Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

What is it? 

Universal Design for Learning is an evidence-based framework supported by cognitive and learning science that supports different learner needs. It has three principles that guide the theory and practice and these principles are supported by affective, recognition, and strategic networks of the brain. It was first developed by David Rose at Harvard in the 1990s, and is now actively supported by CAST (The Center for Applied Special Technology) 

What are the principles? 

Engagement (the why of learning) 

Learners have multiple means to engage with the material, concepts, or course and to motivate learning. 

Representation (the what of learning)

Learners are provided course content in different ways. 

Action and Expression (the how of learning) 

Learners have multiple ways to express and demonstrate what they have learned.  

How do I incorporate this in my pedagogy? 

A good practice to incorporate this in your pedagogy is by using the “plus one” method as outlined by Thomas Tobin and Kirsten Behling in their work Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone. The plus one method states that you can add one new way of engagement, representation, or action and expression every semester you teach your course so that eventually your course has more UDL elements. Some examples of engagement, representation, and expression “plus one” adds are the following: 

  1. Add multimodality to the content of your course. This could be a video, an audio clip, infographics, anything that would move away from an only textual delivery 
  2. Add choice to your assessments in terms of either different questions to choose from or different ways that learners can submit their assessment (essay, podcast, video, etc.) 
  3. Add the voice of one person not represented in your course content and readings. Review your readings and content and see who is not represented in terms of gender, ethnic origin, geographic space, class, etc. and add a reading or resource that is representative of that gap.  
  4. Add a collaborative formative activity with a tangible deliverable where learners will work together to create study notes, a mind map, or prompting questions for further exploration for example. 
  5. Provide instructions for an assessment in another way besides only textual. For example created a 1-2min video or audio file with transcript explaining the next assessment.  
  6. Ask learners to bring in an artifact that relates to a course concept, such as a URL, an image, or a video to make their learning more authentic.  


CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org 

Tobin, T.J. and Behling, K.T. (2018). Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education. West Virginia University Press.