Introduction

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The goal of education in the 21st century is not simply the mastery of knowledge. It is the mastery of learning. Education should help turn novice learners into expert learners-individuals who know how to learn, who want to learn, and who, in their own highly individual ways, are well prepared for a lifetime of learning.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach that addresses and redresses the primary barrier to making expert learners of all students: inflexible, one-size-fits-all curricula that raise unintentional barriers to learning. Learners with disabilities are most vulnerable to such barriers, but many students without disabilities also find that curricula are poorly designed to meet their learning needs.

Diversity is the norm, not the exception, wherever individuals are gathered, including schools. When curricula are designed to meet the needs of the broad middle-at the exclusion of those with different abilities, learning styles, backgrounds, and even preferences, they fail to provide all individuals with fair and equal opportunities to learn.

Universal Design for Learning helps meet the challenge of diversity by suggesting flexible instructional materials, techniques, and strategies that empower educators to meet these varied needs. A universally designed curriculum is designed from the outset to meet the needs of the greatest number of users, making costly, time-consuming, and after-the-fact changes to curriculum unnecessary.

Three primary principles guide UDL-and provide structure for these Guidelines:

  •  Principle I: Provide Multiple Means of Representation (the “what” of learning). Students differ in the ways that they perceive and comprehend information that is presented to them. For example, those with sensory disabilities (e.g., blindness or deafness); learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia); language or cultural differences, and so forth may all require different ways of approaching content. Others may simply grasp information better through visual or auditory means rather than printed text. In reality, there is no one means of representation that will be optimal for all students; providing options in representation is essential.
  • Principle II: Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression (the “how” of learning). Students differ in the ways that they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know. For example, individuals with significant motor disabilities (e.g. cerebral palsy), those who struggle with strategic and organizational abilities (executive function disorders, ADHD), those who have language barriers, and so forth approach learning tasks very differently and will demonstrate their mastery very differently. Some may be able to express themselves well in writing text but not oral speech, and vice versa. In reality, there is no one means of expression that will be optimal for all students; providing options for expression is essential.
  • Principle III: Provide Multiple Means of Engagement (the “why” of learning). Students differ markedly in the ways in which they can be engaged or motivated to learn. Some students are highly engaged by spontaneity and novelty while other are disengaged, even frightened, by those aspects, preferring strict routine. In reality, there is no one means of engagement that will be optimal for all students; providing multiple options for engagement is essential.

At CAST (the Center for Applied Special Technology), we began working nearly 25 years ago to develop ways to help students with disabilities gain access to the general education curriculum. In the early years, we focused on helping individuals adapt or “fix” themselves – overcoming their disabilities in order to learn within the general education curriculum.  That work, commonly focused on assistive technologies, is an important facet of any comprehensive educational plan.

However, we also came to see that this focus on assistive technologies was too narrow. It obscured the critical role of the environment in determining who is or who is not considered “disabled.” In the 1990s, we shifted our focus towards the general curriculum and its limitations: how do those limitations contribute to the “disabling” of our students?

This shift led to a simple, yet profound realization: the burden of adaptation should be first placed on the curriculum, not the learner. Because most curricula are unable to adapt to individual differences, we have come to recognize that our curricula, rather than our students, are disabled.

CAST began in the early 1990s to research, develop, and articulate the principles and practices of Universal Design for Learning. The term was inspired by the universal design concept from architecture and product development pioneered by Ron Mace of North Carolina State University in the 1980s, which aims to create built environments and tools that are usable by as many people as possible. Of course, since people are not buildings or products, we approached the universal design problem via the learning sciences. Thus, the UDL principles go deeper than merely focusing on access to the classroom; they focus on access to learning as well.

This work has been carried out in collaboration with many talented and dedicated education researchers, practitioners, and technologists. As the UDL field has grown, so has the demand from stakeholders for Guidelines to help make applications of these principles and practices more concrete.

These UDL Guidelines will assist curriculum developers (these may include teachers, publishers, and others) in designing flexible curricula that reduce barriers to learning and provide robust learning supports to meet the needs of all learners. They will also help educators evaluate both new and existing curricula goals, media and materials, methods and assessments.

59 Responses to Introduction

  1. […] world that celebrates and supports difference. I will probably talk in a later post at length about Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which tries to originate in a place that works for all abilities and diffabilities. Not just […]

  2. Velica says:

    UDL is wonderful. It helps to meet the needs of each individual learning style.

  3. Cathy says:

    As an elementary art teacher, I can easily tell when I have not presented the art challenge in such a way that motivates ALL students in a given class. I try to make notes to expand my own perspective in order to reach each student at their level. It is so rewarding when it all comes together and they create art they are excited about!

  4. Cory says:

    While most teachers accept the rigor and content of the science currilulum, it’s intereseting how some teachers comment that they feel it is watered down and they can’t get into as much depth. Perhaps when they get a better feel for the K-12 strand map they will grasp the logic in building concepts in an intentional, developmental appropriate way that best meets the needs of all learners.

  5. Shirley Wilson says:

    I can confirm that UDL benefit all students from observations conducted in many classrooms . Since most students have very short attention spans and have many different learning styles. Options that are available through UDL provide multiple means of engagements, autonomy and development of learners.

  6. Jim Rogers says:

    As a music teacher, the active production of a product is the goal. Everyone can participate at some level. Getting students to overcome the hangups of the day or all of the baggage they carry with them to make a daring step to reach out and sing or play in a different way or in a way that makes them change how they did it before. The overwhelming thing about the curriculum at this point is how in depth they want us to get yet at a small rural school where a class includes students from grades 7-12 we are challenged to reach a variety of readiness levels, ability levels, motivation levels and more. It is the picture of differentiated instruction when you consider each different instrument added into the mix of the previously mentioned variations. We have to develop ways to develop measurements of each of the skills that we are attempting to develop and how to come up with enough times and opportunities to revisit each to achieve some sort of mastery level.

  7. Susie Thomas says:

    I am a former “Regular Ed” teacher and remember how I struggled to help my Exceptional Ed students. I had one special education class while in college and felt that I was doing an injustice to my Ex Ed students. Today, after earning a degree in Ex Ed, I try to help teachers in the regular ed classroom by offering suggestions and teaching methods for my students. I do understand that most Ex Ed teachers do not have the time that I do but feel that schools should make time for both the sets of teachers to meet and observe the student and work together to make the learning experience positive for all students.

  8. Tracie Swann says:

    I read all of your posts and agree with all of you; All educators will agree that UDL just makes sense. The concept that all students learn differently and that the theory of multiple intelligences is accurate and has long been agreed upon. Educators will also agree that teachers must be creative in presentation and assignment, and evaluation approaches. The KEY factor is that educators through various mediums MUST create a learning environment where students WANT TO LEARN! From our own collective and individual experiences this requires much planning and self-evaluation every school year. For many, it means adapting and fully rewriting your lessons every year based on what worked the year before. For each day MUST be a valuable, authentic learning experience where students are engaged and are able to express and represent the concept learned so that they comprehend the material well enough to use now and in the future. Every lesson must be interesting and meaningful to the learner or they will reject it. So, in short, much pre-planning must be done for the 21st century classroom. Perhaps an interview around May with both the parents and students would be benificial so that early reflection can take place before lesson plans are even written. Additionally, a cummulative folder to review of past teachers reflections about the student’s learning styles, strengths/weakness, likes/dislikes, hobbies, etc., would be monumental in pre-planning ahead for curricula needs. I totally agree that the curricula is the problem and that it is very disabled. A teacher must KNOW where he or she is going and have an intricate plan of action along with funds to get there.
    I truly believe that the way we evaluate learners should also change to a compilation of written, oral, project, and portfolio assessment – not just exam style testing. Also, a traditional set-up places restrictions on learning. To reach to goals of a true UDL evironment, the teacher must be acccomodated which includes having space, supplies, technology, and reading materials. The students would also benefit by separating the classroom into different learning areas, for example, a technology area equipped with computers, headphones, a television/dvd, smart boards, printers, etc., a reading area equipped with headphones for auditory learners, a large writing board area for teacher and student demonstration, and a large pull down screen for daily multi-media presentations through power point, interactive online tutorials, web touring, and so much more. Differentiated instruction cannot take place without space, money, materials, and technology.

    • Tara says:

      I enjoyed everyones posts regarding UDL. I think teachers should use UDL in their classrooms, it will better prepare them for the upcoming year. Educating your students and having a plan through UDL is extremely helpful. The technology has made learning more detailed, factual and fun. Having the area to learn is an important factor in a child’s ability to learn the material presented.

    • ydomings says:

      Hi Tracie, You are suggesting more a differentiated instruction approach where things are adjusted each year. This is a huge undertaking for teachers and they do need a lot of time and energy to do that. From a UDL perspective, students vary and so lessons should be designed to accommodate all students from the start. If lessons are designed using a UDL approach, the teacher will have a wide range of options to choose from that can accommodate the interest of students each year.

      Yvonne

  9. Angela Spry says:

    Incorportating various activities that reflect the various learning styles will ensure that you meet the needs of all learners. I provide multiple examples in various formats to engage all learners in the classroom to promote understanding.

  10. Robin says:

    I am a special education teacher and UDL will help me to help reach all my students. Often students will disabilities are left out and ignored. This program will help all students succeed.

    • Beverly says:

      Hopefully UDL will help me to reach all my students. All students enter the classroom with predetermined ideas of what learning will be like for them during the year. They all have experienced achievements, frustrations, and melt downs. Teaching must be presented in different styles for concepts to be attained/understood.

    • Jessica Birge Bynum says:

      I agree; there is no, “One size fits all.” We should be open minded as educators to be able to assist with whatever capable means are there.

    • Elizabeth Britt Lovealce says:

      I agree with you. I work closely with the special education teacher in our building. We work together to create lessons that involve all of the students with different learning styles. As an administrator, it is important to make sure that we understand that each and every child has a different learning style. As a teacher, I know how important it is to make sure that students with disabilities are included. UDL will offer me more ideas to help reach not only students with disabilities, but all students. Our ultimate goal for each and every student to master learning.

    • Shenika Carpenter says:

      I am a Special Education Teacher as well, and I think the variety & multiple formats implemented will help engage all learners in the traditional general education setting to promote success in learning.

    • Susie Thomas says:

      I like to do observations in the classroom so I can see what the teacher is doing and then offer suggestions. Many times the teachers feel so overwhelmed with the Ex Ed students and they feel they are left on their own.

  11. lstrickland says:

    I agree that students do proceed and comprehend information in different ways. We as educators need to make sure the information that is given to the student is presented in a way or ways that all students can attain it.

  12. Douglas M. Williamson EdD says:

    We live in a continiously changing world. We must learn to change with the times, or we will get left behind. Education is no exception. In fact we should be the leaders in society. Our teaching styles should be inovative to meet the needs of all syudents from all walks of life.

  13. gary barker says:

    Very interesting!

  14. bbartlett says:

    Sounds like the next evolution (now that we have blamed the disability, the curriculum and the teacher) would be to have the student be responsible for wanting to participate in learning.

    My first goal with every new class is to create an atmosphere where the student wants to learn from me. Additionally, they must know I fully support and believe they can learn and will enjoy learning.

    • Charlie says:

      I agree it’s key that students want to learn. Helping them feel safe is a great way to start. I think that it helps students to understand that some concepts will be hard (that’s normal), that we will not give up on them, and that they can do it! It may sound silly. I think its a great place to start.;

  15. Nancy West says:

    The concept that different students learn differently is not new, nor is the theory of multiple intelligences. Differentiated instruction is not new, either. Short of cloning a teacher or reducing the teacher to student ratio in a classroom (neither of which seem to be possible, given today’s emphasis on economic cut-backs to schools), a logical approach would be to develop curricula that intrinsically contains multiple types of assessment. Sign me up!

  16. Sharon says:

    It is nothing new in education and has long been known that students have different learning styles. Therefre it is the teacher’s job to use different presetation techniques throughout the year so as to reach all there students at some point in time.

    • Sarah Sisson says:

      I agree with Sharon. Teachers have to be very creative to teach every learning style in his or her classroom.
      Sarah

    • Douglas M. Williamson EdD says:

      I agree. Different presentation techniques can be used teaching one lesson. We’ve been practicing this for year.

  17. Sharon says:

    It has long been understood that not all students learn the same. I think the approach a teacher should have in her/his classroom is to vary the way they present a leasson. Not all lecture day in and day out but rather through out the year to choose the best presentation technique. This way all student learning styles and strengths can be met at some point in time.

    • Eva says:

      I think the fact has been established that students have different learning styles. As educators, we must make it a priority to become creative to present the lesson in a way that the students regardless of their learning styles can understand, relate or ask questions.

  18. Denim Geek says:

    UDL will support teachers in the UK. Should hopefully do what it is supposed to and aid learners aswell… Good read!

  19. For now I know one of the greatest principles of success; if I persist long enough I will win.
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    TLHH

  20. Kati Horton says:

    UDL is exactly how I love to approach learning in my classroom. It is amazing how evident it is how all children learn so differently. I love to watch each child grow as a learner when they are given the opportunity to learn in so many different ways.

  21. felicia says:

    UDL seems to place the focus on chaning the curricula not the student. That is going to have a greater impact in the end. If they can not learn the way you teach, teach the way they learn.

    • Kati Horton says:

      Wonderful way to put it. We have the opportunity to give students the gift of loving to learn. If we do not teach to the way they learn, their love will not be fostered.

  22. Felicia says:

    From what I am gathering about the UDL concept, it appears to be like differentiated instruction. Either way, it is a better way to reach our learners, in consideration of their unique learning styles and interests.

  23. Shannon Wald says:

    I like the idea of UDL because it is a positive effort toward taking into account the diversity of learners in classrooms at all levels, and the need to meet them where they are in order to create an authentic, valuable learning experience that will develop lifelong learners, not just individuals who can successfully accumulate knowledge or regurgitate information. This is in contrast to traditional education, so I am pleased there is recognition of the importance of an approach that makes much more sense intuitively. If the goal of learning is to apply knowledge gained in some meaningful way, students must first truly comprehend what is being taught and see personal value in it in order to do so. Since UDL is more focused on the real interests and learning styles of students, it is possible to see how this may motivate them to take responsibility for their own learning now and in the future.

    I believe UDL can easily be applied to an early childhood curriculum, in particular in a low tech manner, which would usually be the case in an EC/ECSE classroom environment. As we’ve learned, technology does not in itself imply that UDL is being applied successfully, while low tech ways of creating a UDL environment may be very effective. Things such as engaging choice centers that focus on student interests, colorful and vivid visuals, books and materials that are multicultural or multilinguistic in nature, movement and tactile experiences/activities to engage learners, etc., are easily implemented in early childhood classrooms. Assistive technology and computers with age appropriate software and touch screens or mice, etc., may also be used to address varied learner needs.

    The most obvious challenge with UDL that I see may be the need to design the environment before the children are introduced into it. This takes such careful pre-planning and organization to be done correctly, in particular to meet all three basic principles (representation, expression, and engagement) effectively. I imagine there might be some need to remain flexible and continue to make adaptations after the plan is in place, though since that is contradictory to the basic idea of UDL, I’m unclear how that issue should be resolved.

    • Jennie Cantrell says:

      It is so refreshing to read real attempts in overcoming the many barriers our students face particularly the many that fail to meet the rigid requirements for qualifying for special ed services. I am speaking to the slow learners, those that are one std. deviation from the mean, but cannot qualify to receive additional help.

    • Carolyn Hunter says:

      I think the key to your last comment is to know each student and his/her learning needs/style. When the student comes into class, the teacher has done the background work to gather data before a new lesson begins. As you say, we have to be alert and continue to make adaptations as we see the need.

  24. Kathy Riggs says:

    The concept of UDL is a phenomenal fresh approach to educating students. Imagine the number of students whose intelligence might have been undiscovered for the lack of flexible curricula and methods to implement it.

  25. Sherryle Jackson says:

    What stuck with me was the line that said, “it is our curricula, not our students that are disabled.”

    • Kati Horton says:

      I agree. What I really liked was the line, “The burden fof adaptation should be first placed on the curriculum-not the learner.” This is so true. Each child learns so differently-whether or not they have a diagnosed learning difference. Our curriculum and strategies to teach the curriculum should reflect the all types of learning.

  26. Constance Kelly says:

    This takes multiple intelligences the full range to include the use of assistive devices to better meet the needs of all children.

  27. Sherri Kearney says:

    Universal Design for Learning will support my abilities as a teacher. This design will enable me to provide differentiated instruction to meet the needs of All of my learners.

  28. Tom Childers says:

    I found this site as a result of the NC Falcon training (Formative Assessment Training for North Carolina Educators). I have been aware of UDL for several years, however this is the first time that I have visited this site. As educators we must do a better job of “aligning ourselves” with student learning and I think this design is fantastic. I definitely plan to share this with my staff!

  29. janice sink says:

    Accomodations are made for students with identified learning disabilities. This is as it should be. However, all children are unique and have their own unique ways to learn. This program may be a way for teachers, including myself, to once again take into account the different learning strategies needed to help all children reach their potential.

  30. Cliff Phifer says:

    I meant empowering.

  31. Cliff Phifer says:

    Impowern students to make accommodations for ther learning is a key concept. We have to build confidence in the learner and teacher to take the risk to find ways that work for both. Success for the student is the goal.

  32. I am ADHD, and Dyslexic and now getting my Teaching Endorsement in Special Education. Studying and Learning UDL is so wonderful as a teacher and a student. This technique is true “inclusion.”

  33. voi_jean says:

    Hi there I just stumbled across your site and really enjoyed it. Thank you.

  34. Amanda Grinstead says:

    I can see how some types of educational delivery systems frighten some kind (if not all) of learners. As a student myself, if a problem is presented to me in a very quick fashion (math :), I clam up and can not do very simple addition or subtraction. I need a calm, quiet enviornment to learn most any concept. I believe that what was described in this introduction is simply what a good teacher (special education or not) should do everyday.

  35. Amanda Grinstead says:

    This concept of adapting curriculum reminds me of what a professor of mine told me at Georgia Southern University. He stated time and time again that there are 100 ways to get to Atlanta, GA from here. For some, taking I-75 would be the best way. For others, the backroads make better sense (especially if there is a road block on I-75). It is our job as educators to find out the best route to get to the final destination.

    • Emily says:

      Your comment slams on the most important aspect of UDL. Knowing where you are going. Then the how of getting there is important.

  36. David Scott says:

    Please give me an example of what you are calling ‘assistive technologies’.

    • Sharon L. says:

      Assistive technologies take many forms — they can be high-tech, low-tech, and lots of stages in between. High tech includes computers, smart boards, and other technology. Low tech includes such things as using a larger pencil and eraser, holding papers on the desk with various kinds of “paper” clips, wearing sunglasses to block out too much light, sitting near a window for more light, sitting with back to source of light, writing with black ink instead of blue, writing board information with larger chalk [chalk might be outdated — larger font size], markers with larger tips, clips to hold work sheets on the desk, the eraser end of a pencil to turn pages, wide-ruled paper, and so on and on. Don’t be afraid to “rig” up something that might work, and don’t be concerned about how “low-tech” it looks, as long as it helps the students.

  37. Mindy Diaz says:

    In higher education the physical setup of a classroom places more restrictions in the ability to offer many different methods of teaching. I find the classroom itself sometimes limits me on being able to provide instruction for the differnt learning styles of many students. I have had to use cafeterias, hallways and I often take the classes outside for more tactile projects, group discussion or work. There are less barriers for students with physical disabilities than for students with learning disabilities.

    • I understand the barriers that you speak of in higher education. I have found myself using creative methods to move away from the restrictions of the classroom. May I suggest, you pair with another teacher, utilize the computer labs or tactile projects to break the restricted barriers. Sometimes in low tech from home works.

    • Kim Robles says:

      Mindy,
      I agree with you, that how the classroom is set up can make a difference in learning, especially for students with disabilities, in secondary education. I like to get outside, or set on the floor in a circle. One of our classrooms have bean bags and large pillows, granted this isn’t ideal for every situation, but the students perfer being comfortable when reading. I have used the football field to teach positive and negative numbers, as well as the cooking room to teach fractions. The students enjoy these lessons and it gives them more movement and interaction while learning.

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