What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences and cognitive neuroscience. A UDL approach recognises learner variability and focuses on removing barriers to learning and wellbeing. It is used to support the design of more flexible inclusive learning environments.
Rose, David H; Meyer, Anne (2002). Teaching every student in the digital age: universal design for learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. ISBN 0-87120-599-8. OCLC 49994086.
Why would I use a framework developed in the US in Aotearoa NZ?
Although UDL has been developed in the US, it resonates for us here in Aotearoa.
UDL takes a people-first approach to planning learning. It asks us to think about who we will teach and what ākonga bring with them before we think about what we will teach. When we use UDL, we intentionally allow our knowledge of learners' cultures, languages, identities, knowledges, strengths, passions, preferences and needs to influence both how and what we teach.
What's the research?
UDL draws from a variety of research including the fields of neuroscience, the learning sciences, and cognitive psychology. Find out more visit the Research Evidence page on CAST.org
CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org
What's the difference between UDL and what I currently do?
Aren’t I doing it already, it’s just “good teaching”?
UDL is a framework with clear principles, guidelines, and checkpoints. Many aspects of the framework are familiar because they are based on research underpinning effective teaching practice.
However if teachers are not referencing the UDL framework to make decisions about how to remove barriers to learning and plan for variability, they aren’t implementing UDL.
Loui Lord Nelson 2015 https://blog.brookespublishing.com/6-udl-myths-and-the-facts-behind-them/
What’s the difference between UDL and differentiation?
UDL focuses on the inclusive design of the whole learning environment at the outset. UDL aims to ensure all ākonga have full access to everything in the classroom, regardless of their needs and abilities. There is emphasis on ākonga self-directing their learning and monitoring progress.
Differentiation is a strategy aimed at addressing the individual levels of readiness, interest, and learning profiles of each ākonga. The teacher modifies content and processes to address the needs of each student. The teacher directs ākonga to specific activities to further their learning. The control of learning choices mainly sits with the teacher.
In a learning environment designed using UDL, often less differentiation is needed and there is a strong focus on supporting the agency of ākonga. However differentiation is intentionally included in the UDL Guidelines and is built into the Build fluencies with graduated levels of support for practice and performance checkpoint supporting the Action and Expression principle.
Isn’t UDL just about giving lots of choices?
Providing choice for learners is a key element of a UDL approach. When we use UDL, we select and offer a range of options and supports to ākonga based learning preferences and anticipated barriers to learning. The options and supports will intentionally align to the 3 UDL principles to ensure all three learning networks are supported.
How do I get started?
Start small and learn about UDL by working with it. Use the UDL Thinking Cycle to either review or design a lesson, activity or resource. If possible do this with a colleague so you can share ideas.
Once you have found your feet, introduce UDL to ākonga too, so you can get their ideas on what creates barriers and what are useful supports and approaches to include in the learning environment.
How will my planning be different?
Firstly you will be building on and strengthening your current practice.
The UDL Thinking cycle will help you focus on what you know about learners and support you to anticipate barriers to learning and wellbeing hidden in the design of the learning environment and your teaching practices.
You'll then make deliberate decisions on how to provide means of engagement, multiple means of representation and multiple means of action and expression.
There are lots of templates and tools that will help you use UDL on our Planning with Universal Design for Learning page.
Is it more work?
Initially, yes. We are building familiarity with a new framework and new terminology. However, because UDL is a design process that supports the way we plan, it can become part of our ongoing reflective practice. With repeated use it should reduce time dedicated to planning individual approaches.
Can I see what it looks like?
The best way to see UDL in action is to work with a learning partner to apply UDL to a lesson or assessment. Observe the new strategies and reflect on the impact for learners.
For some practical examples on how NZ teachers are starting to apply UDL, view media on:
Where can I find out more and get help?
Visit our resources page or make contact with your Learning Support Coordinator, RTLB service or Regional Curriculum Leads.
Visit our resources page: Universal Design for Learning | Inclusive Education (tki.org.nz)
You will also find some great resources linked below
Resources - find out more about UDL
Websites and tools:
Learn the fundamentals of UDL:
Universal Design for Learning and the New Zealand Curriculum:
Where has UDL come from?
Where is UDL heading?
UDL Must Address Barriers to Equitable Learning | Cracks in the pavement
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