Loyola University Chicago

Faculty Center for Ignatian Pedagogy

Universal Design for Learning

What is universal design for learning?  

The concept of universal design has its origins in the field of architecture. Before they start building, architects think about how to design buildings that will be accessible to all people. Ramps are examples of universal design because they help people in wheelchairs and people who can walk access the building. Educators have adopted the concept of universal design and integrated concepts from neuroscience to develop universal design for learning (UDL).

The Center for Applied and Special Technologies (CAST), defines UDL as “a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn” (About Universal Design for Learning, n.d., para. 1).  UDL principles underscore the importance of designing courses that are flexible, easy to navigate, and coherently structured so that all students have an equal opportunity to engage with the course. UDL principles guide instructors on how to create an environment where all students can learn and alert instructors to the unique needs of their student audience. Watch this short video by CAST to learn a bit more about UDL.

Why is universal design for learning important? 

Students learn in different ways. When approaching curriculum and instructional design, keep in mind that students need a variety of ways to engage with the course goals, instructional materials, activities, and assessments.  Since courses that incorporate UDL principles allow all students to engage with the learning process, it is important to think about how to integrate UDL in all aspects of the course and throughout course design.

Three Primary Principles of UDL

The National Center on Universal Design for Learning lists three principles of UDL: 1) provide multiple means of representation, 2) provide multiple means of action and expression  3) provide multiple means of engagement.

1) Provide multiple means of representation

Present information to students in a variety of ways. In addition to the textbook, for example, provide supplementary materials like charts or videos that contain similar content.

2) Provide multiple means action and expression  

Offer a range of activities that enable students to engage actively with the content. If students can select from a range of assignment options, they may be more likely to invest in learning.  For example, allow students to submit a paper or a presentation as different ways to complete the same assignment.  

3) Provide multiple means of engagement in learning 

By presenting content in different ways and providing different options for completing activities and assignments, instructors offer multiple ways to engage students. Other strategies to elicit engagement are using humor or telling interesting stories related to the course content. 

For more information on how to incorporate UDL principles, refer to this guide from CAST that suggests ideas for good practice.  



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