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Universal Design for Learning


What is Universal Design for Learning?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework developed by the researchers at the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). This framework is used to guide the design of learning environments that not only support learners, but are inclusive, accessible, and challenging for all (About Universal Design for Learning, CAST). 

The UDL Framework and Guidelines are built around three primary principles; Provide learners with

  1. multiple means of Engagement by providing options in how learners interact with the content (group work, flex time, self regulation, etc.)
  2. multiple means of Representation by presenting information and content in different ways (video, audio, text, images, etc.)
  3. multiple means of Action and Expression by allowing learners to demonstrate knowledge in different ways (essay, podcast, presentation, etc.)

Each principle of UDL is divided into three guidelines with checkpoints to provide more detailed suggestions on how to utilize and incorporate the principle into your teaching and course design. 

Although it shares concepts and principles, UDL is not digital accessibility, multiple intelligences & learning styles, accommodation, assistive technology, or adult learning theory. UDL is a teaching approach that helps develop constant awareness that every student learning journey is different. 

Why is UDL Important?

As educators, we have a duty to ensure our courses and educational content are accessible, inclusive, and usable for all learners. UDL challenges us to change our design process from reactively making modifications to proactively addressing the needs and preferences of our diverse learners.

UDL emphasizes choice. By providing learners with the ability to choose how they acquire the information, how they interact with the content, and how they demonstrate knowledge learned, students take a more active role in their learning. Learning environments designed with UDL allow students to customize their learning and can be adjusted to meet individual needs, reducing the need for special accommodations. UDL is not choice for the sake of choice, it’s providing options so that learners can decide for themselves what supports they need in order to reach the learning goals. 

UDL does not negate the need for accommodations. When implemented effectively, UDL learning environments provide access and support for all learners, regardless of language, background, or ability. UDL is meant to be a proactive practice, and "while we will never wholly eliminate the need for specific accommodations, we can do our students and ourselves a huge favor by removing barriers and creating engagement as a first principle in any course or interaction design or redesign process. This saves the efforts of our design teams later on so they can respond to the most specific accommodation requests, rather than accommodation requests that actually point out usability and design flaws" (Tobin & Behling, p. 126).

Who Should Use UDL?

Everyone! Utilizing UDL principles in course design and learning environments reduces barriers to access, usability, and learning, “UDL is a way of thinking about creating the interactions that we have with our learners so that they do not have to ask for special treatment, regardless of the types of barriers they may face—time, connectivity, or disability” (Tobin & Behling, p. 130).

How do I to Use this Guide?

This guide is meant to be a starting place, an introduction into Universal Design for Learning, a place to spark ideas, and to provide resources where you can learn more about UDL. This guide is not meant to be "the end all be all" when it comes to UDL. There are tons and tons of workshops, videos, webinars, articles, books that go into detail on all different aspects of UDL and the application across multiple subject areas. Resources are included on this guide; this is by no means a comprehensive list. 

UDL at a Glance

"Find out how the UDL framework guides the design of instructional goals, assessments, methods, and materials that can be customized and adjusted to meet individual needs."

Video Length: 4:36 | Timed transcript available on YouTube

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