UDL, the acronym for Universal Design for Learning, is an educational framework developed by CAST, an Understood-founding partner. It guides the design of learning experiences to respond to the needs of all learners proactively.
When you use UDL, you assume that the impediments to learning are not in the students but the design of the environment. Each UDL principle has a complete set of detailed guidelines that provide an evidence-based approach to understanding how to enhance learning through tools and resources. Each UDL principle is designed to help educators improve how we present information, engage students and create inclusive evaluations. It also harnesses the power of digital technology.
The three Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles can be applied to the overall design of a study course and the specific instructional study materials and strategies:
Such as learning activities, lectures, learning resources, group work, discussions, online instruction, handouts, labs, demonstrations and fieldwork.
The universally designed curriculum offers students multiple or flexible ways to view or listen to information/representation, expression and engagement and makes a class more inclusive. It also reduces the need for special accommodations for disabled students.
The main purpose of this educational framework is to maximize learning for all students and is based on three key principles. Each principle is accompanied by an extensive set of guidelines on using resources and tools to improve the students learning. Also, educators can use each of these UDL principles to make their presentation of information more accessible and engaging, increase student participation in class, and develop inclusive assessments.
THE THREE PRINCIPLES OF UDL
Multiple means of representation
Known to all, it is necessary to recall some background knowledge that students might already have on a certain topic to help improve their understanding of what they’ve learned so far. This is what this principle focuses on. The multiple means principle encourages educators to present information in a variety of formats. The same concept could take the form of text, images, video, audio or practical activities. Learners may need technologies and assistive devices that facilitate learning – such as screen readers, automatic fliers, voice recognition programs or closed captions – to access this content.
It is of utmost importance to make information available in multiple formats because learners differ in their perception and understanding of the concepts presented to learners.
Differently-abled learners may not benefit from a one-size-fits-all approach to content and may require different formats to meet their needs. At the same time, there may be others who simply understand certain information more efficiently by audio or visual means than by printed text.
Multiple representations of a concept, also known as dual coding – facilitates learning by enabling students to see the links within individual concepts and between different concepts.
Multiple means of action and expression
The second principle focuses on action and expression, which is essential. Teachers must provide a range of ways for students to express their knowledge by offering them the most interesting means, such as writing an essay on a theme or story or creating a video, etc.
This principle assists educators in providing students with a variety of ways to demonstrate what they have learned. Learners differ in the manner in which they navigate learning environments and demonstrate what they know. For example, learners with significant locomotor impairments, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, and those facing language barriers may have different approaches to learning tasks. They may prefer to express their knowledge through a written text, an oral or visual presentation, or a group assignment/project.
Multiple means of engagement
The third principle encourages teachers to use different methodologies to motivate learners. Learners may be encouraged to learn differently. Some of the factors that influence individual change in motivation include culture, neurology, personal relevance and previous knowledge. For example, dyslexic learners are generally able to understand concepts more quickly through learning through experience than through the use of printed text. These students may be motivated to learn if the concepts are taught through activities that use kinesthetic skills, such as acting or role-playing.
Needless to mention, one method of engagement is not suitable for all learners in each setting. Some learners may have a high preference for novelty and spontaneity, while others may prefer a strict routine. Some students may prefer working alone, while others may prefer working in a group.
These principles can be applied to the overall design of a course and instructional strategies and materials to be used to teach a course. UDL principles can also incorporate these principles into presentations, group work, learning activities, fieldwork, discussions and demonstrations to make learning more accessible and efficient for all learners.