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Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a teaching and learning approach that provide all students with an equitable opportunity to succeed.


Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework for designing curriculum that provides all students equitable opportunities to learn. UDL promotes access as a formal principle rather than an add-on. It is proactive rather than reactive, benefiting not just students with disabilities but improving access for all students. Research consistently shows that UDL positively affects students’ persistence, retention, and satisfaction.

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  • Faculty
  • Students
  • Staff

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Getting Started

UDL’s framework is based on three principles, for creating educational goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone, while still maintaining high academic standards.

  • Affective Networks, the "Why" of learning. Provide multiple means of Engagement for
    • purposeful,
    • motivated learners,
    • stimulate interest, and 
    • motivate learning.
  • Recognition Networks, the "What" of learning. Provide multiple means of Representation for 
    • resourceful, 
    • knowledgeable learners, 
    • present information and content in different ways.
  • Strategic Networks, the "How" of learning. Provide multiple means of Action & Expression, for 
    • strategic, 
    • goal-oriented learners, 
    • differentiate the ways that students can express what they know. (CAST)

Best Practices

  • Integrating universal design principles into courses enhances a diverse, inclusive and accessible learning environment.
  • Designing and developing a course with all learners in mind helps to eliminate barriers and learning obstacles before they arise. This is a proactive rather than reactive approach and supports an "all are welcome" type of learning environment.
  • Providing students with multiple means of perceiving, comprehending, and expressing their learning allows students to engage with the course content in a way that most benefits them. This also encourages students to engage with the content to improve in areas in which their skills are not as strong.

The UDL framework is complex. When starting out not every guideline can be met in every course. With course design, thinking of UDL as an ongoing project helps one to make small adjustments over time, progressively increasing student access to the course and content. For example, take a course concept that students, generally, have a hard time understanding. Design multiple modes of working with this concept instead of just one. Group discussions, drawing, handouts, worksheets and debates are different modes of instruction and provide students with opportunities for multiple means of engagement, representations and action/expression.

Thomas Tobin, author of Reach Everyone Teach Everyone, uses a clear and accessible definition of UDL as “Plus-One” thinking. For every interaction that learners have in the course with materials, each other, instructors, the world, provide one more for that interaction to happen. 

Learn More/How To's

  • Present information in more than one mode
    • Blackboard (Bb) Ally provides alternative content for files you post. 
    • Blackboard Ally 
    • Make sure your content is accessible (minimum of green gauge 67-100%)
  • Provide students with both written and spoken instructions 
    • Ally can provide alternative content, including text and audio. 
    • Consider using different methods when teaching. Change up the lecture to 10 minute sessions, add on discussion (groups/breakout rooms), short writing/thinking, and activities including problem-solving.
  • Ensure that students can access the formats you provide 
    • Ally can provide alternative content
    • Check with your students to ensure they know how to download the files
    • Using a formative assessment technique, send out a survey multiple times during the course for feedback from students
  • Engage students in multiple types of activities 
    • Active learning strategies
  • Connect class activities explicitly to learning goals
    • Begin each week/unit with objectives in addition to a list of activities
    • Align goals/objectives with activities/assignments and assessments
  • Allow students some control over their own assignments
    • Flexible syllabus
    • Flexible schedule
    • Alternative assignment ideas  - Assignment Tips  
  • Use multiple, alternate, forms of assessment 
  • Provide timely feedback
    • Bb Learn survey tool
    • Assignment feedback, text and audio
    • Qualtrics survey tool - NDSU Qualtrics 
  • Support community between students 
    • Bb Learn Discussion forum
    • Blogs
    • Group work
    • Zoom/Collaborate breakout rooms 
  • Provide opportunities and time for students to reflect on their learning and set goals for themselves 

Tobin, T., & Behling, K. (2018). Reach everyone, teach everyone: Universal design for learning in higher education. West Virginia University Press.


Use Cases

This is an educational framework that strives to provide equitable opportunities for learning to all students at NDSU

Related resources

Keywordscourse design, blackboard, black, board, bb, ally, blackboard ally, bb Ally, blackboard accessibility, blackbaord, board, universal design, universal design for learning, UDL, digital accessibility, alternative formats, assistive, assistive technology, assistive devices, access, document remediation, accessibility standards, disability, disabilities, screen reader, accessibility indicators, accessibility indicator, gear icons, colored icons, alternative format icons, accessible course, accessibility score, accessibility report, accessibility checklist, HTML, ePub, audio, electronic braille, tagged pdf, pedagogy   Doc ID107948
OwnerSharley K.GroupIT Knowledge Base
Created2020-12-17 09:50 CSTUpdated2023-11-20 09:10 CST
SitesIT Knowledge Base
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