Universal Design for Learning (2023)

Design and deliver all course elements for maximum accessibility to give every student equitable opportunities for success.

What is UDL?

Developed by the CAST organization, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is “a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.” UDL evolved from an attempt to remove environmental barriers that obstruct any person’s ability to fully participate in society.

In education, UDL promotes and designs for accessibility and equity, accommodating all teaching and learning styles and preferences. Its framework “guides teachers to heighten the salience of goals and objectives in order to design engaging, challenging learning experiences that allow all students to become knowledgeable, strategic, and motivated” (Novak, 2022). UDL recognizes that there is no single way to learn, whether receiving, processing, or expressing knowledge. UDL is a supportive, inclusive practice that helps all students learn.

Recognizing that students have a diverse range of abilities, environments, and experiences, equitable course development incorporates multiple means of learning and expression for these students. By prioritizing accessibility in a course, instructors design their course from the vantage point of multiple perspectives, creating learning experiences that can engage a diverse group of students.

UDL Serves All Students

UDL serves all students, not just students with accommodations. Instructors who practice UDL understand “[v]ariability is the rule, not the exception. Learners may need to learn in different ways, using different materials to reach the same goals” (Novak, 2022).

As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, all people are affected by changes to their environment, be it social or academic. Practicing UDL in courses means maximizing opportunities to learn by making room for a range of abilities and methods of expression. For example, captioning course videos, which provides access to deaf or hard of hearing students, is also a benefit to students for whom English is a second language, to some students with learning disabilities, and to those watching the video in a noisy environment. Delivering content in redundant ways can improve instruction for students with a variety of learning preferences and cultural backgrounds. Letting all students have access to your class notes and assignments on a website benefits students with disabilities and everyone else.

At the same time, employing UDL does not eliminate the need for specific accommodations for students with disabilities. For example, the University may need to provide a sign language interpreter for a student who is deaf. However, applying UDL concepts in course planning ensures full access to the content for most students and minimizes the need for special accommodations. For example, designing web resources in accessible formats as they are developed means that no redevelopment is necessary if a blind student enrolls in the class (partially adapted from “DO-IT” by University of Washington under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 License).

The UDL Framework

CAST’s guidelines concern providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression. UDL considers three main forms of learning: recognition learning, strategic learning, and affective learning, as detailed in the graphic below and this more detailed, downloadable resource from CAST:

Universal Design for Learning (1)

(Video) Universal Design for Learning: UDL

Research on student learning demonstrates that multi-modal access helps to improve learning outcomes for all students. Multi-modal access essentially means providing several pathways to access course material. UDL also advocates multi-model means of expression for students to demonstrate their learning.

Implementing UDL in Your Course

The University of Washington’s “DO-IT” project explains: “To apply UDL, instructors should consider the potential variation in individual skills, learning styles and preferences, age, gender, sexual orientation, culture, abilities, and disabilities as they select appropriate content and strategies for the delivery of instruction and then apply universal design to all course activities and resources.”

Katie Novak (2022, p.26) asks instructors to consider these essential questions as they implement UDL in their courses:

  • What do all students need to know or be able to do?
  • What barriers to learning might students face?
  • How can I design the course and assessments so that all students can learn and demonstrate their learning?

    Elaine Gerber, Montclair anthropology professor, shares her strategies for implementing UDL in her classroom, benefiting all her students.

    Key Strategies

    Planning Your Course

    • Select accessible materials from the start where possible, including software, apps, and tools that supplement the delivery of course content.
    • Make course materials accessible. For text-based documents, such as PDFs, ensure they are accessible to screen readers, and use clear fonts and spacing, using built-in Accessibility checkers in Canvas, Microsoft Word, or Adobe Acrobat. Use captions for all instructional images, video, and audio content. Provide alternative information for any visual content (for example, audio or text-based descriptions of visual elements).
    • Consult the Digital Accessibility FAQs, from Montclair’s Digital Accessibility Initiative.
    • Offer options for demonstrating knowledge, allowing choice in topics and format when designing assignments. Instructors define what students need to demonstrate knowledge of or ability in, but individual students exercise flexibility in how to demonstrate their knowledge or abilities by choosing preferred mediums of expression.
    • Consider utilizing a range of options across the duration of your course for students to demonstrate course mastery. Avoid bias towards only one mode of expression (i.e., only accepting written work). Consider oral submissions, video submissions, class presentations, and other modes of demonstrating learning mastery.
    • Consider the variety of students in your course, and plan with them in mind. Penn State World Campus developed a set of personas and their needs that may be useful to consult.

