UDL Awareness Month: Multiple Means of Representation

UDL (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication

The UDL Working Group has organized a series of events and posts for the entire month of May to get our community involved with UDL in a variety of ways — big and small. To get the UDL momentum going a new article, event, or resources will be shared each week of May. Last week’s post highlighted the first principle of UDL: Multiple Means of Engagement. This week will focus on the second principle of UDL: Multiple Means of Representation.

Universal Design for Learning

The concept of UDL offers a framework in which design, development, delivery, and evaluation of learning can by reimagined by drawing from three core principles: engagement (the why of learning), representation (the what of learning), and action and expression (the how of learning). Each principle aligns with a particular brain network and the UDL principles are designed to specifically address the learning related with each neural network. UDL is designed to meet the unique needs of all learners through challenging instruction that is both flexible and varied.

What is the recognition network and why is it important to learning?

The recognition network is the “what” of learning and addresses how learners gather and categorize information (CAST, 2018); it allows students to receive and interpret incoming messages. The recognition network correlates to the representation of information.

When designing your course with the recognition networks in mind, ask yourself the following questions.

  • What information or skills are we focusing on?
  • What strategies can I use the help learners make sense of this information?

Why use multiple means of representation?

Content can be represented in many ways, visually through text, images, and videos; auditorily through recordings, lectures, and conversation, and through physical objects. There is no common optimal way of presenting information to address the diverse needs of all learners; using only one method of presenting material can create a barrier for students.

You can provide multiple means of representation in your teaching by providing options for:

  • Perception
  • Language, Mathematical Expression, and Symbols
  • Comprehension

How can I implement multiple means of representation using the “plus-one” approach?

The adoption of UDL can be iterative and incremental. In their book, Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education, authors Thomas Tobin and Kirsten Behling suggest adopting the “Plus-One Mindset” when implementing UDL. Adopt one of the suggestions below to provide another means of representation.


Assessments document and measure an individual learner’s progress towards the learning outcomes of the course. Assessment methods may vary and include, but are not limited to, written tests or reports, oral reports and presentations, activities, discussions, and exams.

  • Give clear directions. Clearly articulated directions provide a guiding framework learners to successfully meet the expectations of an assessment. Clear directions surrounding an assessment reduce confusion and lessen stress, allowing learners to move more productively towards the presented outcomes.

Learning Materials

Resources such as audio, video, tables, graphics, and readings, are often an integral part of a course. The resources chosen should be carefully selected in support of the content, as well as be accessible and usable by the wide variety of learners in the online environment.

  • Supply materials in multiple modalities. Supplying materials in multiple modalities always provides access to all learners. This can include video and audio files, accompanied by transcripts, a graphic image with descriptive text, or a written concept explained through a diagram or concept map. By creating materials, or selecting resources, that can be offered in multiple forms, learners can select the mode that best suits their learning needs at the time.
  • Select or create accessible resources. When selecting or creating and posting online resources, ensure that they are accessible to everyone. All videos should include captions or have transcripts available, and audio files should also have a transcript. When posting assessment files, supporting documents, readings, or other resources, ensure the file is in an accessible format.

Layout, Structure, and Sequence

Layout, structure, and sequence are important design factors to consider when building an online course as they can impact the accessibility, usability, and comprehensiveness of content by learners. Layout is the visual representation of materials. Course content that is organized and makes use of headings and subheadings is important to helping learners to engage with and understand the information being communicated. Content organized in this fashion creates scannable blocks of content to help readers mentally group related topics. Page layouts should consider such elements as whitespace, placement of graphics and media, and font size and colour.

Structure refers to the conceptual organization of materials. For instance, a consistent overarching course structure that includes modules or units allows for the organization of key topics in the course. These topics can then be tied to the weeks of the course’s duration and provide learners with areas of focus. Modules should also be structured similarly to support a pattern of learning and reinforce expectations of the course.

Sequencing is the order in which materials are presented. Appropriate sequencing allows for smooth transitions between topics and facilitates scaffolding of content to allow students to develop foundational knowledge and continually develop their learning to take on more challenging tasks.

  • “Chunk” content. Breaking content into meaningful sections helps learners to process the presented information and build their understanding. When creating course pages consider how to effectively ‘chunk’ content into sections using headings, subheadings, lists, tables, and white space.
  • Use outlines, checkpoints, and summaries. Providing an outline at the beginning of each unit and a summary of key concepts at the end, supports learners in structuring their learning for the unit. Placing understanding and comprehension checks in regular intervals in the course allows learners to self-monitor their progress towards the learning outcomes as well as identify areas of weakness. Concluding units, activities, videos, and other course elements with a summary of key points can help relate these key concepts to theories, practices, and the broader learning outcomes.
  • Make key points stand out. Communicating the pertinent information from a unit, section, or instructional resource, helps learners identify essential information and relate key concepts to the learning outcomes of the course. By highlighting key features and ideas, learners can focus their efforts on mastering information that is critical to their success.
  • Define new terms and acronyms, avoid jargon. Developing an online course environment that considers the diversity of potential learners means designing for various levels of background knowledge on a topic and a range of language and vocabulary skills. Defining terms that may be new and unfamiliar, avoiding or explaining jargon specific to an industry or subject, and defining acronyms provides clarity and support to learners who otherwise may struggle to comprehend the unfamiliar.


Communication between the instructor and learners, both at a course and individual level, is essential in an online course to establish presence and to develop a sense of community. The instructor’s role is to convey information and news about the course schedule, assignments and content and provide encouragement and feedback to learners.

  • Be active in discussions. Discussions, both asynchronous and synchronous, are useful for engaging the learner in the course content and topics. When facilitating a discussion, model good response practices; any postings or contributions should be an example for learners to follow. Promote inclusive and considerate practices. For example, if posting a video or audio response, including a transcript, or if posting resources, include a selection of alternative ways to access the content.
  • Post regular class updates. Learning management systems typically have a communication platform on the course home page. Use this feature to communicate regularly with the entire class. Post a welcome message, prompt learners to begin readings or assignments, and remind learners about important dates or changes. This small interaction can help learners who have difficulties planning to schedule their time appropriately. These types of regular posting can also keep learners engaged with the course and be a helpful reminder of course activities.
  • Be consistent with naming conventions and use inclusive language. When communicating with learners, be consistent in your use of language. Ensure you are using the terminology and naming structures established in the learning management system, use topics and terms that have been defined in the course, and define any new terms you may use. Avoid the use of jargon that the learner may not fully comprehend.

Learners bring a diverse range of experiences, cultures, beliefs, and perspectives to the learning environment. Consider an individual’s uniqueness and be thoughtful and sensitive when selecting resources, designing content and assignments, and communicating with learners.


CAST (2018). UDL and the learning brain. Wakefield, MA: Author. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/products-services/resources/2018/udl-learning-brain-neuroscience
Tobin, T. & Behling, K. T. (2018). Reach everyone, teach everyone: Universal design for learning in higher education. West Virginia University Press. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/langara-ebooks/detail.action?docID=5597807


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 license. It remixes Universal Design – Best Practices for Online Learning, Accessibility: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners (HE), and The K-12 Educational Technology Handbook.