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Inclusive Teaching: Universal Design for Learning


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:

  • the affective network (how learners monitor the internal and external environment to set priorities, to motivate, and to engage learning and behavior),
  • the recognition network (how learners sense and perceive information in the environment and transform it into usable knowledge), and
  • the strategic network (how learners plan, organize, and initiate purposeful actions in the environment).

Universal Design for Learning Guidelines

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.

UDL Guidelines

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.

UDL in Higher Education

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 Supporting Materials

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.

Adopt Accessible Presentation and Discussion Guidelines

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 [1]:

  • Speak clearly, loudly, and at a moderate speed, and encourage others to do the same. If necessary, allow students to raise their hands to stop the lecture if the volume is too low or speed too fast.
  • Repeat questions (into a microphone, if possible) so all audience members can hear the question and response.
  • Provide verbal explanations of visual content (e.g., describe images, charts, diagrams)
  • Provide captions for videos and films used in class, and where necessary, audio descriptions of visuals in films and videos. Your disability services office may be able to help you provide captions, a transcript, and audio descriptions.
  • Design your materials with assistive technologies (such as screen readers) in mind. For example, use built-in options to create tables and charts rather than importing images. If importing images is unavoidable, provide written and verbal explanations of the image.
  • Make materials easy to read:
    • Use minimal amounts of text on each slide.
    • Keep font sizes large (28-32 point font).
    • Select fonts for readability, and consider using Dyslexie Font, which makes reading easier for people with dyslexia.
    • Avoid using all caps and relying on colored fonts (especially red/green) to signify important points.
    • Use a high contrast color scheme. Use a contrast checker based on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
    • Use accessibility tools in common software to check the accessibility of your presentations and documents (Tools → Check Accessibility in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint) and your learning management system.
    • Designing your classrooms with these strategies in mind will help ensure that all of your students can access the course materials. The next section will provide guidance about how to create classroom environments where all students can fully engage in the learning process.

[1] Digital Library Federation. “Guide to Creating Accessible Presentations.” Accessed from


Adapted from "Inclusive Teaching: Supporting All Students in the College Classroom" by ColumbiaX and made available under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

Create Flexibility in Mode of Expression

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.

Guide Goal-Setting and Planning

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.


Adapted from "Inclusive Teaching: Supporting All Students in the College Classroom" by ColumbiaX and made available under a CC BY-NC-SA license.

Provide Options for Creating and Maintaining Interest

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.

Provide Means and Support for Self-Regulation

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.


Adapted from "Inclusive Teaching: Supporting All Students in the College Classroom" by ColumbiaX and made available under a CC BY-NC-SA license.




Galkiene, Alvyra., and Ona. Monkeviciene. Improving Inclusive Education Through Universal Design for Learning. Springer International Publishing AG, 2021.
Location: e-book

This open access international scientific study provides an analysis of how the educational strategy of Universal Design for Learning can stimulate the process of inclusive education in different educational-cultural contexts and different areas of the educational system.

Meyer, Anne, David H. Rose, and David T. Gordon. Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing, 2014.
Location: LB1031 .M477 2014

Anne Meyer and David Rose, who first laid out the principles of UDL, provide an ambitious, engaging discussion of new research and best practices. This book gives the UDL field an essential and authoritative learning resource for the coming years.

Whittle, Jacqui, and Caroline Pike . “The Case for Using Universal Design for Learning at Your Institution.” THE Campus Learn, Share, Connect, Times Higher Education, 17 Nov. 2022,

Universal design for learning can be the answer when searching for true equity in our universities. Authors Jacqui Whittle and Caroline Pike give an overview of UDL, offer practical advice, explore challenges, and suggest ways to incorporate into your classroom.

Tobin, Thomas J., and Kirsten Behling. Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2018.
Location: LC1200 .T63 2018

Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone is aimed at faculty members, faculty-service staff, disability support providers, student-service staff, campus leaders, and graduate students who want to strengthen the engagement, interaction, and performance of all college students. It includes resources for readers who want to become UDL experts and advocates: real-world case studies, active-learning techniques, UDL coaching skills, micro- and macro-level UDL-adoption guidance, and use-them-now resources


  • No Budget, No Time, No People—No Problem: Meaningful UDL on a Shoestring - Thomas Tobin. Hear real-world-tested strategies for folding inclusive design practices into your existing teaching-and-learning work, even when your unit is one person, you have little to no budget, and your time is already stretched thin. You will learn interaction-program-, and enterprise-level strategies for increasing the persistence, retention, and satisfaction of your learners, clients, and customers—all on a shoestring. (54-minute video)
  • New & Dynamic Ways Forward: UDL in Career & Technical Education - CAST.  Each year, millions of students enroll in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs to gain the academic and technical skills training for future career opportunities. How is UDL used to design high-quality experiences for all learners in a wide range of environments, including culinary, word working, biotechnology, automotive, welding, and more? Kick-off the school year with three experienced CTE educators and UDL practitioners to learn about the impact UDL has had on their planning and their students. You won’t want to miss this discussion of practical strategies that can be used in any teaching and learning environment. (1-hour video)
  • Using UDL to Create Effective Educational Assessments -  Tenured Universal Design for Learning (UDL) expert, Eric A. Moore discusses assessment alternatives based on UDL framework that are acceptable even in cases where instructors do not believe they have flexibility to change assessments. (requires Magna login)
  • 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.

Online Resources

CAST. “UDL on Campus.”, 2018.

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.


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