A teacher points at a tablet while students look on

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a recent movement to develop a world that is accessible and usable to a greater proportion of the population, including those with disabilities. Likewise, UDL deals with removing physical barriers to educational materials; for example, providing alternative accessible textbooks to students with disabilities. However, UDL also works to remove intellectual barriers.

UDL is a framework for designing classroom lessons so that they are advantageous to all learners. Its aim is to allow for a wide range of students to be supported and encouraged in developing enthusiasm for their studies. In order to accomplish this goal, the UDL program advocates that flexible materials, techniques, and strategies be used in the classroom, so that these items can be individualized for the specific student. For example, UDL includes both the need for instructors to present information in multiple ways, and the allowance that students be able to show their knowledge in multiple ways.

For more information on UDL in education, you may refer to Universal Design in Education: Teaching Non-Traditional Students [1]. We have included some of the key points below.

  • To make sure that different learning styles are accommodated, offer class information both visually (on the blackboard, for example) and aloud. Also, offer materials in redundant media. Because many classroom materials are prepared using computers, make curricula and hand outs available to students on request or on a course web page. This allows each student to customize these materials for his/her own use (for example, making a large print version). It may also be useful to make these same materials accessible on a course website so that students can use their personal adaptive equipment. For example, eReader from the Center for Applied Special Technology [2]pronounces the documents and highlights the text to provide student assistance.
  • In addition to making the material available in different media, allow the students to interact with the course materials in different ways. For example, students can respond to prompts by speaking the answer, or by writing or typing it. Students should also be able to modify the appearance of the materials (e.g., size, font, background colors, and the speed of their learning).
  • Allow students to comprehend and learn the material in different settings. This may include giving the option of independent or group work, or allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge by applying concepts to other, more practical situations (like calculating batting averages to demonstrate knowledge of adding and dividing). Listservs are also a good learning tool—some students may prefer a listserv with instructor participation where they can post questions and comments to be answered by the instructor, while others may benefit from a peer-sponsored listserv, dependent on student-only interaction and help.
  • Educators should become aware of possible cultural differences with their students, and how these differences might affect the students’ education. For example, educators should look at the relative importance of academic work vs. family needs, and individual vs. group achievements. Every educator has biases based on his/her own culture and upbringing, but students from other cultural traditions with different values may need occasional flexibility and understanding.
  • Evaluations of students should also be multifaceted, with many options for students to demonstrate mastery of the material. For example, traditional tests and term papers should be mixed with group activities, community activities, and portfolios. This provides opportunities for success for a variety of learning styles.
  • Educators should take advantage of technology that makes distance learning an option. For some, attending class in person is inconvenient or impossible. Broadband communications, e-mail, and the web make distance learning a more viable possibility; therefore, instruction should be offered and student work should be accepted from a distance if necessary.
  • Make sure that students are aware of the availability of digitized e-books. These books are valuable for certain distance learning students, as well as students who are blind or have dyslexia.
  • Recognize that students may have improved speed and accuracy with dictation, for example, instead of traditional writing or typing. Computer speech recognition can be used to convert dictation into text with accuracy.
  • Materials should be translated into other languages if needed by students. To accomplish this, computer software [3] can be used to obtain a “draft quality” translation, which can then be polished by a colleague fluent in the language.
  • Flexibility in physical accommodation is important. Make sure that the classroom is accessible, and select desks and chairs that are movable rather than fixed.
Universal Design for Learning deals with removing physical barriers to educational materials, as well as intellectual barriers.
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