking, and Empathy Mapping as they relate to online learning (10 minutes)

  • Reflection activity where participants explore the handout on empathy mapping for online learners designed by the presenters specific for identifying both students’ mindsets and needs and how UDL can support these (5 minutes)

  • Participants will discuss in small groups what themes, challenges, and strategies they identified as a result of the brainstorming exercise and will leverage crowdsourcing strategies to address remaining challenges (15 minutes)

  • Results from small group discussions via digital Dotstorming board (via mobile devices) will be used both to share collectively sources strategies and provide participants with a takeaway tool to access these resources digitally to keep and access post-session (10 minutes)

  • Question and Answer session will conclude the presentation (5 minutes). While only a short time is provided here, questions and answers will be welcomed throughout the presentation. 

Participant Engagement 

As outlined above, participants will be encouraged to interact with presenters, peers, and content throughout the presentation both in verbal discussions and interactive tools such as Dotstorming. It is the design and intent to provide multiple means of engagement which aligns with one of the proposed themes of the presentation, Universal Design for Learning. 

Significance of Participation

Participants will benefit from attending this session from collaborative learning experiences as well as identifying specific strategies for supporting online learning through the lens of empathy mapping. Participants will also benefit by identifying gaps in their current online delivery model to increase access for all learners through mindful and inclusive online learning experiences. Participants will have the opportunity to diversify their current design strategies by furthering their knowledge and application of universal design for learning in the context of empathy development in eLearning.

Session Materials

The session presenters will guide participants through empathy maps by providing specific handouts (paper and digital for full access and representation) to use as a tool for learning during the session, including the empathy map template included in this proposal (see PDF). QR coded presentation slides and materials will enable participants not only to access session materials but to manipulate them for access if needed. Tools that are imagery-driven, not simply text-based, will drive the design and delivery of the session materials. Participants will actively engage in discussions using these stimuli to further their instructional design and practice. 


Cha, H. (2019). Applying design thinking to the educational problems: A student-centered instructional approach and practice in an undergraduate course. Educational Technology International, 20(1), 83-107.

Zhang, J. (2020). Universal Design for Learning: A Practical Guide. Justice Institute of British Columbia. 

Rao, K. (2012, January). Universal design for online courses: Addressing the needs of non-traditional learners. In 2012 IEEE International Conference on Technology Enhanced Education (ICTEE) (pp. 1-8). IEEE.