Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework to enhance teaching and learning based on the science of how people learn. As an inclusive educational practice, it supports Michigan Tech’s goal of ensuring all learners (including learners with disabilities) can access their educational materials and demonstrate mastery of course learning goals.
The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 says UDL:
provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and
reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient.
The UDL framework is composed of three principles; provide multiple means of engagement, representation,
and action & expression. These principles are supported by specific guidelines and
more detailed checkpoints. The supporting Access guidelines are designed to reduce
instructional barriers and increase access to instructional materials and methods.
These guidelines are a logical starting point as you begin learning about and applying
UDL in your instruction.
Three Principles of UDL
Multiple Means of Engagement
Strategies that engage and motivate students to be successful learners are reflective of their diverse characteristics and backgrounds. While some students like a well-structured approach where course activities are well defined and predictable, other students may prefer flexibility and spontaneity. Some students prefer independent study while others value interactions with their peers. Providing multiple means of engagement is important to better address the needs of all students.
Provide options for recruiting interest
Information that is not processed is effectively inaccessible to learners. Attracting learner attention and interest is a recurring challenge for instructors and is made more difficult when considering individual learner preferences. Identifying alternative approaches to address learner interest is important.
Optimize individual choice and autonomy
- Provide learners options and autonomy in the tools for information gathering and in production of work products that practice and/or demonstrate skills
- Allow flexibility in timing for task completion for components of a larger project
- Encourage learner participation in classroom activity design and personal academic goals
Optimize relevance, value, and authenticity
- Provide variety in course materials and activities to help personalize and contextualize them for individual learners and make them more culturally and socially relevant
- Include activities that encourage imagination to solve relevant problems or make sense of complex ideas through creativity.
- Establish course activities that require active participation and exploration
Minimize threats and distractions
- Create an accepting and supportive classroom environment
- Establish course routines (supported by calendars, schedules or other cues) to increase the predictability of daily activities
- Vary sensory stimulation in the classroom (background noise, visual stimulation) and in the pace of coursework and activities
Multiple Means of Representation
Learners perceive and comprehend information differently. Those with various sensory or cognitive disabilities require different approaches to assessing the information. Some learners process information more efficiently in visual or auditory formats versus printed text. Because one means of representation cannot be optimal for everyone, providing options is important.
Provide options for perception
Imperceptible information impedes learning. To ensure information is accessible to all learners provide it in multiple modalities (hearing, vision) and allow it to be adjusted by the learner (enlarge text, adjust sound level, etc.) to suit their preferences.
Offer ways of customizing the display of information
- Ability to modify the size of text, images, or other visual content
- Ability to modify color or contrast information to preserve important context
- Ability to adjust the speed and volume of audio information
- Ability to adjust speed and timing of visual information (video, animations, simulations, etc.)
- Ability to adjust the layout of visual elements
Offer alternatives for auditory information
- Provide text equivalents in the form of closed captions for video content and transcripts for audio-only content like podcasts
- Provide visual options like diagrams, charts, or images or animations
Offer alternatives for visual information
- Add alternative text (alt-text) to all images, graphs, or charts that convey important information
- Provide text or spoken descriptions to convey meaning contained in video, animations, images and graphics
- Provide physical objects or spatial models to convey perspective or interaction
Multiple Means of Action and Expression
Learners have diverse strategies for engaging learning environments and in demonstrating their mastery. Those with physical impairments (e.g., cerebral palsy), problems with organizational abilities (executive function disorders), or language barriers, engage learning tasks differently.
Provide options for physical action
It is important to provide options for learners to interact with instructional materials and to demonstrate comprehension and mastery of skills and course learning goals.
Provide options for response and navigation
- Provide options for response methods like written response on paper, typed responses or mouse-controlled responses
- Provide options for physical interaction with materials via hand, voice, keyboard, etc.
- Provide options for requirements of rate, timing or range of motor action necessary for interacting with materials or technologies
Support use of assistive technologies and tools
- Support keyboard-only interactions in addition to mouse-based responses
- Use software that supports keyboard-only control
Learn more about Universal Design for Learning
- UDL Guidelines from CAST
- UDL Research Evidence
- Watch 2019 Upper Peninsula Teaching and Learning Conference Keynote: "Reach Everyone and Teach Everyone with Universal Design for Learning" (presented by Thomas J. Tobin)
To discuss ways to apply UDL principles to your teaching contact the Jackson CTL to arrange a consultation.
Complete UDL Framework and Supporting Guidelines