Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

The National Center on Universal Design for Learning has defined UDL as "a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn" (CAST, 2018). This framework provides principles for curriculum design to ensure all students have an equal opportunity to learn, taking into account students' dimensions of diversity.

The video below provides a good overview of UDL (Cast, 2010).

The Principles of Universal Design

UDL is inclusive and benefits all learners. The framework below, developed by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) recommends curricula design and development that take into consideration the "Why", "What, and "How" of learning. Curricula developed as recommended by the framework will provide multiple means of engagement, representation, and action & expression to ensure universal and inclusive learning environments, and should achieve the goals listed at the bottom of the framework with the "Why" resulting in learners who are purposeful and motivated, the "What" resulting in learners who are resourceful and knowledgeable, and the "How" resulting in learners who are strategic and goal-directed. 
This is an infographic split into 3 columns. The first column is titled Provide multiple means of Engagement - Affective Networks, The "Why" of Learning. The second column is titled Provide multiple means of Engagement - Recognition Networks, The "What" of Learning. The third column is titled Provide multiple means of Engagement - Strategic Networks, The "How" of Learning.

Universal Design and Assistive Technologies

In my book chapter "Assistive Technology and Universal Design for Learning" I explore the similarities and differences between Assistive Technology (AT) and UDL, and I explain how increased diversity and learner variability has put pressure on schools and educators to meet the differing needs of all students.

Assistive Technology (AT) has been described in a learning context as, "technology that increases, improves, or maintains the functional capabilities of students with disabilities" (Rose, Hasselbring, Stahl, & Zabala, 2005, p. 508). AT focuses on the individual and supports must be customized for each student. Additionally, AT focuses on providing accommodations to increase accessibility for students who require accommodation. What many people may not consider, however, is that the use of AT may have the unintended consequence of drawing more attention to students' disabilities if they are the only ones using the AT, which could discourage students with disabilities from using AT. 

UDL is about leveraging technology when designing a curriculum to prevent or reduce barriers, thus removing the need for accommodation. AT and UDL both rely on technology to enhance learning for students; however, UDL is not individualized, it is inclusive, universal, and benefits a wider range of students. 


While AT and UDL can compliment each other in that UDL relies on technology to "enhance learning for all students" (Quaglia, 2015, p. 1), incorporating instructional and learning technologies into the curriculum design following the principles of UDL (CAST, 2018) would mean technologies were available to all students, no one would be singled out, and the universal curriculum design would promote an inclusive learning environment.


CAST. (2010). UDL at a glance [Video File]. Retrieved July 03, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=175

CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning [Website]. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/

Quaglia, B. W. (2015). Planning for student variability: Universal design for learning in the music theory classroom and curriculum. Music Theory Online, 21(1), 1-21. doi:10.30535/mto.21.1.6

Rose, D. (2018). Assistive technology and universal design for learning. In Power, R. (Ed.), Technology and the curriculum: Summer 2018. Surrey, BC, Canada: Power Learning Solutions. Available from

Rose, D. H., Hasselbring, T. S., Stahl, S., & Zabala, J. (2005). Assistive technology and universal design for learning: Two sides of the same coin. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/similar?doi=

Wilson, K. (2018, February 27). Five Ways to Incorporate Universal Design for Learning into Your Online Course [Blog Post]. Retrieved July 01, 2018, from http://dl.sps.northwestern.edu/blog/2018/02/five-ways-incorporate-universal-design-learning-online-course/

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