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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 teaching and designing courses that provide all students with equitable opportunities to be successful. UDL recommends providing various materials, strategies, activities, and assessments for the student's learning experience while maintaining high academic standards. 

UDL focuses on being proactive rather than reactive, benefiting not just students with disabilities but improving access for everyone. Research consistently shows that UDL positively affects students’ persistence, retention, and satisfaction.


  • The UDL framework is based on three sets of principles, researched and described by CAST.

The "Why" of Learning: Affective Networks

  • Provide multiple means of Engagement to encourage purposeful, stimulated, and motivated learning.

The "What" of Learning: Recognition Networks

  • Provide multiple means of Representation to reach all students with various resources and activities, presented in different ways.    

The “How” of Learning: Strategic Networks

  • Provide multiple means of Action & Expression, to support students in being strategic, and goal-oriented, and can express and demonstrate what they know in different ways.

How does UDL Apply to Course Design?

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, not every guideline can be met in every course. With course design, thinking of UDL as an ongoing project helps by taking small steps, and small adjustments over time. Make one change at a 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, drawings, handouts, worksheets, and debates are different modes of instruction and provide students with opportunities for multiple means of engagement, representations, and action/expression.

Examples & Tips

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, and the world, provide one more for that interaction to happen (Tobin & Behling, 2018).

  • Present information in more than one mode

  • Provide students with both written and spoken instructions 

  • Ensure that students can access the formats you provide 

  • Engage students in multiple types of activities 

  • Connect class activities explicitly to learning goals

  • Allow students some control over their assignments

  • Use multiple, alternate, forms of assessment 

  • Provide timely feedback

  • Support community among students 

  • Provide opportunities and time for students to reflect on their learning and set goals for themselves 


Keywordscourse design, accessibility, blackboard, universal design, universal design for learning, UDL, digital accessibility   Doc ID107948
OwnerSharley K.GroupIT Knowledge Base
Created2020-12-17 10:50:01Updated2024-07-08 14:35:13
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