Universal Design for Learning

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Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, that guides the development of flexible learning environments and learning spaces that can accommodate individual learning differences.[1]

Universal Design for learning is a set of principles that provide teachers with a structure to develop instructions to meet the diverse needs of all learners.

The UDL framework, first defined by David H. Rose, Ed.D. of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) in the 1990s,[2] calls for creating curriculum from the outset that provides:

  • Multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge,
  • Multiple means of expression to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know, and
  • Multiple means of engagement to tap into learners' interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn.[3][4]

Curriculum, as defined in the UDL literature, has four parts: instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments.[1] UDL is intended to increase access to learning by reducing physical, cognitive, intellectual, and organizational barriers to learning, as well as other obstacles. UDL principles also lend themselves to implementing inclusionary practices in the classroom.

Universal Design for Learning is referred to by name in American legislation, such as the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008 (Public Law 110-315),[5] the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Assistive Technology Act of 1998. The emphasis being placed on equal access to curriculum by all students and the accountability required by IDEA 2004 and No Child Left Behind legislation has presented a need for a practice that will accommodate all learners.[6]


The concept and language of Universal Design for Learning was inspired by the universal design movement in architecture and product development, originally formulated by Ronald L. Mace at North Carolina State University.[1] Universal design calls for "the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design".[7] UDL applies this general idea to learning: that curriculum should, from the outset, be designed to accommodate all kinds of learners.[1] Educators have to be deliberate in the teaching and learning process in the classroom (e.g Preparing class learning profiles for each student). This will enable grouping by interest. Those students that have challenges will be given special assistance. This will enable specific multimedia to meet the needs of all students. However, recognizing that the UD principles created to guide the design of things (e.g., buildings, products) are not adequate for the design of social interactions (e.g., human learning environments), researchers at CAST looked to the neurosciences and theories of progressive education in developing the UDL principles.[4][1] In particular, the work of Lev Vygotsky and, less directly, Benjamin Bloom informed the three-part UDL framework.[4]

Some educational initiatives, such as Universal Design for Instruction (UDI) and Universal Instructional Design (UID), adapt the Mace principles for products and environments to learning environments, primarily at the postsecondary level. While these initiatives are similar to UDL and have, in some cases, compatible goals, they are not equivalent to UDL and the terms are not interchangeable; they refer to distinct frameworks.[8] On the other hand, UDI practices promoted by the DO-IT Center operationalize both UD and UDL principles to help educators maximize the learning of all students.[9]

Implementation initiatives in the US[edit]

In 2006, representatives from more than two dozen educational and disability organizations in the US formed the National Universal Design for Learning Taskforce. The goal was to raise awareness of UDL among national, state, and local policymakers.[10][dead link]

The organizations represented in the National Task Force on UDL include the National School Boards Association, the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), the Council for Learning Disabilities (CLD),the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), Easter Seals, American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), Association on Higher Education and Disability, Higher Education Consortium for Special Education (HECSE), American Occupational Therapy Association, National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC), Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), TASH, the Arc of the United States, the Vocational Evaluation and Career Assessment Professionals Association (VECAP), the National Cerebral Palsy Association, and the Advocacy Institute.[10]

Activities have included sponsoring a Congressional staff briefing on UDL in February 2007 and supporting efforts to include UDL in major education legislation for both K–12 and postsecondary.[citation needed]


Research evidence on UDL is complicated as it is hard to isolate UDL from other pedagogical practices, for example, Coppola et al. (2019) combines UDL with Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy,[11] and Phuong and Berkeley (2017) combine it with Adaptive Equity Oriented Pedagogy (AEP).[12] Coppola et al. provide phenomenological evidence that learners with a variety of needs find UDL helpful for their learning. Phuong and Berkeley, using a randomised controlled trial, found that AEP, which is based on UDL, led to a significant improvement in students’ grades, even when several confounding variables were controlled for.

Baumann and Melle (2019) report in a small-scale study of 89 students, 73 without specific educational needs and 16 with specific educational needs, that the inclusion of UDL enhanced both students’ performance and their enjoyment of the learning experience.[13]


  1. ^ a b c d e Rose, David H; Meyer, Anne (2002). Teaching every student in the digital age: universal design for learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. ISBN 0-87120-599-8. OCLC 49994086.
  2. ^ Orkwis, Raymond; McLane, Kathleen (1998). A Curriculum Every Student Can Use: Design Principles for Student Access. ERIC/OSEP Topical Brief. ERIC/OSEP Special Project.
  3. ^ Rose & Meyer, 2002, p. 75;
  4. ^ a b c CAST (2008) Universal design for learning guidelines 1.0. Wakefield, MA: CAST. Retrieved July 1, 2008 from "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-05-18. Retrieved 2008-07-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ "UDL in Public Policy". CAST. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  6. ^ Karger, J (2005). "What IDEA and NCLB suggest about curriculum access for students with disabilities". In Rose, David Howard; Meyer, Anne; Hitchcock, Chuck (eds.). The Universally Designed Classroom: Accessible Curriculum And Digital Technologies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press. ISBN 1-891792-64-4. OCLC 61884482.
  7. ^ "About UD: Universal Design Principles". The Center for Universal Design. 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-05-13.
  8. ^ Mcguire, Joan M.; Scott, Sally S.; Shaw, Stan F. (1 May 2006). "Universal Design and Its Applications in Educational Environments". Remedial and Special Education. 27 (3): 166–175. doi:10.1177/07419325060270030501. ISSN 0741-9325. S2CID 146332018.
  9. ^ Burgstahler, Sheryl (28 May 2020). "Equal Access: Universal Design of Instruction". DO-IT: Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology. University of Washington. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  10. ^ a b National Taskforce on UDL, www.udl4allstudents.org
  11. ^ Coppola, R; Woodward, R; Vaughan, A (2019). "And the Students Shall Lead Us: Putting Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy in Conversation With Universal Design for Learning in a Middle-School Spoken Word Poetry Unit". Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice. 10: 226–249. doi:10.1177/2381336919870219.
  12. ^ Phuong, A; Berkeley, C. "Evaluating an Adaptive Equity-Oriented Pedagogy on Student Collaboration Outcomes Through Randomized Controlled Trials Major issues addressed". CSCL Proceedings: 496-503. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  13. ^ Baumann, T; Melle, I (2019). "Evaluation of a digital UDL-based learning environment in inclusive chemistry education". Chemistry Teacher International. 1 (2): 1–13. doi:10.1515/cti-2018-0026. Retrieved 18 June 2020.

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