Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a people-first design framework that guides the design of learning experiences to proactively meet the needs of each and every ākonga.

When we use UDL, we anticipate barriers to learning in the design of the environment,  and plan in a range of useful supports, options and tools so each learner can select what works for them.

UDL is based on neuroscience and evidence-based educational practices.

(Adapted from Allison Posey, CAST 2022).

The UDL Thinking Cycle

The UDL Thinking Cycle is one of many approaches to planning using UDL. 

The Thinking Cycle is explained below, or check out our interactive UDL Thinking Cycle.

An image of the Universal Design for Learning Thinking Cycle, with six circles, each representing one step of the Thinking Cycle


Step one: What do we know about the people and the context?

Image of people standing in a group, they are of varied heights, ages, ethnicities and disabilitiesAsk yourself,

What do we know about the ākonga?

  • Cultures, languages and identities
  • Connections to place
  • Ākonga strengths
  • Prior knowledge and experience
  • Specific needs and preferences
  • What’s on top for ākonga
  • Wellbeing and morale

What do we know about the context?

  • Time of day, time in the week
  • Environment: online, F2F, field trip
  • Familiar or unfamiliar activity or setting

Step two: What's the goal and purpose?

Image of someone standing on a waka using the stars to navigate toward landAsk yourself:

  • What is the goal?
  • Why are we doing this?
  • What could success look like?

Can these be co-designed with ākonga?

Step three: Identify possible barriers to learning in the design

Image of a young person staring sadly at a brick wall that is blocking their pathAsk yourself,

What in our design could create inequity and discrimination?​

What may create barriers to: ​

  • engagement and motivation
  • accessing and understanding information ​
  • participating in learning and expressing what they know.

Step four: Identify universal supports

Image showing a laptop, a checklist, a diagram, headphones and other useful supports for learnersAsk yourself,

What supports, options and tools might be useful for some that we can offer to everyone?

Step five: Make a plan supported by UDL Guidelines

image shows the three UDL guidelines, Engagement, Representation, Action and ExpressionMake and implement a plan to support ākonga variability

  • Allow what you know about ākonga to influence the design​
  • Address key barriers
  • Build in useful options and universal supports​
  • Organise feedback approaches.

Then check and refine plan using the prompts below. These prompts have been adapted from Key Questions to Consider When Planning Lessons.

They are organised using the three UDL Guidelines, which are grounded in the concept of neuro-variability. Read more about UDL and the Learning Brain. 

A drawing of a brain with the central part shaded inProvide multiple means of Engagement

Affective networks: The 'WHY' of learning

Ask yourself:​

Does the lesson provide options that can help all ākonga:​

  • Regulate their own learning?​
  • Sustain effort and motivation?​
  • Engage and interest all ākonga?​

A drawing of a brain with the middle shaded inProvide multiple means of Representation

Recognition networks: The 'WHAT' of learning

Ask yourself:​

Does the lesson provide options that can help all ākonga:​

  • Reach higher levels of comprehension and understanding?​
  • Understand the symbols and expressions?​
  • Perceived what needs to be learned?

A drawing of a brain with the front section shaded inProvide multiple means of Action and Expression

Strategic networks: The 'HOW' of learning

Ask yourself:​

Does the lesson provide options that can help all ākonga:​

  • Act strategically?
  • ​Express themselves fluently?​
  • Physically respond?

You can find out more about the UDL Guidelines on the CAST website

Step six: Teach, evaluate, revise

Image is of a person with a speech bubble in front of them, indicating that they are teachingAsk yourself:

  • What options, universal supports and strategies worked well?​
  • How will the feedback influence my design?​
  • What will I try next time?

There are lots of templates and tools that will help you use UDL in on our Planning with Universal Design for Learning page.

Resources - find out more about UDL

 Websites and tools:

Interactive UDL Thinking Cycle:


An image of the interactive UDL Thinking Cycle

Universal Design for Learn: Inclusive Education Guides for Schools:


Screenshot of Inclusive.Education web page

CAST: The UDL Guidelines:


Screenshot of CAST webpage showing the UDL guidelines

Universal Design for Learning (UDL): A teacher’s guide:


Screenshot of Understood.org web page

How to break down barriers to learning with UDL:


Screenshot of Understood.org web page

CAST: Until learning has no limits

The international home of Universal Design for Learning


a screenshot of the homepage for Cast.org



Learn the fundamentals of UDL:

Allison Posey.


Screenshot of YouTube video

Universal Design for Learning and the New Zealand Curriculum:


Screenshot of UDL and the NZC video

Where has UDL come from?


Screenshot of YouTube video


Where is UDL heading?

UDL Must Address Barriers to Equitable Learning | Cracks in the pavement 


Screenshot of Cast.Org web page

Cross-pollinating culturally sustaining pedagogy and universal design for learning Waitoller F. R._ King Thorius K. A. (2016)



CAST: UDL and the Learning Brain


Differentiated Instruction and Implications for UDL Implementation