MET:Universal Design for Learning

From UBC Wiki

This page was originally authored by Jody Onuma (2007). Major entry by Camille Maydonik (2009). In 2011, Laura Bonnor, edited this page. Major revision by Kendra Grant (2014) - including combining another wiki entry - Universal Design Learning: Language Arts Models with the main article . This article was developed with UDL in mind. In 2015, Natalie Shearer contributed a link to her brief introductory video, entitled Universal Design for Learning.
Jessica Paterson 2017 ETEC 510 Section 65A

File:Clearing a pat.png
Cartoon shows students waiting for the school custodian to clear the stairs of snow. Child in wheelchair: "Could you please shovel the ramp?" Custodian: "All these other kids are waiting to use the stairs. When I get through shovelling them off, then I will clear the ramp for you." Child in wheelchair: "But if you shovel the ramp, we can all get it! (Example of making an image accessible to all)

What is Universal Design for Learning? (UDL)


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Multiple Pathways - There's more than one way to get to your destination.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum design with the goal of providing all learners with equal opportunities to learn. UDL is the foundation for creating instructional goals, assessments, methods and materials that work for everyone, moving away from the concept of "one-size-fits all". Learning that incorporates flexible design can easily be personalized and adjusted to meet individual needs. (CAST 2004) The goal of UDL is to create accessible learning environments and remove barriers, such as traditional text-based instruction, and shift the locus of control to students. UDL asks teachers to intentionally design instruction that provides multiple learning pathways, multiple opportunities for learners to demonstrate what they know and most importantly, multiple ways for students to become metacognitive, intrinsically motivated learners.

UDL is based on three assumptions:

  1. Learning and Ability: Learning is the dynamic interaction of the individual with the environment and/or context. Learning can’t happen without the environment or context. Learner ability (or perceived disability) happens at the intersection of the individual and the environment or context. Very often in schools this intersection happens in the form of written text.
  2. Learner Variability: Learners in any learning environment represents a range of variability. You will always have a wide variety of students with a wide variety of interests, skills, experience, background knowledge and preferred methods of accessing, processing and producing information. As Todd Rose says in his TEDTalk on The Myth of Average. “If we design our instruction for the ‘average’ learner, we’re designing for no one.”
  3. Expert Learners (Goal) - The goal of instruction is to develop expert learner who are:
  • Purposeful, motivated learners
  • Resourceful, knowledgeable learners
  • Strategic, goal-directed learners

Inclusion of Audio File - one example to make text accessable for all learners.

The following videos introduce Universal Design for Learning:

UDL Guidelines v2.2 Structure:
This video conveys the rationale behind the structure of the 2018 updated UDL Guidelines v2.2, underscoring both the ways in which we learn, and the ultimate goal of UDL: To develop expert learners who are purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, and strategic and goal-directed.

Click here to watch a short introductory video entitled Universal Design for Learning (Natalie Shearer, 2015)

To explore UDL in action, click on the following links


Universal Design is a term coined by Ronald L. Mace in the 1960s applied to the design of “barrier-free”or accessible architecture. The designs and products were intended to be of benefit to people with disabilities but also found to be universally beneficial to a wide variety of people, leading to the development of Seven Principles of Universal Design with the goal to build environments and products to be used by the widest range of people without the need to alter or adapt. Universal designers began their work with the "user" in mind. The idea of applying the Seven Principles of Universal Design to education resulted in the beginnings of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).


The theory of Universal Design for Learning, was first developed by the Centre for Applied Special Technology (CAST). Beginning in 1984, CAST worked with students "in the margins". They envisioned the new digital technologies of the time as tools to help disabled learners overcome the limitations of print.
In 2003, David Rose and Anne Meyer wrote the seminal book "Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning". This book outlined and (in the digital edition) modelled many UDL principles such as methods of recording notes, built in dictionaries and the ability of the reader to choose their reading view (Summary, Concept Map, Full Content, UDL Version.)
During that time CAST introduced the three UDL Guidelines: Multiple Means of Representation, Multiple Means of Action and Expression and Multiple Means of Engagement, using educational neuroscience to connect these guidelines to three networks within the brain: Recognition, Strategic and Affective. Since its original inception, the UDL Guidelines have been revised twice. The first revision in 2008 kept the original three Principles but refined the number and order of the Guidelines. In 2014, the Principles once again remained the same but were reordered to emphasis Engagement. The Guidelines also remained the same but were reordered last to first to emphasize goal-directed, independent and self-regulatory learners and deemphasizing the "low lying fruit", focusing exclusively on technology.
The third revision of the UDL Principles coincided with the release of the latest version of CAST's UDL book UDL Theory and Practice by Anne Meyer, David H. Rose, & David Gordon. Unlike the first book where a digital copy was created after the release of the print version, and consider a "supplement", the newest book was designed to be published online and incorporates a wide range of accessible features and choices including navigation, multimedia, support for low visions and screen reading options using textHELP.

