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Universal Design For Learning

A framework for teaching.

What is Universal Design for Learning?

Defined by CAST, 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.

The UDL approach to teaching minimizes barriers and maximizes learning for all students. It begins with the foundational understanding that every learner is highly variable. No learner is just one thing; we all have strengths and weaknesses. Those strengths and weaknesses become apparent based on the task, the environment, the resources and tools available, and even a learner’s affect (what sort of day he’s having).

UDL aims to change the design of the environment and curriculum rather than to change the learner. By anticipating learner variability and proactively reducing the barriers to learning, UDL empowers all learners to engage in rigorous, meaningful learning experiences.

The UDL guiding principles

The UDL Guidelines were created by CAST to help further define and align practices to each of the UDL principles. The guidelines provide recommendations to ensure all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities across the curriculum. 

The UDL Principles and Guidelines were conceived with the three major brain networks in mind:

Affective Network

The "Why" of Learning. The affective network is in charge of emotions, engagement, challenge and interest.

Recognition Network

The "What" of Learning. The recognition network’s job is to take in and categorize information; make sense of letters, symbols, colors & shapes; to connect new learning to prior knowledge.

The Strategic Network

The "How" of Learning. The strategic network is in charge of tasks that require planning, performing, organizing, strategizing, and expressing ideas.

Each brain network is directly supported by a UDL principle and its guidelines. You can take a look at the UDL guidelines in full on CAST's website.

Learn more about the UDL basics

In this short video CAST’s Curriculum and Design Specialist, Allison Posey defines UDL and demonstrates how the framework can be applied to optimize teaching and learning. She’ll also help you discover how implementing UDL will ensure that your students can access and participate in meaningful and challenging learning opportunities, whilst celebrating learner diversity.

A Teacher’s Role in UDL

Goals for learners must be clear and flexible. In other words, learners need to be able to access learning in multiple ways and to show what they know in ways that make it truly possible for them to reach their full potential.

Teachers must articulate goals in ways that are clear, flexible, and student friendly and share them with learners frequently. Goals must be introduced in the learning experience and revisited throughout the lesson to help learners remain goal-directed and purposeful in their work.

Anticipating the barriers

  • Identifying barriers and developing solutions for every learner

    Once teachers articulate a goal for learning, they must be proactive in anticipating the barriers that may present themselves in that learning experience.

    • Barriers can show up in a multitude of ways including, but not limited to:

      • Learning environment itself
      • Inaccessible materials and tools we use in classrooms
      • Ways we ask students to express themselves
      • A student’s disposition or academic esteem (ex. I’m not a good reader OR I’ve never been very good at math)
      • Lack of prior knowledge
      • Language and academic language
      • Internal barriers to the affective network (ex. being bullied at school; being hungry, tired, cold/hot; feeling depressed or disconnected; feeling upset by something that may have happened either in or outside of the learning environment)

    Identifying barriers in the ELA classroom

    The UDL framework provides teachers with a proactive way to design solutions to these barriers through both choice and scaffolding. Download the practical classroom example of the thinking and design process teachers must go through in order to universally design for their learners.

    Identifying barriers in the math class

    The math classroom can be a daunting place for any student. With the UDL framework, you can find proactive ways to design your instruction to overcome barriers your students may be faced with. Download this practical guide to understand how. Coming soon...

    Putting UDL into practice at Hobsonville Point Secondary School

    Check out this short video to find out how one school in New Zealand is embracing Universal Design for learning across all areas of the curriculum. 

    Edtech and UDL

    Universal Design for Learning does not rely on technology, and can be implemented in a low- or no-tech way. That said, technology does create a richer and more engaging experience, providing phenomenal opportunities to remove barriers and make the learning experience more accessible to every learner. So although it's not required, technology is a huge asset, especially when it comes to ensuring that learning opportunities are equal for every learner, regardless of age or ability. 

    With the learner experience and UDL principles in mind, we’ve designed Read&Write and EquatIO. To help you recognize which product features are aligned to CAST’s UDL guidelines, we’ve created these handy guides.  

    Multiple means of Read&Write

    Learn how Read&Write's features match up to the UDL framework.

    Multiple means of EquatIO

    Discover how EquatIO and its features has been created with UDL in mind.

    Where is UDL going next?

    When we speak to our UDL colleagues, we often ask them what the next big thing is for the UDL and the community it serves, and there’s always some pretty exciting responses. 

    UDL is a phenomenal framework that can help transform learning opportunities but right now it's not well enough known, not well enough understood. So, we need to both spread the love, get the message out there.