Universal Design for Learning

What is Universal Design for Learning? 

Universal design for learning (UDL) is a framework that rests on a foundation of research in learning science intended to support the creation of inclusive instruction and learning environments that give all individuals – regardless of their difference – equal opportunities to learn.

UDL suggests customizable approaches that work in a variety of settings and circumstances. UDL helps us think proactively about teaching and learning to build ways to make instructional materials usable by any/all learners from the start – rather than retrofitting later.

UDL is not about accommodating students who request certain things, but rather more about planning and designing for learning difference.

The UDL framework is based on the science of how we learn – how we ALL learn. The framework focuses on three brain networks:The UDL framework is based on the science of how we learn – how we ALL learn. The framework focuses on three brain networks:

  1. Affective Networks
    This network influences how learners get engaged and stay motivated. Think about how learners are challenged, excited or interested. This is about the WHY of learning. To activate the affective network in designing learning experiences, think about ways to stimulate interest and motivation.
  2. Recognition Networks
    This network influences how we gather facts and categorize what we see, hear and read. Examples of recognition tasks might be how we identify letters, words or an author's style. This is about the WHAT of learning. To active the recognition network, present information and content in different ways.

  3. Strategic Networks
    This network influences planning and performing tasks and how we organize and express our ideas. Examples include writing an essay or solving a math problem. This is about the HOW of learning. To activate the strategic network, plan to differentiate the ways that students can express what they have learned and know.

The most important thing to understand about universal design for learning is that it benefits ALL learners. It helps us to think about how we design learning circumstances and experiences so that learning is most likely to occur. UDL helps everyone.

How does UDL work?

Keeping principles of universal design in mind as we develop learning circumstances and experiences helps to create an environment where learning difference is already acknowledged. This approach lessens the possibility that a learner will arrive at an experience and not have opportunity to learn that is equal to every other learner in the class.

How can we best accomplish this, as we keep the brain networks in mind?
Our first tip is to start smallDr. Tom Tobin gave us great advice in his August 18 workshop. He calls this "+1 thinking". Think about giving students 1 more way to do something. Start with adding 1 more way to interact with content; 1 more way for students to show what they have learned. Dr. Tobin also suggests starting small by thinking in terms of time.

What can you accomplish in the next 20 minutes, 20 days, 20 months – as you consider ways to incorporate UDL principles: Universal Design for Learning: Way Beyond Accessibility PDF Document Download

What are specific strategies for incorporating difference in representing information, demonstrating learning, or keeping students motivated to learn? Some of the strategies we have explored together include adding image alt. Txt., captioning videos, making assignments in alternative formats and the like. 

Take a look at Dr. Tobin's suggestions: Universal Design for Learning Menu PDF Document Download

Why use UDL?

Thoughtful inclusive design ensures an equal opportunity for all learners – taking into account learning difference from the start.

References & Additional Information

  1. What is UDL? National Center on Universal Design for Learning.  

  2. The Three Principles of UDL. National Center on Universal Design for Learning. 

  3. Take a Tour: Learn About Universal Design For Learning National Center on Universal Design for Learning 

  4. Universal Design for Learning Guidelines National Center on Universal Design for Learning 

  5. UDL on Campus: Univeral Design for Learning in Higher Education 

  6. Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice