Learning Opportunities for All – A look at UDL

Students have different needs, abilities and preferences. Their strengths and their obstacles to learning are not always apparent.  Incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles allows teachers to reach all their learners.

What is UDL?

“UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.” (CAST.org)

According to the following three UDL principles, each area of the curriculum should provide multiple, varied, and flexible options for representation, expression, and engagement:


Recognition Networks – Present content and information in different ways such as using digital texts instead of printed texts for learners with dyslexia.  Digital text allows the learner to modify font, spacing and contrast to something more suitable.

Strategic Networks – Differentiate the ways that students can express what they know.  For example, provide technology to support learners with dysgraphia who find writing to be difficult.

Affective Networks – Stimulate interest and motivation for learning.

Four Aspects of the Curriculum

The three principles are applied to the four aspects of the curriculum: goals, methods, materials, and assessments.UDL_wheel

Goals are described as learning expectations. They represent the knowledge, concepts, and skills students need to master.

Methods are defined as the instructional strategies that are used by teachers to support student learning. Methods should be based on evidence and supported by an understanding of learning needs.

Materials are the media used to present content and demonstrate learning. UDL materials offer multiple media options and include embedded supports.

Assessment within the UDL framework refers to the process of gathering information about a learner’s progress using a variety of methods and materials.

Here is a great video from CAST.org that explains UDL:

How can Teachers incorporate UDL in the classroom?

Teachers may want to try some of the following approaches (Rose & Meyer, 2002):

  • Use multiple strategies to present content. Enhance instruction through the use of case studies, music, role play, cooperative learning, hands-on activities, field trips, guest speakers, and educational software.  Also, offer a choice of learning environment by providing opportunities for individual, pair, and group work.
  • Use a variety of materials. Use materials such as online resources, videos, presentations, manipulatives, and e-books to introduce new content.
  • Provide cognitive supports. Present background information for new concepts using pictures, artifacts, videos, and other materials that are not lecture-based. Scaffold student learning.
  • Teach to a variety of learning styles. Give instructions both orally and in writing to engage visual and auditory learners. Use visual aids. Build movement into learning and incorporate objects to help tactile learners.
  • Provide flexible opportunities for assessment. Allow students to demonstrate their learning in multiple ways that include visual and oral presentation.


Benefits of UDL

Students can benefit from the flexibility of the curriculum and the variety of materials, activities and instructional practices that UDL provides.  Every student including those with disabilities or those learning English benefit from the way content is presented.  Students welcome the opportunity to demonstrate what they know by presenting their work in a variety of ways that best suits them.  With UDL, educators can instruct those with special needs while enhancing learning for all.


How UDL can Support Students with Learning Disabilities

Students with learning disabilities and ADHD have difficulties that vary.  Some of those difficulties include short and working memory problems, persistent errors in numbers, spelling and grammar, note taking, organization, time management, misunderstanding, sensory overload. Some strategies that assist students with learning disabilities and ADHD:

  • Chunk material into smaller pieces with lots of opportunity for practice
  • Provide clear learning outcomes and describe your expectations of how these will be achieved
  • Allow a choice of evaluation methods to allow students to “show what they know” in a way that highlights their strengths
  • Provide consistency in how subjects are taught
  • Provide text in digital format that can be easily enlarged, simplified, summarized, highlighted, translated, converted to speech and supported through technology
  • Provide assistive technology

The Value of UDL

UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone not only those individuals with disabilities.  As teachers we can provide the best support by individualizing pathways to learning.



Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) (www.cast.org) UDL resources and strategies.

National Center on Universal Design for Learning (National UDL Center) (http://www.udlcenter.org) supports the effective implementation of UDL.

Universal Design for Learning Guidelines http://www.udlcenter.org/sites/udlcenter.org/files/updateguidelines2_0.pdf

Parents Guide to UDL from NCLD: http://www.ncld.org/learning-disability-resources/ebooks-guides-toolkits/parent-guide-universal-design-learning

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