A student is sitting at a desk in a pink shirt and writing on a notepad while another student stands in the foreground holding some books.

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.

Lunch & Learn

TCDC kicked off a series of Lunch & Learn events with a session on Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Colleagues from departments across the College were invited to share their experiences implementing UDL principles and inclusive teaching strategies in their courses. The faculty presenters discussed tips and techniques that they use in their classrooms to remove barriers to learning and make course design accessible and inclusive for all learners. Please click on video image below to access closed-captioned videos of the Lunch & Learn presentations and the group discussion that followed.  

UDL Session with Thomas Tobin

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 of this UDL session available through mediastream.

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).

Business photo created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com