Universal Design for Learning in the classroom

Picture this: a classroom humming with engagement, where every student feels empowered to learn in their own way. By providing multiple pathways to learning, UDL caters to diverse learning preferences and needs.

Whether it's through visual aids, audio resources, hands-on activities, or interactive technology, UDL ensures that every student can access information in a way that resonates best with them.

In this blog we’ll explore what UDL is and why it is crucial in today’s educational environment. We’ll also look at how the framework helps to break down barriers in education and empowers all learners.

What is Universal Design for Learning?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL), developed by CAST, is an educational framework aimed at crafting adaptable learning experiences to meet the needs of diverse learners.

UDL is focused around providing multiple means of representation, engagement, and expression to support individual learning differences. UDL, plays a pivotal role in cultivating inclusive educational settings by fostering equity and accessibility for all learners.

Understanding UDL

The significance of UDL lies in its ability to create inclusive environments where learners with varying backgrounds, abilities, and learning styles can thrive. By offering multiple methods of accessing information, engaging with content, and demonstrating knowledge, UDL promotes equity in education. You can learn more about the basics of UDL and its benefits in our UDL guide.

At its core, UDL revolves around three fundamental principles: Engagement, Representation, and Action & Expression.

  1. Engagement focuses on stimulating learners' interest and motivation by providing diverse and meaningful learning opportunities.
  2. Representation involves presenting information in various formats to accommodate different learning styles, ensuring content accessibility for all.
  3. Action & Expression allow students to demonstrate their understanding and knowledge through multiple means, fostering personalized and creative ways of showcasing learning. UDL, as advocated by Novak and Tucker, underscores the importance of flexibility and inclusivity, striving to create dynamic learning environments that cater to the diverse needs of all learners.

According to Katie Novak, Founder and Executive Director of Novak Education, and UDL expert,
“The goal of UDL is to create learners who are purposeful & motivated, resourceful & knowledgeable, and strategic & goal oriented, in other words, expert learners.” Katie encourages educators to, “Start by embracing learner variability. There is no such thing as an “average” student. Every student has different strengths and weaknesses.”

Why UDL matters in education

UDL isn't just a support system for learners with learning differences; it's a game-changer for everyone in the classroom.

Think of UDL as a toolkit for empowerment. It's about giving learners the keys to unlock their potential. When learners have the freedom to choose how they engage with the material, they become more motivated and confident in their learning journey. This sense of ownership fosters a culture where differences are not just accepted but celebrated.

UDL champions inclusivity by design, not by chance. It’s not just about making accommodations; it's about creating an environment that celebrates diversity and individuality.

UDL in action

Let's look at some real-world examples showcasing how UDL can revolutionize lesson planning, classroom activities, and assessments.


Lesson planning becomes a platform for creativity with UDL. Imagine a science class where a teacher seamlessly integrates various multimedia resources—videos, infographics, and interactive simulations—to cater to diverse learning preferences. A text-heavy lesson transformed into a multi-sensory experience, ensuring every learner can engage with the material in their preferred way.

Classroom Activities

Moving into classroom activities, UDL fosters an environment where every learner's unique strengths shine. Take a language arts class, for instance. Instead of a single writing assignment, the teacher offers multiple options—a traditional essay, a visual presentation, or a podcast. This not only accommodates different learning preferences but also allows learners to express their understanding in a way that feels most comfortable to them.


Assessment methods with UDL in mind, reflect a shift towards inclusivity. In a math assessment, a teacher might offer alternatives to written tests, such as oral presentations or hands-on demonstrations. This flexibility ensures that learners are evaluated based on their understanding rather than their ability to excel in a specific format.

Planning lessons and activities using UDL has the power to transform education. It showcases the power of inclusivity in action, where barriers are transformed into opportunities and where every learner's journey is valued and supported.

Addressing challenges with UDL implementation

Despite the many benefits that come with implementing the UDL framework, it's not without its hurdles.

Time Constraints: Implementing UDL, especially for beginners, can seem time-consuming. Crafting lesson plans that cater to diverse learning preferences and needs might initially feel overwhelming. Researching UDL principles and experimenting with various tasks demands time. It's crucial to recognize that this learning curve is normal. To ease this, consider starting the UDL journey with a colleague. Collaboration not only divides the workload but also encourages mutual support and idea-sharing. Remember, it's a learning process for everyone involved, including educators.

Misunderstanding UDL: There's a common misconception that UDL requires extravagant lesson plans filled with endless options. However, the essence of UDL lies in providing variability in tasks, ensuring every student's needs are met without complicating the process. It's about offering flexibility, not complexity. Emphasize to colleagues and administrators that UDL aims to accommodate diverse learners while progressing through the curriculum, not overwhelming educators with excessive tasks.

An additional pressure: UDL might sometimes clash with wider school accountability pressures or standardized tests. The need to adhere to certain assessment formats can make UDL practices feel like an extra task. The pressure from school management to prioritize standardized tests might create a conflict in implementing UDL consistently.

Navigating these challenges in implementing UDL requires patience, collaboration, and a focus on the ultimate goal. It's about finding a balance between meeting accountability demands and ensuring equitable access to learning opportunities.

UDL resources for educators

If this has sparked your interest in learning more about UDL, here’s a list of resources and further reading that you might find useful.


Did you know that CAST has established an online “UDL studio” where anyone can create and share universally designed educational materials? With a free account you can browse, read, and create your own UDL resources.

Think UDL podcast

ThinkUDL is a podcast, hosted by Lilian Nave, about Universal Design for Learning. Listen along to each episode to hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies in post-secondary settings with learner variability in mind.

CCEE Why UDL Series

The California Collaborative for Educational Excellence is a statewide leader delivering on California’s promise of quality, equitable education for every student.

UDL in 15 minutes

Whether you’re just getting started with UDL or you’re looking for some new tips and strategies, you’ll love this series of quick and engaging podcasts with real teachers, led by Design and Deliver author Loui Lord Nelson.

Katie Novak’s AHEAD keynote

Author and UDL expert Katie Novak delivered this dynamic, thought-provoking keynote at the 2017 AHEAD Conference—and it’s a must-watch for every educator, no matter where you are on your UDL journey.

Empowering all learners

UDL allows for multiple pathways to learning, ensuring that diverse preferences and needs are met. Through engaging methods like visual aids, interactive technology, and hands-on activities, UDL empowers each student to access information in a way that resonates best with them.

However, navigating the implementation of UDL isn't without challenges. But remember, these challenges can be met head on. Collaboration, support, and a focus on the ultimate goal of inclusivity can help in overcoming these hurdles.

As you continue your UDL journey, remember the wealth of resources available. These resources can serve as valuable guides on your path toward creating accessible and inclusive educational experiences for every learner.

For more information and additional resources, visit our UDL Guide.