    During the Course

    • Begin class with goal setting: List on the board and audibly state the what (purpose) and how (tasks) of each session. This reduces cognitive load, while modeling transparency, time management, and organizing ideas at the micro and macro levels.
    • Engage responsively and respectfully with official accommodations by working with students to support their needs for student success. Most accommodations provided (e.g., 2x time on tests) set a minimum standard for instructors and should prompt instructors to engage directly with learners about their needs.
    • Read and describe the information that is on your slidedeck or written on the board during class or a recorded lecture; don’t assume everyone can see it clearly.
    • Use a mix of peer-to-peer and self-evaluation through reflection writing, conferencing, question-based criteria sheets and checklists, and samples of graded assignments with your feedback. This allows students to understand how they will be evaluated prior to starting an assignment, and develop self-assessment and prosocial techniques for constructive feedback.
    • Provide regular, specific feedback on student progress, delivering this in multiple modes.
    • Use visualizations of concepts. Get ideas for how to choose or create visualizations to accompany a dense lecture: Making a Ted-Ed Lesson: Visualizing Complex Ideas.
    • Examine the physical space for learning for accessibility. Can students see and hear clearly? Can they move around freely? Is there proper lighting/temperature? Combine individual/autonomous work, collaborative small and large group work, and forward-facing lecture-based work by reconfiguring the space. While it may be impossible to create the ideal classroom climate due to factors outside your control, simple strategies like closing blinds in the front of the room and turning off any lights that shine on the screen if you are projecting material may be possible. Make sure you write largely enough on the board to be seen from the back (move back there and check); make sure your whiteboard marker is a clear, dark color. Ask students: Can you read this? Can you see that?
    • Seek student input on teaching strategies through surveys or other methods to discover individual strengths and needs, preferences for expression and engagement, and responses with the activities and assessments that you employ.

    Additional Strategies

    • Promote anti-ableism. Ableism is prejudice that privileges able-bodied people. That is, develop the habit of questioning aloud with your students whether the ideas, concepts or beliefs reflect an assumption that being nondisabled is inherently better.
    • Work with the Montclair Instructional Technology and Design Services (ITDS), Disability Resource Center (DRC), and other campus entities to stay current on assistive technologies and accessible formats. UDL strategies and technologies are constantly evolving.
    • Promote the use of American Sign Language (ASL), Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), and Audio Description (AD) in all Montclair sponsored presentations, events, activities.
    (Video) Universal Design for Learning—A Paradigm for Maximum Inclusion | Terence Brady | TEDxWestFurongRoad

    Resources and References

    Audio description example, Bridge Multimedia example

    Digital Accessibility FAQs, from Montclair’s Digital Accessibility Initiative

    Mapping Access – strategies for simply and effectively designing for accessible learning.

    Explore Access – disability community recommended tools for promoting disability and inclusion.

    Humanizing Online Teaching – teaching practices for equity and social justice and our collective experiences of online and hybrid teaching. It is not centered on the technical aspects of online teaching but rather pedagogical practices that promote care for the whole student and class collective.

    (Video) UDL At A Glance

    Universal Design for Learning – guidelines, lesson plans, and rubrics for designing for accessibility.

    Creating Accessible Educational Resources – the National Center for AERs has a host of guidelines, resources for teaching and rubrics.

    All Technology is Assistive — Sarah Hendren makes the case that designing for disabilities actually is a way to create better designs for everyone in this thoughtful essay on object design that has implications for teaching design.

    Applications of Universal Design – University of Washington, DO-IT program.

    Baglieri, S., and Lalvani, P. (2020). Undoing Ableism: Teaching about Disability in K-12 Classrooms (2020). Routledge. * Montclair State University authors.

    Chtena, N. (2016, Dec. 13). Teaching Tips For an UDL-Friendly Classroom: Advice for implementing strategies based on Universal Design for Learning. Inside Higher Education.

