Universal Design for Learning

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Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research-based framework that focuses on making learning inclusive of and accessible to all.

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Universal Design for Learning (UDL), drawing on Universal Design (UD), is an approach to education that recognizes that students come to the classroom with varied backgrounds, expectations, abilities, and learning preferences. As a result, UDL seeks to provide equitable opportunities so that all students can learn. For instructors, applying UDL starts when you begin to design and develop your content by ensuring course materials are usable by any/all learners from the start—rather than adjusting later.

According to research conducted by CAST, a nonprofit organization that created the UDL framework, the three brain networks essential to learning are recognition networks, strategic networks, and affective networks. Based on this research, CAST developed three key principles that you may find useful as you design and develop your course(s):

  • Provide multiple means of Engagement to appeal to the brain’s affective networks. This is often referred to as the why of learning.
    • In Practice: Consider various ways you might motivate students and make the learning relevant.
  • Provide multiple means of Representation to appeal to the brain’s recognition networks. This is often referred to as the what of learning.
    • In Practice: Consider representing content through multiple modes and allow students to choose and customize how they take in information: video, audio, images, text, and more.
  • Provide multiple means of Action and Expression to appeal to the brain’s strategic networks. This is often referred to as the how of learning.
    • In Practice: Consider giving students options in assessment so they can best demonstrate their learning.

One example of UD is curb cuts, originally designed for wheelchair users. However, once implemented, we discovered how helpful they are to people pushing strollers and those riding bikes. Closed captions are another UD example. While intended for people with hearing loss, they have improved the viewing experience of many: people watching TV late at night and not wanting to disturb others who are asleep, commuters getting work done on mass transit, language learners improving their understanding through word recognition, people working out at the gym, and more. Closed captions have now become a common UDL practice as well. By focusing on learners with perhaps the highest needs or those who could potentially face barriers, UDL improves everyone’s experience.

Helpful Resources

If you need further assistance, ITS-RITG is available to answer your questions or meet you for a consultation. Contact us through the Online Service Desk.