Welcome to the Introduction to Universal Design for Learning,

Universal Design for Learning is a framework to guide educators in designing learning experiences and environments that remove barriers to meet the needs of variable learners. UDL and Accessibility are not interchangeable terms, but UDL encompasses accessibility by its very nature of inclusive design. The Core Principles of UDL, in short, are: Engagement, Representation, and Action & Expression. These Principles will be covered more thoroughly in this unit. If we keep in mind the UDL Core Principles, when designing our courses and creating course materials, we will support all students, those who need more support as well as those who need more challenge. 

This post is divided into several parts:

  1. Introductory short story, New York to LA and introductory video, both below
  2. Section 2: UDL “Why”
  3. Section 3: UDL “What”
  4. Section 4: UDL “How”


Before you view the “What is UDL?” video, please read this short story first, then tuck it away for a few minutes…it will be referenced in the video.

New York to LA by Wyl M.

SECTION 2  Multiple Means of Engagement: the WHY

Every one of us has strengths and deficiencies when it comes to learning and teaching. We know that there is a wide variance in Community college student populations, ranging from those entering at the developmental level to grad students meeting a requirement here and there. In addition to varying competencies, we must also keep in mind that it is most effective when we design our courses to minimize barriers for all, including students with disabilities. While we can’t anticipate the types of disabilities that may need to be planned for, we can plan to remove as many barriers as possible by presenting engaging materials in multiple ways. Further, offering multiple assessment options, ensures authenticity of learning and competency . When students need accommodations beyond what we, as instructors, are able to offer, then those will be provided by the Center for Student Access.

How is bowling like teaching? You may be surprised! If inclusive education is going to move forward, we have to teach to the outside edges. Watch this video to learn more!

Think back to the introduction presentation questions, “Do you drive a vehicle?” and “Have you ever had to share that vehicle with someone?” When you operate a vehicle with settings that are in place for someone other than you, how might it impact your ability to drive?

Watch the video below for an eye-opening talk about the myth of average.

And if you’d appreciate even more evidence for why UDL is important for teaching and learning, watch this next video on Variability by Todd Rose.

SECTION 3     Multiple Means of Representation: the WHAT

Because of learner variability it is important to adapt how we present information to our students using multiple methods. “Learning, and transfer of learning, occurs when multiple representations are used opens in new window, because it allows students to make connections within, as well as between, concepts. In short, there is not one means of representation that will be optimal for all learners; providing options for representation is essential.”

UDL Guidelines_Accessible

UDL Guidelines- a link to an accessible version is included in this post a well.

UDL Guidelines from CAST opens in new window

Learning Styles – visual, auditory and kinesthetic – were the way we described the difference between learners until a few years ago when the theory was found not to be helpful to students. We have since learned that all students benefit from a variety of teaching methods. As UDL teaches us, what is necessary for some students, can be beneficial to many students, as this cartoon illustrates.

Cartoon image of man shoveling snow off stairs while children wait near ramp. Children ask him to shovel ramp so EVERYONE can have access.

UDL is all about goals: both learning goals and students’ individual goals. UDL encourages us to think about goals in everything we do, from determining how we will present material to how we assess what students learned. The overall goal of UDL is to help students become expert learners. Check out the Top 10 UDL Tips for Developing Learning Goals opens in new window for some ideas.

The Difference Between Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Traditional Education opens in new window

It allows stakeholders to easily collaborate and track changes to content. It also allows you to spot spelling and grammar errors early on.

SECTION 4 Action and Expression: The HOW

Fortunately, or not, depending on how you look at it, UDL doesn’t come with a checklist or a manual. There are lots of resources though, and we’ve tried to bring you enough good ones to get you started.

In addition to resources, we’ve received a lot of advice from a number of sources. One of the most helpful we’ve heard is this; start small, maybe with the assignment you like the least and change that one using the UDL guidelines. Make that assignment you dread your first UDL project. Start from scratch, by asking yourself what is the goal of the assignment? What outcome are you trying to address, teach or measure? 

Chances are you will find that the old assignment was only one of many ways to address your intended outcome and probably there are others that feel more comfortable and authentic to you. Check out the following links.

Some Resources and Ideas

Examples of UDL in Education opens in new window

UDL Guidelines with Clickable Examples opens in new window

8 Engaging Ways to use Technology in the Classroom to Create Lessons That Aren’t Boring opens in new window

Top 10 UDL Tips for for Designing an Engaging Learning Environment opens in new window

From Theory to Practice: UDL “Quick Tips” from Colorado State University opens in new window

UDL-Aligned Strategies opens in new window

Guide to Designing Your UDL Lesson opens in new window

Keep in mind that making meaningful changes using the principles of UDL doesn’t have to be all consuming. Start small, address one assignment at a time and see where it takes you.

Turtle on a skate board with caption, "Work Smarter, Not Harder."