• Learning and Development

What is Universal Design for Learning?

Universal design for learning (UDL) is an approach to education that focuses on providing all students with the resources they need to prosper in a learning environment. It works to remove any unnecessary barriers that may exist and cater to the abilities of all learners, including those who may have disabilities. 

The methodology of universal design in education offers flexibility in the way learning materials are presented to students, how they engage with the materials, and are able to demonstrate what they have learned. It applies to all forms of learning including online learning, lectures, classroom discussions, group work, handouts, field-based learning, and other academic activities.  

Principles of universal design for learning

To further understand what UDL is, and how it can be applied to lesson plans and assessments, it is important to recognize the three core principles that underpin universal design for education. These principles can be applied to any course or field to ensure that all learners have access to an equitable learning environment where they can grow and participate in a community of knowledge. 

  • Engagement. Providing options for generating interest in learning; managing effort through feedback, collaboration, and community; and offering methods for self-regulation that increase motivation.
  • Representation. Focusing on providing alternative ways to display both auditory and visual information; supporting the translation of text and symbols, and clarifying structure, vocabulary, and syntax; and maximizing opportunities for comprehension through offering background information, highlighting critical ideas, and assisting with information processing.
  • Action and Expression. Offering physical action that enhances access to tools; providing multiple tools and media for communication and composition; and assisting with goal-setting through planning, managing information, and tracking progress.  

What are the benefits of universal design in education?

Beyond building the foundation for an accessible and inclusive learning environment, there are a number of benefits of incorporating universal design in education. It can also: 

  • Reduce any potential stigma associated with diverse learning abilities, as a variety of options are available to all students, not just a select few. 
  • Provide flexibility in learning that enables students to build up their strengths by focusing on areas they may not be as confident in. 
  • Break down barriers that may exist for students with varying learning styles.
  • Offer students multiple ways to learn.

How does UDL impact lecture creation and delivery?

When universal design is applied to education it affects the nature of how courses are structured and created. Whether asynchronous or synchronous, when it comes to lecture creation, teachers are tasked with providing a delivery method that is accessible to all students. This will impact lecture creation and delivery by providing a positive learning environment for everyone and increase the number of students that are able to access and interact with the content. 

Implementing UDL could involve ensuring that the information provided in slides adapts to all students’ needs – for example, is easy to read, has subtitles, and an audio reader. At the start of the semester a teacher could begin by building a positive classroom climate and send out a statement inviting any student with special accommodations or disability-related needs to meet with them, generating a progressive open-door policy where everyone feels heard. 

Universal design for learning in practice 

There are numerous instructional methods that utilize principles of UDL, focusing on certain goals such as class climate, interaction, delivery methods, feedback, assessment, accommodation, physical products, and information technology. An example of interaction might be to assign a group assignment that requires students to support each other and places value on a variety of diverse skills. In terms of assessment, an example would be to consider both group and individual performance equally and determine the merits of each combined. 

When it comes to UDL, asynchronous lectures and course materials have the benefit of being able to integrate accessible elements such as lecture capture, playback, and captions – to name a few – to build the foundations of an equitable learning environment for every student.

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