Universal Design for Learning is a framework that guides the design of everything from learning goals, materials, methods and assessments, to the policies that shape them.
UDL emphasizes three large brain networks that comprise the vast majority of the human brain and play a central role in learning. These networks include:
This is a graphic organizer of the UDL Guidelines, designed by CAST, and used in implementation of Universal Design for Learning. You can find a PDF of this image in the Resources section.
The UDL Guidelines are organized both horizontally and vertically.
Vertically, the Guidelines are organized according to the three principles of UDL: engagement, representation, and action and expression. The principles are broken down into Guidelines, and each of these Guidelines have corresponding “checkpoints” that provide more detailed suggestions.
Horizontally, the Guidelines are organized into three rows. The “access” row includes the guidelines that suggest ways to increase access to the learning goal by recruiting interest and by offering options for perception and physical action.
The “build” row includes the guidelines that suggest ways to develop effort and persistence, language and symbols, and expression and communication.
Finally, the “internalize” row includes the guidelines that suggest ways to empower learners through self-regulation, comprehension, and executive function.
Taken together, the Guidelines lead to the ultimate goal of UDL: to develop “expert learners” who are, each in their own way, resourceful and knowledgeable, strategic and goal-directed, purposeful and motivated.
The UDL on Campus provides guidance on how to plan and design for the variability present in today's postsecondary classrooms. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework that incorporates flexibility into the curriculum from the outset in order to avoid time-consuming retrofitting after the fact. UDL helps faculty members and instructional designers plan their curriculum in ways that reduce barriers to learning and facilitate meaningful participation by all students.
There are a wide variety of ways that instructors can make their classes more inclusive in terms of how they are representing content, including providing supporting materials and adopting accessible presentation and discussion guidelines.
Provide students with materials that support their learning, such as glossaries, definitions, background information, additional references, and multiple examples. Consider providing handouts, slides, and other materials used in class 24 hours in advance. Some instructors are reluctant to provide slides, believing that it decreases motivation to attend class, but sharing outlines of lecture notes or slides can help facilitate note-taking for students who may have difficulty with listening and understanding lecture, reading slides, and writing notes (for example, students who are not native English speakers, who may experience fatigue, or who have physical disabilities). Students can use these resources before class to prepare, during class to take notes, after class to review and study, and these materials can increase student engagement in class when used alongside active learning strategies.
When presenting materials in-text, on a screen, or verbally, consider whether the materials you are sharing are accessible for those with visual, auditory, or executive processing differences or disabilities. If you require students to give presentations, lead class discussions, or prepare other materials for their peers, you should also consider whether these materials are accessible to their peers.
Here are some suggestions for how spoken presentations, lectures, and discussions can be adapted to be accessible for all learners :
 Digital Library Federation. “Guide to Creating Accessible Presentations.” Accessed from https://www.diglib.org/dlf-events/2016forum/guide-to-creating-accessible-presentations
Unless specific media, materials, or software are required in order to complete an assignment, instructors should provide students with options about how they can demonstrate their knowledge. Using a variety of modalities can allow students to express what they know in multiple ways, encourage students to develop mastery in different modes, and allow students who struggle in one modality to still demonstrate their learning. Instructors might consider varying tasks that focus on remembering information (quizzes, exams) with those that require analytical (concept maps, projects) or creative skills (incorporating drawing, illustrations, or creating multimedia / poster presentations).
Another way to build in flexibility is to provide students with opportunities to participate in activities that engage them as autonomous learners. These types of activities allow students to engage with topics, content, and modalities that interest them. Incorporating such activities into your classroom space will increase student engagement with the material, allow them to demonstrate their own expertise, create depth of learning, and demonstrate to students the value of diverse voices and experiences in the learning environment. When possible, allow students to self-select topics for research papers, presentations, projects, and performances that allow them to draw on their previous experiences, cultural differences, individual expertise, and areas of interest.
Not all students will enter the classroom with the abilities or experiences that will help them set appropriate goals for their learning and for their course work. These skills benefit all students, and instructors can help them develop these skills by estimating the amount of time and effort a given task will take as a novice learner, and asking students afterward if they were able to complete the task in the suggested time. If they were not, discuss with them where there were bottlenecks to their progress, and adjust your expectations on time/effort for future assignments and students. Instructors can scaffold assignments and provide clear schedules and deadlines for different components to help with time-management on semester-long assignments, such as term and research papers. Instructors can also provide examples of the process and end product of goal setting, using their own work or previous students’ work (anonymized, with students’ permission) to demonstrate the process of reaching a goal and what the final product looks like. For example, students may not realize that multiple drafts of writing are necessary even at the expert level, and they may find it relieving to learn the process that their instructor and other students go through. Providing checklists, guides, and outlines can help students see a clear path from the beginning of a project to the end, which can be particularly helpful for novice learners or those who don’t have experience with a particular learning modality.
Instructors can develop and maintain student interest in a variety of ways. As we discussed earlier in the course, instructors can first become more informed about what their students’ interests are and what motivates them. Asking students to complete surveys about themselves, their interests, their previous knowledge, and their career goals can help instructors establish a foundation of knowledge from which to build student interest. Use the information you collect to provide choices in readings, assignment formats, topics for student research, or for content to cover in class. Incorporating current events and popular culture into class can be another way of generating and maintaining student interest. Be cautious, though, of relying too much on one cultural perspective that may exclude some students or of bringing in current events without consideration of the consequences for students who might be directly impacted by those events.
Helping students develop self-regulation skills can seem like a daunting task, and one that faculty members may not feel equipped to take on, but helping students develop these skills can be relatively easy. Providing students with rubrics and clear deadlines can help them create their own plan to accomplish the course work in a timely manner, and giving students time prompts during in-class activities can help keep them on-track. Instructors can provide a visual course calendar with due dates (which may be available as part of your learning management system). Providing students with frequent and timely feedback will also help them adjust their effort to achieve their desired learning goals.
CAST. “UDL on Campus.” CAST.org, 2018. http://udloncampus.cast.org/home
Meyer, Anne, David H. Rose, and David T. Gordon. Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing, 2014.
Tobin, Thomas J., and Kirsten Behling. Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2018.
How Can I Implement UDL? series - Each of these 20-minute Magna videos is hosted by Thomas Tobin, co-author of Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education.
How Can I Implement UDL in the Next 20 Minutes? - Discover how UDL benefits all students and gives extra support to vulnerable groups, including single parents, working students, and military learners
How Can I Implement UDL in the Next 20 Days? - This program covers four effective UDL strategies that go beyond legal compliance requirements. You will finish with a 20-day plan to customize a learning experience for all students that will last throughout the course and beyond the classroom
How Can I Implement UDL in the Next 20 Months? - In this program, you’ll discover specific places where students benefit the most from UDL principles. You’ll see how to provide learners with full alternative paths through your courses—and how to execute this in about 20 months.
UDL for FET Practitioners: Guidance for Implementing Universal Design for Learning in Irish Further Education and Training (SOLAS, 2021) is free to download [PDF] and offers easy-to-apply advice for practitioners on how to implement UDL, build a UDL community, and showcase good UDL practices from a range of contexts and program types in the continuing-education, community-college, and technical-college sector.