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UDL Guidelines-Version 1.0 At this stage the guidelines were based on a "clinical" model - "What is wrong with the child?" Learners were supported with the goal of providing access to a predominately text-based curriculum.
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UDL Guidelines-Version 2.0 In this version CAST recognized that the learning goals, assessments, teaching methods and materials, rather than the learner, were the problem. New brain research and improvements in technology were leveraged.
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Guidelines-Version 3.0 In this third iteration, CAST focuses on the process of becoming an expert learner. They highlight the need to plan for expected variability and recognize that all learning is a combination of cognition and emotion.

Brain Networks

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Image based on information from Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age. Diagram created using Inspiration software v.9

All three networks play an important role in learning. Within every lesson the What, How and Why of learning needs to be addressed for optimal access, expression and engagement

Affective Networks
This network is the "why" of learning. This area of the brain stimulate interest and motivation for learning. Not everyone reacts to challenging or time demanding tasks in the same way. To support the affective network it is necessary to provide a balance of challenge and support, build engaging tasks and teach strategies to build intrinsic motivation. The Affective Network is addressed in the UDL Principle - Engagement.

Recognition Networks
This network is the "what" of learning. This area of the brain helps us gather facts and categorize what we see, hear and read. Not everyone processes text and information in the same way or at the same speed. To support the recognition network it is necessary to provide information and content using a variety of media. The Recognition Network is addressed in the UDL Principle - Representation.

Strategic Networks
This network is the "how" of learning. This area of the brain helps us plan and perform tasks. Not everyone approaches tasks or expresses their ideas in the same way To support the strategic network it is necessary to provide tools and strategies for planning and options and choice for expression. The Strategic Network is addressed in the UDL Principle - Action and Expression.

Three Stooges

To learn more about the 3 brain networks explore this online module]

Lev Vygotsky

These three primary neurological brain networks parallel the Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky's, three essential processes for learning. These processes include "recognition of the information to be learned; application of strategies to process that information; and engagement with the learning task" (Vygotsky, 1962).

Provide Multiple Means of Engagement (the "why" of learning)

Multiple Means of Engagement


In this third iteration, UDL asks teachers to consider the interrelatedness of cognition and emotion. (Meyer, Rose, Gordon, 2014) With the focus now on Engagement as the first Principle, the challenge for educators is to explore how cognition and emotion are represented throughout the 9 Guidelines, and design learning for and interactions with students with this understanding in mind.

Engagement is crucial to learning. Each person reacts differently to every situation. What might be exciting for one can be scary for another. Some learners enjoy change, others do not. Sometimes the same learner reacts differently based on outside circumstances (lack of sleep, fight with a friend). Not everyone comes to learning fully engaged and motivated to learn. Whether this is a result of previous experience, learning differences, prior knowledge, language barriers or a myriad of other reasons, as educators we can design learning that anticipates this variety. By providing options and choice, and building in explicit instruction and opportunities for reflective practice, we can help all students become purposeful, motivated learners.

Provide options for self-regulation

The most important skills for students to learn, one that impacts all the other areas of learning, is self-regulation. Our classrooms have typically relied on extrinsic motivation to get students to attend, learn and even graduate. But if we want students to understand how they learn, recognize and deal with their emotions in a way that helps them cope and flourish and build intrinsic motivation, then as educators we need to strategically support students and help them develop these skills. While some students learn self-regulation on their own, many more need support and guidance. UDL asks teachers to explicitly teach self-regulation skills. By promoting positive expectations, demonstrating coping strategies and building in self-assessment and reflection, we help students begin to take on the responsibility for recognizing and managing their own emotions, building up a series of strategies to help them become successful, metacognitive learners.

Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence

Given our fast paced, multi-tasking world many people struggle to focus their attention for long periods of time. For students used to video game choice and speed, learning in the classroom can be difficult. While many students can "get down to task", others struggle to begin or remain on task. Within any instruction, considering the varying skills levels of students, educators can build in support by highlighting goals and varying demands. Providing students with options and checkpoints can go a long way to helping them chunk their learning and complete the task. By creating a collaborative learning community in the classroom, students develop 21st century skills in a supportive environment as they sustain attention and complete tasks. Over time the goal is for students to independently recognize what motivates them and helps them focus, but until then teachers can design learning that highlights these skills and provides the supports needed for all students to successfully manage their attention.

