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2.4: Universal Design for Learning

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    What is Universal Design for Learning? (UDL)

    “Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research-based set of principles to guide the design of learning environments that are accessible and effective for all.”  The CAST organization promotes the idea that to improve learning, barriers should be reduced so all students can learn.  So, what does that look like in curriculum development and teaching?  They found if you provide choices for students in the areas of engagement, representation, and action and expression, student learning increases.

    1. Multiple Means of Engagement - providing various ways for students to get interested in the content, ie. giving choices, connecting content to life, giving clear objectives and goals, etc.
    2. Multiple Means of Representation - providing various ways to present the content, ie. lecture, PowerPoint slides, videos, etc.
    3. Multiple Means of Action and Expression - providing various ways for students to show that they understand the information, ie. tests, quizzes, essays, student created videos, podcasts, etc.

    The UDL guidelines shown below can also be seen and downloaded by clicking on this link.  UDL Guidelines 




     Universal Design for Learning “provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and students are engaged.”  Source: Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008


    UDL at a Glance

    Watch this brief video to learn more about Universal Design for Learning.

    Click here to watch this YouTube video (4:36 minutes)


    Meeting All Students’ Needs

    The UDL framework provides a flexible, responsive curriculum that reduces or eliminates barriers to learning. Using a UDL approach, allows educators to provide options that present information and content in varied ways, and engage students in meaningful, authentic learning. With UDL, more students are:

    • Engaged in their own education.

    • Learning in greater breadth and depth.

    • Achieving at higher levels.

    • Motivated to continue learning.

    So what does UDL look like in the classroom?  Here is an example:

    Case Study: Bridget

    As a fourth-grader, Bridget has strong math skills but struggles with reading. She reads at a beginning second-grade level and is still trying to master writing simple sentences with correct syntax. Her communication skills score significantly below age level, especially in expressive vocabulary, syntactical expression, and comprehension of figurative and abstract language concepts. She’s an avid soccer player, loves music of all kinds, and plays flute in the school band. 

    After learning about UDL, these options were included in the fourth-grade classroom curriculum to support and scaffold Bridget’s learning:

    • Multiple means of representation: video presentations for subject-matter content; highlighted vocabulary in subject matter content, such as science and social studies materials; main ideas offered through graphic organizers and concept mapping (e.g., Education Oasis); speech-to-text options (e.g., Click, Speak and AIM Explorer); pre-teaching opportunities for new vocabulary and concepts; color shading used for emphasis; use of Visuwords for vocabulary development.

    • Multiple means of action and expression: animated digital coaches (i.e., animated characters that appear on screen to offer support or simply information) to help with comprehension; models of expert performance using differing approaches; outlines of subject matter content; use of Interactives: Elements of a Story to teach narrative structures; use of Writing Fun by Jenny Eather to develop expressive writing skills.

    • Multiple means of engagement: creation of voice avatars (i.e., a vocal character representing a real person) for digital text presentation (e.g., Voki); choice of topics for projects (including soccer and music, as appropriate); simple self-monitoring checklists; curriculum handouts for students to self-assess completion and accuracy; frequent feedback; use of computer software to teach early reading skills (e.g., Starfall); paired peers to share small-group activities; use of CAST UDL Book Builder to create engaging topical books for science and social studies projects.


    Myths and Misconceptions about UDL

    UDL is only for learners with disabilities.

    UDL aims to remove barriers to learning and supports inclusive institutional and teaching practices that reach all learners. As many post-secondary institutions must support large student populations and students usually participate in large class sizes, UDL practices ensure that a large, diverse student body still has access to learning in ways that support their individual needs. Therefore, instructors still need to consider using UDL in their pedagogy, even if they do not have learners with disabilities in their courses. It is important to remember that those students who vary in age, gender, cultural background, first language and abilities will also benefit from UDL

    Incorporating UDL into pedagogy lowers academic rigor.

    UDL does not replace regular program, course and assessment objectives. UDL practices simply support the use of multiple means of representation, multiple means of action and expression and multiple means of engagement to support all learners in meeting these objectives. It may be argued that academic rigour increases, as students are expected to express materials in multiple ways, limiting options for memorization and increasing the likelihood of deep learning.

    UDL has no research behind it.

    UDL research has been conducted in many fields, by varying researchers with the support of numerous institutions. Its framework resulted from thorough research in the fields of cognitive science, cognitive neuroscience, neuropsychology and neuroscience. UDL guidelines and practices were a direct result of intensive research and investigation both supported by experimental and quantitative evidence as well as scholarly reviews and expert opinions. A compilation of the past 10 years of UDL research can be located on the National Center of Universal Design for Learning website.

    To make UDL work, you have to use technology.

    It is true that technology can effectively support learning in today’s classroom and can play an important role in the implementation of UDL. However, in order to support UDL and apply it effectively, technology is not a requirement if it is not available. . Instructors can still support student learning with no-tech or low-tech options as UDL classrooms focus on flexible learning methods to support learning not just technological ones. The following resources provide some low/no tech UDL classroom options:

    1. Example of a Technology-less lesson by Rose, Gravel, & Domings (2010)

    2. Technology-less options according to UDL principles by Prince George County Public Schools

    UDL is just good teaching.

    UDL does not automatically assume or result in good teaching. The term “good” is often judged subjectively and therefore not an ideal term for academic discussion. UDL principles, guidelines and checkpoints provide a clear framework that informs intentional teaching practices. Effective teaching will support opportunities for BOTH instructors and students to assess learning meaningfully and frequently in an inclusive physical and intellectual environment. However, unless an instructor is referencing the UDL framework and applying the UDL principles in order to make decisions, assess and/or inform, they are not implementing UDL.




    Resources to learn more about UDL:

    UDL Instructional Module

    • Understand the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
    • Be able to apply the Universal Design for Learning principles to the components of a curriculum

    Universal Design for Learning (UDL) for Specific Learning Disability (or difficulty) in: mathematical calculation and problem solving.

    Get the UDL Guidelines in full-text format (Word): A complete narrative describing the context within which CAST developed the UDL Guidelines including explanations and examples of each principle and checkpoint.

    The ASHA Leader, 16 (10), 14-17. do 10. 1044/leader.FTR2.16102011.14 Retrieved from

    Culturally diverse students, such as international students or English language learners. The target audience is higher education, however the strategies are completely relevant to K-12 environments.

    Universal Design for Learning (Part 6): Culturally Diverse Learners. [Video File]. Retrieved from Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed)

    2.4: Universal Design for Learning is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.