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Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as an Instructional Design Approach

Page history last edited by Mamie Lai 9 years, 9 months ago


Origin of Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Universal design principles arisen from the need to accommodate people with disabilities in our physical environments.  The accommodations resulted in easy access to public spaces for all people and include curb cuts, ramps, and elevator access.  Accordingly, in the 1990s the universal design principles were connected to learning.  Early contributors felt that all students should be able to learn despite disabilities.  The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) is a pioneer for UDL and has made significant contributions to the movement.  UDL is "a curriculum designed approach to increase flexibility in teaching and decrease the barriers that frequently limit student access to materials and learning in classrooms" (Rose & Meyer, 2002).  With UDL all students are sure to learn since the curriculum is tailored to their needs. 


The following video was created by CAST to give a quick overview of UDL and its principles:





UDL Principles

UDL principles were developed through cognitive neuroscience.  We know that with Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligencesthat people learn in different ways but with neuroscience it tells us why.  UDL principles are based on 3 networks of the brain; recognition network, strategic network, and affective network.  The networks work together to determine what you see when you look at an image.  "Your recognition network rapidly identifies objects and discerns the overall context. Your strategic network determines how you examine the image and what information you will gain from it. And your affective network determines how long and how carefully you look" (CAST).


 Through these 3 networks has emerged the 3 principles of UDL:

  • Multiple means of representation, to give diverse learners options for acquiring information and knowledge,
  • Multiple means of action and expression, to provide learners options for demonstrating what they know,
  • Multiple means of engagement, to tap into learners' interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation (CAST)



UDL and Instructional Design

Instructional designers will find it easy to incorporate UDL principles if they follow the CAST guidelines provided on the National Center for Universal Design for Learning website.  The website thoroughly covers each of the 9 guidelines and provides a variety of examples. Refer to the graphic organizer below for an overview of the guidelines.





Instructional designers will also find that using technology to make curriculum accessible is vital to successfully implementing UDL guidelines.  "Digital materials, unlike the conventional pedagogical mainstays, speech, printed text, and printed images, have an inherent flexibility. They can be modified in a host of ways, depending on the needs of the student. This flexibility makes it feasible to customize learning materials and methods to each individual" (Hall, Strangman, & Meyer, 2009).  Therefore the use of technology is frequently the most effective way in removing barriers for learners.  For example, CAST guideline no. 1 says to provide options for perception (e.g. vision, hearing, or touch), so by means of technology you can increase font size or amplify sound to suit the learner's need (CAST).  Technologies, like the internet, provide many resources to help instructional designers incorporate UDL guidelines into their projects.  A great UDL resource is UDL Book Builder.  This website enables an instructional designer or educator to create digital books with the UDL principles in mind.  For example, The Tortoise and the Harestory has been retold using the UDL approach (note Terry's Tips).  While reading the story you will notice that it meets the guidelines by providing alternatives for auditory information, options that defines vocabulary, and options that promote cross-linguistic understanding.  Also, Terry's Tipsprovides teacher-led examples throughout the story to meet other UDL guidelines.



Future of UDL as an Instructional Design Approach

Recently many programs using the UDL principles have been rolled out.  These programs include Wiggleworks: The Beginning Literacy System by Scholastic; Bailey's Book House by Edmark; The Ultimate Reader 2.0 by Universal Learning Technologies; and Write: Out Loud by Don Johnston Developmental Equipment.  However, the potential for UDL principles to be used in designing instructional material have not been fully tapped.  Instructional design is heading towards including UDL principles in scaffold materials being developed into tools for learning.  Instructional designers will develop materials that give learners the opportunity to “choose their preferred format for information and to have the ability to transform that information to meet their individual needs” (Meyer).  Programs will be designed to allow learners, parents, and teachers to “add their own material…thus assuming a more active role in their own learning” (Meyer). 




Informative Links

More information could be found at the CAST website or through the IRIS Centermodule for UDL. 



CAST: About UDL. (n.d.). . Retrieved April 25, 2011, from http://www.cast.org/udl/index.html     



Anne Meyer. (n.d.). Universal Design in the Classroom: Do it Once, Do it Right. Retrieved


Mira Singer. (n.d.). Tortoise and the Hare. Retrieved April 26, 2011,

     from http://bookbuilder.cast.org/view.php?op=model&book=30018&page=1



Rose, D., & Meyer, A., (2002). Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for

     Learning.Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


Tracey Hall, Nicole Strangman, & Anne Meyer. (n.d.). Differentiated Instruction with UDL | National

     Center on Accessible Instructional Materials. Retrieved April 25, 2011,

     from http://aim.cast.org/learn/historyarchive/backgroundpapers/differentiated_instruction_udl


UDL At A Glance. (2010). . Retrieved

     from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDvKnY0g6e4&feature=youtube_gdata_player


UDL Book Builder. (n.d.). . Retrieved April 26, 2011, from http://bookbuilder.cast.org/


UDL Guidelines 2.0 | National Center On Universal Design for Learning. (n.d.). . Retrieved April 25, 2011,

     from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines


Universal Design for Learning: Creating a Learning Enviroment that Challenges and Engages All Students.

     (n.d.). IRIS Center. Retrieved April 26, 2011, from http://www.iriscenter.com/udl/chalcycle.htm



Recognition Networks

The "what" of learning


How we gather facts and categorize what we see, hear, and read. Identifying letters, words, or an author's style are recognition tasks.

Comments (5)

Pio Ortega said

at 12:06 pm on Apr 27, 2011

Hi Mamie,

I was waiting for your 1st editor comments, but I reviewed your information and really liked your wiki good images, links & video worked for me and references are good. Your 2nd image example on Universal Design is to big, maybe you can get it smaller but it might lower the quality.

2nd editor: Pio

Mamie Lai said

at 4:02 pm on Apr 27, 2011

Thanks Pio, I will play around with the image size to see if I can reduce it without sacrificing quality.

ellen park said

at 6:51 pm on Apr 27, 2011

hey Mamie. I just centered all of the titles and changed the "technology" header from yellow to orange. I was not sure if it was purposely meant to be yellow, so let me Pio know so he can make the final edit. Also, I added a page break before the informative links section. Lastly, I added more space between the headings. Great job! No grammar changes were made. It is really good!

Pio Ortega said

at 10:01 pm on Apr 27, 2011

Hi Ellen,

I think the article looks good and the images adjusted well. I was the 2nd editor I just started early, it is the 1st editor who can finalize the work. Thanks!

Mamie Lai said

at 11:05 pm on Apr 27, 2011

Thanks for your help, Ellen & Pio!

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