Universal design for learning (UDL) is a set of principles for designing curriculum that provides all individuals with equal opportunities to learn. UDL is designed to serve all learners, regardless of ability, disability, age, gender, or cultural and linguistic background. UDL provides a blueprint for designing goals, methods, materials, and assessments to reach all students including those with diverse needs. Grounded in research of learner differences and effective instructional settings, UDL principles call for varied and flexible ways to:
Present or access information, concepts, and ideas (the "what" of learning)
Plan and execute learning tasks (the "how" of learning)
Get engaged—and stay engaged—in learning (the "why" of learning)
UDL is different from other approaches to curriculum design in that educators begin the design process expecting the curriculum to be used by a diverse set of students with varying skills and abilities. UDL is an approach to learning that addresses and redresses the primary barrier to learning: inflexible, one-size-fits-all curricula that raise unintentional barriers. Learners with disabilities are the most vulnerable to such barriers, but many students without disabilities also find that curricula are poorly designed to meet their learning needs. UDL helps meet the challenges of diversity by recommending the use of flexible instructional materials, techniques, and strategies that empower educators to meet students' diverse needs. A universally designed curriculum is shaped from the outset to meet the needs of the greatest number of users, making costly, timeconsuming, and after-the-fact changes to the curriculum unnecessary. The UDL framework is grounded in three principles:
Multiple means of representation – using a variety of methods to present information, provide a range of means to support
Multiple means of action and expression – providing learners with alternative ways to act skillfully and demonstrate what they know
Multiple means of engagement – tapping into learners’ interests by offering choices of content and tools; motivating learners by offering adjustable levels of challenge.
How Can Students Benefit from UDL?
Adult students benefit from two major aspects of UDL: (1) its emphasis on flexible curriculum, and (2) the variety of instructional practices, materials, and learning activities. All students, including those learning English, older students, and those with disabilities appreciate the multifaceted ways content is presented, as well as options for demonstrating what they know. UDL helps educators meet the challenge of serving those with special needs while enhancing learning for all.
How Can Instructors Incorporate UDL? Instructors may want to try the following strategies (Rose & Meyer, 2002):
• Use multiple strategies to present content. Enhance instruction through the use of case studies, music, role play, cooperative learning, hands-on activities, field trips, guest speakers, Web-based communications, and educational software. Example: Students can role play important events in American history to give them a better understanding of the events and people involved. Also, offer a choice of learning contexts by providing opportunities for individual, pair, and group work as well as distance learning, peer learning, and field work.
• Use a variety of materials. To present, illustrate, and reinforce new content, use materials such as online resources, videos, podcasts, PowerPoint presentations, realia, manipulatives, and e-books.
• Provide cognitive supports. Give students organizing clues; for example: “I have explained the four main points, and now I am going to summarize them.” Present background information for new concepts using pictures, artifacts, videos, and other materials that are not lecturebased. Scaffold student learning (provide temporary support to reduce the complexity of a task) by providing a course syllabus, outlines, summaries, study guides, and copies of PowerPoint slides.
• Teach to a variety of learning styles. Build movement into learning. Give instructions both orally and in writing to engage students auditorily and visually. Consider using large visual aids for slides, graphics, and charts.
• Provide flexible opportunities for assessment. Allow students to demonstrate their learning in multiple ways that include visual and oral presentation, rather than only written assessment.
Information for this section adapted from TEAL: Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy, 2010.
Want to learn more? Contact AAC@cos.edu or the Distance Education Coordinator at COS and ask for further support regarding UDL.