Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework that enhances learning opportunities for all learners by implementing practices that address barriers and the diverse learning needs of students. The fundamental idea that underpins UDL is to provide choices in the way learners participate in their learning. The educational framework stems from universal design in architecture and was developed following two decades of cognitive science research by neuroscientists. The three main principles of the UDL include addressing learners’ motivation and interests through multiple means of engagement, providing learners with different ways to attain information through multiple means of representation, and offering learners alternative ways to demonstrate learning through multiple means of action and expression.

Why is UDL important?

In applying a UDL approach, instructors foster student learning and engagement by:

  • offering students options for demonstrating their learning and knowledge;
  • reducing barriers (considering the diverse needs of all learners rather than individual accommodation);
  • acknowledging that “average” learners and learning styles do not exist;
  • presenting course content in multiple and flexible ways;
  • offering alternative assessment strategies that help scaffold for student success;
  • increasing collaborative learning and student engagement techniques that can be used in physical face-to-face or virtual synchronous and asynchronous classes; and
  • designing educational environments and tools so they can be utilized by the widest range of students without adaptation.

The Langara UDL Working Group

To develop a culture of support for UDL on campus, we have formed a UDL Working Group (UDL-WG). Our primary objective will be to identify and support UDL-related initiatives on campus. We have come up with a set of goals to guide the work of the UDL-WG:

  • build and articulate a common definition of UDL in the context of UD (for the committee and for the community);
  • articulate the rationale for adoption of UDL;
  • identify, create, and promote support for translation of the basic principles of UDL to the Langara community;
  • showcase UDL that is happening at Langara;
  • gather, analyze, and report data that supports UDL adoption; and
  • identify ongoing opportunities for collaboration and scholarly activity.

We are underway!

As one of our first initiatives we invited Thomas Tobin from the University of Wisconsin to introduce our community to the practical application of UDL. Dr. Tobin is the Program Area Director of Distance Teaching & Learning at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, as well as an internationally renowned author and speaker on issues of quality in teaching with technology, including evaluating online teaching, academic integrity, copyright, and accessibility.

We had an impressive turnout of 78 participants for this engaging session introducing practical ways to immediately implement UDL in our courses. If you missed it the first time, or to see it again, we have a recording available through mediastream.

How to get involved

We will be working towards adding more faculty and students to the UDL-WG soon, but in the meantime, we invite you to join the UDL Community of Practice (CoP) on Yammer. You can use this space to communicate and collaborate and to share ideas and stories as well as resources  and anything else related to Universal Design for Learning.

To join the UDL CoP:

  1. Log into your Office 365 using your Langara email and password.
  2. Once logged in, the Office 365 Apps will appear on the left-hand side of your screen. Click on “All Apps.”
  3. From the list of apps, select Yammer.
  4. Once in Yammer, click on “Langara College Groups” or “Discover Communities” on the left-hand side of the screen.
  5. Join the “Universal Design for Learning CoP.”

We will be communicating through the Academic Innovation Newsletter as well as the Langara Post to bring you updates and invitations as they evolve. Stay tuned for more information.

What are some key research findings using a UDL based curriculum approach?

  1. Student engagement level with course material increases (Smith, 2012).
  2. Learning barriers are alleviated (Al-Azawei et al., 2016).
  3. Requests for special accommodations for students with disabilities decreases (Al-Azawei et al., 2016).
  4. There are enhancements in perceived and actual learning (Dean et al., 2017).
  5. Students become active participants rather than passive recipients (Pace & Schwartz, 2008).
  6. UDL helps towards building inclusive classrooms (Roberts et al., 2011).

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