Overview of UDL Principles
Universal Design for Learning is a framework for improving and optimizing teaching and learning for all people. Developed by CAST | Until learning has no limits®, it is based on scientific insights into the variability of human learning and seeks to equalize access to curriculum.
UDL promotes designing learning experiences using a variety of teaching methods in order to remove barriers to learning, proactively respond to the variability of learners, and support the development of learner expertise. The UDL Guidelines support this work. They encourage reflective practice, bust myths about teaching practices and learner attributes, and offer concrete suggestions that can be applied to any discipline. For example, the UDL Guidelines encourage designing curriculum with flexibility in mind not because some learners will struggle without it but because it invites learners to demonstrate their assets and strengths, thus ensuring access to and participation in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities.
Before we go any further, let’s discuss what we mean by curriculum. In this course we use the term curriculum to mean a course of study that in the province of Ontario encompasses standards, content, and a variety of teaching approaches and assessment strategies. In some jurisdictions, the term curriculum may refer only to content and the term pedagogy to the method of delivery. Throughout these modules we will be noting that from an adult education and learner experience model, the content and content delivery are inextricable. In the context of decolonizing curriculum, curriculum design is an ongoingly reflective and iterative process.
The video below provides an overview of the UDL framework. It also explains in detail the three UDL principles:
- Engagement (options for learners to engage and persist),
- Representation (options for instructors to communicate course concepts), and
- Action and Expression (options for students to demonstrate what they have learned).
Introduction to UDL
>> Welcome to the course, everyone. This video provides a basic overview of the framework for Universal Design for Learning or UDL. Let's get started.
One of the many wonderful things about our post-secondary system in Ontario is our rich and diverse student population, along with our diverse staff and faculty. As you know, our students come from a multitude of unique and intersecting lived experiences. That's why it's essential for educators to employ a variety of strategies that reflect this diversity. Our students may be English language learners; have differing accessibility needs; and may be supporting dependents while in school. They come from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds; have multitude of social identities; and bring with them considerable life and often work experiences. The list goes on. So how do you ensure that these students can make the most of your learning resources? Follow along with presentations, stay engaged and feel included? Universal Design for Learning.
UDL is a teaching framework and a reflective practice that utilizes strategies to enhance the learning experience for the widest range of learners. It's all about ensuring that curriculum and all learning spaces are designed to be accessible and responsive for all of our students. Because it's essential that students get the most of your learning space and expertise. The good news is you’re probably already including some UDL elements in your practice without realizing it. The key is to reflect on your inclusive teaching and learning practices and build upon them in an intentional way.
The Center for Applied Special Technology, also referred to as CAST, is a leader in this field and they recognize the importance of acknowledging that variability of learners is the norm. CAST set out to create an inclusive learning framework that addresses this variability, especially to reduce barriers for students with disabilities. Through their work, they quickly learned that the recommendations they were making for students with disabilities in fact benefited a great many more learners. Universal Design for Learning is based on research in the field of neuroscience. And the framework created by CAST promotes three core principles for educators to build into their practices.
The first principle: provide multiple means of engagement. This is a vital element in the learning process because students differ greatly in the ways in which they are motivated to learn. Provide students with options and choices to fuel their interests.
The next principle: provide multiple means of representation. This focuses on how to present teaching materials to students to maximize their understanding and learning. Ensure you provide options to access information with multiple media through text, video, audio, graphics and much more. This gives the learners options to learn in a way that works best for them. Highlight the critical features and activate the background knowledge students bring with them and ensure all materials are accessible.
And for the last principle: provide multiple means of action and expression. This focuses on the many ways students can demonstrate what they've learned. Provide choice of assessment instruments while maintaining robust learning outcomes. Give students options and choices to demonstrate what they know and provide feedback to support the different levels of proficiencies. Empowering students and nurturing individual potential is what UDL is all about. It helps remove obstacles that may be interfering with student learning. Constructing flexible learning experiences that give learners choice and autonomy while maintaining the rigorous learning outcomes and expectations for all students is the goal of UDL. Also the UDL framework intersects with complementary initiatives such as anti-racism, decolonization, the social model of disability and others.
There is so much more to explore. Use UDL as a lens to review your educational practices to better reach all learners. You can explore the interactive CAST guidelines, principles and checkpoints as you intentionally design and execute your classes and learning. You can connect with your colleagues and your team to start a community of practice where you can share UDL best practices. This can help widen access and increase inclusion to celebrate diversity in your classrooms and other learning spaces in your institution. Join us in designing a teaching and learning future in higher education that is welcoming to all.
Introduction to UDL - Runtime 5:00 min
Let’s take a brief look now at some foundational UDL concepts and practices such as flexibility, learner variability, accessibility, and learner expertise.