Provide options for recruiting interest

As we move into more personalized learning pathways for students powered by personal devices, providing options for recruiting interest will become more responsive to the learner and the situation. However, technology is not enough. Learners need choice, challenge and support but they also need to be engaged in authentic learning and deep inquiry focused on essential questions. Technology can only go so far. By designing relevant, meaningful learning, where students can choose methods, means and delivery, learners will be engaged and motivated to learn.

Provide Multiple Means of Representation (the "what" of learning)

Multiple Means of Representation


For many years a student's ability to learn was determined by their ability to read and write text. Even today, many of our classrooms still rely on text-bound information. While we recognize that those with low vision or hearing impairments require a different access to the information, there is often resistance to providing these options for students with learning differences. Whether a student requires or prefers, to hear, see or read information, recognizing that there is no "right" way to access information is an important first step in Universal Design for Learning. Providing options and choice and removing the stigma from those options and choices is key. By removing the barriers to access we can help remove the barriers to learning and build resourceful, knowledgeable learners.

Options for Comprehension

If the goal of UDL is to help students become expert learners then they must move beyond the "Cut and Paste" stage of internet searches: gathering and regurgitating information. In UDL comprehension means understanding. In today's world of instant access and super speed, students need to be encouraged to dig deeply and avoid surface learning. They must learn to organize and understand what they encounter, determine its validity and then use it to answer a question or solve a problem. Technology provides access to the raw material, but it does not provide access to comprehension. This requires intentional instructional design. Just as we teach students reading comprehension skills, we need to teach, in context, learning comprehension skills. For some this will require support activating background knowledge or finding the key ideas. For others it will be to challenge them find innovative solutions and stretch their thinking. Making explicit the skills students need as to process, organize, visualize and comprehend information, will emphasize that learning is more than "Googled" facts.

Options for language, mathematical expression & symbols

Learners use both linguistic and non-linguistic representation in their learning, often depending on one over the other. For some, text is the preferred method however, preference shouldn't limit options for others. Many student prefer or require images, diagrams and designs to help make concept accessible and understandable. However, for other students text and even images or symbols can mean different things to those with disabilities or learning the language. Providing a variety of examples and ways to clarify vocabulary, support text-based information and build english language support is essential within every lesson. Recently, access to a variety of digital images, videos, apps and devices makes providing these options simple and effective.

Options for perception

To lower barriers to learning, access to information that is available to all learners must be addressed. In any learning situation, it is imperative that educators consider all the ways they can present the information to ensure options for access are readily available in a variety of formats including audio, video and text. Given that most text is available in a digital form, efforts to provide students with the ability to customize the interface; making the font or image larger, increasing the reading speed, using closed captioning or amplifying the sound, needs to be considered whenever students are expected to read, watch, listen or interact materials and resources.

Provide Multiple Means of Action & Expression (the "how" of learning)


At one time the majority of tasks in school were in written form - essays, reports, notes. Other means of demonstrating learning were in addition to the written response but rarely replaced it. Many struggle to physically show what they know. Others because of language or executive functions struggle with the organization of their learning in order to show what they know. Today, with personal devices the options are plentiful. Students no longer have one options, however, students will need strategies to use the various tools to effectively organize and plan their ideas and then creatively and creatively share their learning. The means to provide options is readily available. The goal now is to focus on helping students become strategic, goal-directed learners.

Options for executive functions

Executive functions are the conductor in our brain. These "pillars" (Cox, 2007) include initiation, flexibility, attention, organization, planning, working memory, self-awareness and regulating emotions. UDL's new focus on the connection between cognition and emotion is evident in this guideline as these functions directly affect the three Principles and assorted guidelines. When students struggle with some or all of their executive functions they struggle period. It is important for teachers to explicitly teach students about their executive functions and build in scaffolds and supports within lessons and the classroom to build awareness of and practice in using these skills.
To support students as they develop more complex skills in expression and communication, it is important to scaffold their learning with frameworks, exemplars and rubrics, concrete methods to support executive function. When possible, model the expression and communication process for student to make the thinking visible. For example, explicitly sharing how you organize your thinking and regulate your emotions when you are frustrated will bring executive functions out into the open, helping students better understand them and develop them over time.

Options for expression and communication

The options to show what you know are more plentiful now than in the history of humankind. Providing students with options to choose how they communicate and express their ideas is important for both success and engagement. Including "mini-teaches" into instructional practice helps meet the needs of students, providing them with personalized support and practice as needed. It is unrealistic to expect every lesson to end in a multimedia product. When students need to write a report, story, speech etc., ensuring they have technology to support planing and production, in the form of graphic organizers, ability to create an audio recording, speech to text and word prediction, are important so that the medium does not interfere with the message.

