Everyone Can Learn Better with Universal Design for Learning

Teachers and professors are often working hard to guarantee students make the most out of their classes. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is one way to maximize learning for pupils. By following UDL’s three principles – Recognition, Action & Expression and Engagement – along with a diverse set of practices, there’s a better chance at student success.

Have you ever watched a film with subtitles? Even if you haven’t, have you ever thought of how many people benefit from them? Closed captions help many viewers globally to easily follow a storyline and understand dialogue.  Subtitles are often used in the following scenarios: watching a film in a foreign language, for the hard of hearing, to watch a movie quietly so as not to disturb others, used in public spaces where TV is transmitted without sound, among others.

Universal Design for Learning is similar to closed captioning in that it applies the same principle:  it addresses the needs of different types of people. UDL is an approach to curriculum that minimizes barriers and maximizes learning for all students.

According to the National Center on Universal Design for Learning, UDL is a set of principles for curriculum development that gives all individuals equal opportunities to learn. It also provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone, instead of a one-size-fits all solution.  

To go deeper into the meaning of UDL, the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) provided a definition in 2008, which goes as follows: 

The term Universal Design for Learning means a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that:

(A) 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

(B) 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.

Why universal? It relates to classes that can be understood by everyone regardless of culture, background, strengths, needs and interests. Most importantly, the curriculum should provide genuine learning opportunities for every student.

Why design? Effective design encourages student engagement and their desire to learn every day.

The Three Universal Design for Learning Principles

For UDL to work, teachers must put it into practice. That’s where the three Universal Design for Learning Principles come in.

1 – Representation: showing information in different ways. Teachers and professors must present content and information to students using multiple types of media, graphics and animation. Highlighting critical features and activating background knowledge is also an important recommendation.

2 – Action & Expression:  allowing students to approach learning tasks and demonstrating what they know in different ways. Teachers and professors must provide students with options to express their knowledge and provide constant feedback and support, according to proficiency level. 

3 – Engagement: offering students with learning opportunities that keeps them engaged and sustains their interest long-term. What inspires one student might not inspire another. By providing them with options they can choose what best meets their interests.


5 Tips When Implementing UDL

  1. Determine goals to help students know what they’re working towards and to stay on track.
  2. Offer students different ways to complete their assignments.
  3. Build flexible workspaces where students can either work individually or engage in group activities.
  4. Provide students with constant feedback on their performance. If possible, on a daily basis.
  5. Allow the use of different mediums, including print, digital and audio materials.