Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a system of principles, facts, concepts and relationships among the elements of learning and instructional environments, presentation of instruction, and products of learning. It is a goal with a process that doesn’t need to be fully implemented at once, and may never actually be fully implemented. However, taking consistent steps toward universally designing a class will result in a class that is accessible to all and lets students use their strengths to excel. Let’s get started.

The overarching goal is to eliminate barriers for everyone, or include a wider range of people, increase usability, and ensure accessibility for all. Incorporating UDL in your class could also reduce the need for some formal accommodations. A universally designed course provides students with multiple means of representation of content, expression, and engagement. In many ways it is a complement to good teaching practices.

Although a primary focus for universally designing a class is to provide access for students with disabilities, there are often unintended benefits for students without disabilities. Universally designing your class makes the class more accessible to students with learning differences as well. Your class will inevitably have students who consider themselves auditory, visual, kinetic, or text-based learners, or some combination of all of them. Universally designing your class allows each student in your class to use his or her strengths to learn and best demonstrate what they have learned.

As you read through the list, notice how each item address a distinct, but related aspect of the universal part of the term. Also note that by turning each item into a question, they may help guide development.

That’s what UDL is. However there are often misconceptions about UDL. Here are a few thoughts on what it is NOT. For example, it is NOT:

  • Groundbreaking. Many ideas for implementing UDL can be seen as logical compliments to good teaching. Also, the theory has been around for a long time in architecture and in the design of a lot of common objects such as can openers, eyeglasses, pencils, and computer interfaces.
  • One single solution. It is a constellation of approaches that are tailored to the individual learner’s needs.
  • A means to lower quality or standards. UDL lets the content emerge in full measure to better represent the knowledge and methods of a field.
  • A means to make classes accessible to unqualified students. Qualification and access are two different ideas. UDL can make classes more accessible for qualified students.
  • Completely required in every class. Some accommodations will still necessitate being obtained formally. For example, it is not practical to have an interpreter in every class, just in case a student needs one.
  • A replacement for good teaching, it is a complement that can help make your plans for teaching clearer and serves to review what you do in a systematic way.