Options for physical action

We often take for granted that digital resources are accessible. For students with physical challenges, even these forms can be inaccessible without technology such as switches or adaptive keyboards. It is important to provide resources that all students can interact with as independently as possible. Just as we consider access for those with physical challenges, we must give the same consideration to those students with a print disability related to a learning disability or English as a second language . Both cannot access the text just because it is on a screen. Alternative means must be provided to allow for navigation and interaction to address all learner's needs.

Examples of UDL in Action

The following examples highlight two products designed to support the Principles of UDL.

1) CAST UDL Book Builder The CAST UDL Book Builder is a program which allows educators to design their own stories using Universal Design features. Teachers can choose their own content, illustrations, scaffoldingtechniques and customize their own stories according to the three brain networks in order to support the highest percentage of learners possible and facilitate reading comprehension.

Multiple Means of Representation

  • Teachers can add comments in their stories which assist aural learners and support comprehension.

Multiple Means of Expression

  • Comments can spark a child's imagination and allow them to more freely express themselves.

Multiple Means of Engagement

  • Three “Bookbuilder Coach” characters are embedded in the story and the teacher can customize comments on each page. Each character represents one of the three brain networks and are to be used in these patterns.
  • Allows for flexibility in terms of goals, methods, and customized reading materials

2) WiggleWorks Scholastic Beginning Literacy System

WiggleWorks was one of the first beginning literary programs to incoporate Universal Design Learning Principles. This program, co-developed by Scholastic, Inc. and CAST, is designed to offer children flexible and universally-designed multimedia tools. This inclusive program makes use of the three principles of UDL based on the three brain networks.

Multiple Means of Representation

  • Includes customizable presentation options such as font size, background color, and optional sounds to support a variety of learning styles, abilities, and disabilities
  • Incorporates "Read-Aloud" options which aid the aural learner

Multiple Means of Expression

  • Provides students with a variety of means for expressing themselves including typing their own story, drawing, recording themselves reading, or moving words from the word list into their own story.

Multiple Means of Engagement

  • Framework allows teachers to use highly-structured learning experiences or allow students to explore and create within a more broad structure depending on their needs
  • Teacher can select only one area of focus (reading, writing, read-aloud, etc) and record specific instructions for the student throughout the book

UDL Resources

Links to Videos, Courses, Websites and Resources

Videos Courses Websites Resources
Video Variability Matters - One size does not fit all CAST Online Course National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials UDL Wheel.
UDL At A Glance - Seminal UDL introductory video SETSIG Course UDL Implementation & Research Network UDL Critical Elements.
Dr. David Rose on Universal Design for Learning. UDL Module UDL Connect - Community of Practice UDL Classroom.
UDL & Apps (SETSIG YouTube Channel) UDL Self-Directed Course SET-BC - UDL Project UDL Tool FInder
Supporting Diversity in BC Schools - Video Links UDL Tutorial UDL Toolkit - Wiki of free resources UDL Resources for Teachers

Additional Videos

The following short videos were created for the UDL Playground - ISTE 2013. They highlight simple ways to support UDL using Apps.



Action and Expression

Stop Motion Video

References / External Links

Related Topics

Competency-based or Personalized LearningRetrieved March 9, 2014
Differentiated InstructionRetrieved March 9, 2014
Response to InterventionRetrieved March 9, 2014
Assistive TechnologyRetrieved March 9, 2014
All Kinds of Minds Retrieved February 27, 2009
Multiple Intelligences Retrieved February 27, 2009

Related Topics in 510Wiki

Competency-based Education
Physical Disability, Technology and Learning
Students with Learning Disabilities
Differentiated Instruction, Understanding by Design and Universal Design for Learning


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Cox, A. J. (n.d.). Understanding the eight pillars of executive control [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Meyer, A., & Rose, D. H. (n.d.). UDL Guidelines 2.0 | National Center On Universal Design for Learning. UDL Guidelines 2.0 | National Center On UDL. Retrieved from

Meyer, A., & Rose, D. H. (n.d.). CAST. : Center for Applied Special Technology. Retrieved from

Meyer, A., & Rose, D. H. (n.d.). Teaching Every Student: Information & Ideas. Teaching Every Student: Information & Ideas. Retrieved from

Meyer, A., Rose, D. H., & Gordon, D. (n.d.). UDL :: Login. UDL :: Login. Retrieved from (Free sign up required to access)

Scholastic WiggleWorks®: PreK-3 Beginning Reading & Writing Technology. (n.d.). WiggleWorks. Retrieved from

Vygotsky, L. (n.d.). Thinking and speaking. Soviet Psychology: By Lev Vygotsky. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved from