“Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or special design.”
Universal Design for Learning
Universal Design in education, also known as Universal Design for Learning (UDL), is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn. It is intended to increase access to learning by reducing physical, cognitive, intellectual, and organizational barriers to learning, through the implementation of flexible learning environments that can accommodate a variety of individual learning differences. UDL is more than solely providing information in an accessible way, but rather it expands accessibility through multiple means of action and expression, engagement, and representation.
Every instructor is considered a designer, responsible for designing the course content and assessments, selecting the materials, and overseeing the learning environment. You are encouraged to proactively consider and apply UD principles in each of these areas as you prepare for your course.
CAST Universal Design Principles
There is not one means of engagement, representation, or expression that will be optimal for all learners in all contexts. Providing multiple options in each area is essential.
- Multiple Means of Engagement: The “WHY” of learning
- Multiple Means of Representation: The “WHAT” of learning
- Multiple Means of Expression: The “HOW” of learning
These are a few thought-provoking questions to consider throughout the design process. This list is not meant to be comprehensive.
- Designing Content: WHAT, WHY, and HOW are you teaching?
- What type of content may be sensitive and/or triggering for someone? If a student is triggered, what options are provided to students who are uncomfortable discussing the content in class?
- How do you provide a basic foundation for students from various cultural, economic, and academic backgrounds to build on throughout the quarter? How do you level the playing field for students with various abilities and cultural, economic, and academic backgrounds?
- How are students engaged in/out of class (e.g. lectures, labs, field work, videos, apps, field trips, discussions, group work, hands-on experience, personal reflection and response, etc.)?
- Have you clearly defined the learning objectives and expectations? Have you explained why they are important in multiple ways (e.g. announced during class and written in the syllabus)?
- Creating Assessments: HOW do you assess student knowledge? WHAT measures are used?
- How many different ways do you allow students to share their understanding of the course content? (e.g. paper, written exam, take-home exam, essay, video presentation, slides, oral exams, etc.)
- Do you have flexibility built into your grading system? Do you grade on a curve? Do you drop the lowest grade? Do you give an ungraded pre-test to allow students to become familiar with your testing style? Are you willing to allow extra credit? Do you create make-up exams to account for the rare and unusual circumstance a student might unexpectedly be unable to take an exam on the scheduled date?
- Selecting Materials: WHAT materials will be used in your course? WHY are these materials used?
- Do you make copies of the syllabus, PowerPoint slides, articles, or course notes available for students to review?
- Are the textbooks or articles available in multiple formats (e.g. braille, large print, ebook, PDF)? If not, do you know where to guide your students to get alternative formats?
- Are webpages accessible for students who use a screen reader?
- Are videos and/or YouTube content available with closed captioning?
- Do any materials rely upon visual content that might exclude individuals who are blind, have low vision, and/or are colorblind? (e.g. visual images, charts, graphs, color-coded spreadsheets, etc.)
- Creating a Climate/Learning Environment: WHAT type of environment will you provide?
- Do you promote respect for both diversity and inclusion in your course?
- Are you prepared to provide accommodations for students with disabilities? Does your syllabus have an accessibility statement for students with disabilities? Do you proctor exams for students with disabilities?
- Are different learning styles (e.g. visual, auditory, and tactile learning styles) acknowledged and considered?
- Are students encouraged to have regular and open interaction with the instructor, ensuring that communication methods are accessible to all participants?
- Are the course activities, equipment, materials, and locations physically accessible and usable by all students?
Important UDL Resources
- CAST website*
- CAST Higher Education Focused website
- Universal Course Design
- Center on Technology and Disability website
- National Center on Accessible Educational Materials
- National Center on Universal Design for Learning
- Video: Why Is Accessible Design Good for Everyone?
- Video: UDL in Higher Education