Universal Design for Learning

This week’s blog is on Universal Design for Learning or UDL. UDL was created by the Center for Applied Special Technology to provide a framework for creating curriculum that is accessible to everyone and also reduces barriers for learners with disabilities. There are three primary principles that guide UDL:

  1. Provide Multiple Means of Representation:  All learners vary in the way they perceive information. In addition, some learners may have: visual or auditory impairments; learning disabilities; or are English language learners. Thus instructors should present information using multiple modalities (e.g. audio, visual, textual, symbolic or mathematical equations) to make the information accessible to all learners.
  2. Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression:  Learners with physical disabilities may have difficulty navigating a learning environment. F2F classrooms have to be designed so that these learners can negotiate the space. Also, these learners may need assistive technology to allow them to fully participate. Online learning provides an excellent platform for learners with physical impairments.  It removes the obstacles of having to navigate a physical classroom environment.  However, we as instructional designers still must consider how the media/tools we use work with enabling devices and assistive technology.
  3. Provide Multiple Means of Engagement:  All learners have different abilities to sustain attention to a topic.  Those with learning disabilities or ADD/ADHD may require shorter units of instruction.  However, breaking information into small pieces, or chunking, has been shown to benefit all learners.

I first learned about UDL about three years ago during a course on creating an inclusive learning environment. The instructor provided us with hypothetical courses that had students with disabilities and/or impairments and we designed curriculum that made learning accessible to these and all other students. At first, I thought using UDL principles when creating curriculum placed an unnecessary additional burden on teachers. It was not until I taught an actual Earth science class when I realized the value of UDL. For example, students were having trouble with an assignment because they didn’t understand the academic vocabulary. If I had created a lesson plan that pre-taught certain science terms (UDL Checkpoint 2.1 Clarify Vocabulary and Symbols) the students would have learned the higher level lesson topics much quicker.

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