    Doyle, N. (2020, April 29). “We Have Been Disabled: How The Pandemic Has Proven The Social Model Of Disability.” Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/drnancydoyle/2020/04/29/we-have-been-disabled-how-the-pandemic-has-proven-the-social-model-of-disability/#49b0e4912b1d

    Edelberg, E. (2019, June). “Deep Dive: How Audio Description Benefits Everyone.” 3playermedia.com. https://www.3playmedia.com/blog/deep-dive-how-audio-description-benefits-everyone/#:~:text=Audio%20description%20also%20provides%20a,tied%20down%20in%20one%20place.

    (Video) Universal Design for Learning (Part 1): Definition and Explanation

    Guest, K. R. P. & Jack, J. (2017, Nov. 27). When You Talk about Banning Laptops, You Throw Disabled Students under the Bus. Huffpost. Retrieved 2 August 2022 from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/when-you-talk-about-banning-laptops-you-throw-disabled_b_5a1ccb4ee4b07bcab2c6997d?ncid=engmodushpmg00000004

    Kleege, G. & Wallen, S. (2015). “Audio Description as a Pedagogical Tool.” Disability Studies Quarterly, 35(2).

    Meyer, A., Rose, D. H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal design for learning: Theory and practice. CAST Professional Publishing.

    Novak, K. (2022). UDL Now! A Teacher’s Guide to Applying Universal Design for Learning. (3rd edition). CAST Professional Publishing.

    Womack, A., Blanchard, A., Wang, C., & Jessee, M. (2015). Accessible syllabus. Retrieved March 18, 2021, from https://www.accessiblesyllabus.com/

    For more information or help, pleaseemailthe Office for Faculty Excellence ormake an appointmentwith a consultant.

    Universal Design for Learning (2)
    Teaching Resources byMontclair State University Office for Faculty Excellenceis licensed under aCreative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

    Third-party content is not covered under the Creative Commons license and may be subject to additional intellectual property notices, information, or restrictions. You are solely responsible for obtaining permission to use third party content or determining whether your use is fair use and for responding to any claims that may arise.

    (Video) What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

    Creative Commons CC BY-NC-4.0


What is the universal design for learning model? ›

Universal design for learning (UDL) is a teaching approach that works to accommodate the needs and abilities of all learners and eliminates unnecessary hurdles in the learning process.

What are the 3 principles of universal design for learning? ›

CAST developed UDL guidelines that are based on three main principles that align with these learning networks. The three UDL principles are engagement, representation, and action and expression.

What are the 4 components of the UDL? ›

Four highly interrelated components comprise a UDL curriculum: goals, methods, materials, and assessments.

What is the main goal of universal design for learning? ›

The goal of UDL is to use a variety of teaching methods to remove any barriers to learning and give all students equal opportunities to succeed. It's about building in flexibility that can be adjusted for every student's strengths and needs.

What is one example of universal design in a classroom? ›

With UDL, there are multiple options. For instance, students may be able to create a podcast or a video to show what they know. They may even be allowed to draw a comic strip. There are tons of possibilities for completing assignments, as long as students meet the lesson goals.

How does UDL improve student outcomes? ›

What is a UDL Classroom? UDL classrooms addresse the needs of all students by providing more flexibility and fewer barriers to learning. It breaks learning down into three parts — representation, action and expression, and engagement — and provides multiple means of accessing each part.

What are the 7 factors of universal design? ›

Universal Design Principles
  • Equitable Use. The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. ...
  • Flexibility in Use. ...
  • Simple and Intuitive Use. ...
  • Perceptible Information. ...
  • Tolerance for Error. ...
  • Low Physical Effort. ...
  • Appropriate Size and Space for Approach and Use.

What is UDL for inclusive education? ›

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an instructional design framework that takes into account the wide range of variations in skills and abilities that exist across all learners, and provides a research-based set of principles and guidelines for inclusive curriculum development and delivery.

Why are the 3 principles of UDL important? ›

Each UDL principle is designed to help educators improve how we present information, engage students and create inclusive evaluations. It also harnesses the power of digital technology.

How can UDL help students with disabilities? ›

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can be used in classrooms for inclusive instruction of general education and special education students, allowing general education students access to multiple ways of learning and creating a greater sense of belonging for students with special needs, according to an eSchool News ...

How does UDL support all learners? ›

The purpose of UDL implementation is to create expert learners — learners who can assess their own learning needs, monitor their own progress, and regulate and sustain their interest, effort, and persistence during a learning task. Many students learn within traditional classrooms with a traditional curriculum.

How do you promote UDL in the classroom? ›

7 Universal Design for Learning Examples and Strategies for the Classroom
  1. Know your students' strengths and barriers. ...
  2. Use digital materials when possible. ...
  3. Share content in a variety of ways. ...
  4. Offer choices for how students demonstrate their knowledge. ...
  5. Take advantage of software supports. ...
  6. Low and No Tech options do exist.
Dec 6, 2022

What are the benefits of universal design? ›

Application of universal design principles minimizes the need for assistive technology, results in products compatible with assistive technology, and makes products more usable by everyone, not just people with disabilities. Typically, products are designed to be most suitable for the average user.

What are the three types of UDL assessments? ›

The three types of UDL assessments are:
  • Assessment for Learning. Also called formative assessments, these assessments happen on the spot, during a classroom activity, to assess how students are doing in the lesson. ...
  • Assessment of Learning. ...
  • Assessment as Learning.

Is UDL a teaching strategy? ›

What are UDL-aligned strategies? UDL-aligned strategies are instructional methods and tools used by teachers to ensure that ALL students have an equal opportunity to learn.

What are three examples of universal design? ›

Things like curb cuts, large, color contrasting fonts, and sloped entrances are all examples of universal design.

What students need and benefit from UDL? ›

Additionally, UDL benefits the classroom by: Allowing students to use their strengths while also working on deficiencies. Helping teachers recognize the variability and diversity of individual brains. Emphasizing the need to proactively plan for a variety of learning styles, thus reducing barriers to education.

What is universal design in simple terms? ›

Universal Design is: “The design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.”

What are 2 of the principles of universal design? ›

The basic principles of universal design

Here's a summary of the principles. Principle 1: Equitable Use. The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. Principle 2: Flexibility in Use.

What are the 8 basic principles of design? ›

The elements, or principles, of visual design include Contrast, Balance, Emphasis, Movement, White Space, Proportion, Hierarchy, Repetition, Rhythm, Pattern, Unity, and Variety. These principles of design work together to create something that is aesthetically pleasing and optimizes the user experience.

Why does UDL matter in today's classrooms? ›

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can help schools and kura design learning environments that are flexible, and where there are no barriers in the way. It is a framework that enables equitable access and participation in education.

Who benefits from universal design for learning? ›

UDL has benefits for both learners and educators. UDL has the capacity to make teaching and learning more inclusive and accessible for everyone. Educators who implement UDL often find: A reduction in the need for, and time required to arrange, individual learning and assessment accommodations.

Is UDL only for students with disabilities? ›

UDL benefits are specifically geared to students with disabilities; however, all students may benefit from the types of supports UDL provides.

What best describes universal design for learning or UDL? ›

UDL is a framework for teaching and learning. It assumes from the beginning that learners are very different. The design part of universal design is designing a learning environment that is as diverse as the students are. There's many options for how to learn within it.

What is universal design for learning UDL quizlet? ›

Universal Design for Learning is an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences. Three Principles of UDL. Multiple means of presentation, action/expression, and engagement.

How do you incorporate UDL into the classroom? ›

Another way to use UDL in your classroom is to offer multiple means of expression. This means allowing students to express themselves in different ways. For example, you might allow students to use other forms of communication, such as speaking, writing, and drawing.

Is UDL for students with disabilities? ›

UDL benefits are specifically geared to students with disabilities; however, all students may benefit from the types of supports UDL provides. For example, video captioning is of great help to students with hearing impairments because captioning gives them a visual representation of speech.

Why is UDL important for students with disabilities? ›

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can be used in classrooms for inclusive instruction of general education and special education students, allowing general education students access to multiple ways of learning and creating a greater sense of belonging for students with special needs, according to an eSchool News ...

Is UDL student centered? ›

It is based on facilitating students' access to learning opportunities through accessible content, student-centered pedagogy, and adaptive course design. (See CAST.org [CAST is the organization that specializes in UDL].)


1. Universal Design for Learning (Part 2): UDL Guidelines
(Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at OU)
2. UDL: Principles and Practice
(National Center on Universal Design for Learning)
3. Seeing UDL in Action in the Classroom
(Neurodiversity Resource Center)
4. Understanding Universal Design for Learning
5. What is UDL?
(Novak Educational Consulting)
6. Universal Design for Learning and Equitable Access
(Massachusetts DESE)
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