Research Spotlight on Universal Design for Learning
NEA Reviews of the Research on Best Practices in Education
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for designing educational environments that enable all learners to gain knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for learning.
The term universal design is borrowed from the movement in architecture and product development that calls for features to accommodate a vast variety of users, including those with disabilities, such as curb cuts, automatic doors, video captioning, and speakerphones. A universally designed curriculum is designed from the outset to meet the needs of the greatest number of users, making costly, time-consuming, and after-the-fact changes to curriculum unnecessary.
As any educator knows, students come to the classroom with a variety of needs, skills, talents, and interests. For many learners, the typical curriculum—which includes goals, instructional methods, classroom materials, and assessments—is littered with barriers and roadblocks, while supports are relatively few. Faced with an inflexible curriculum, students and teachers are expected to make extraordinary adjustments. UDL turns this scenario around, placing the burden to adapt on the curriculum itself. (Rose and Meyer, 2006)
Educators, including curriculum and assessment designers, can improve educational outcomes for diverse learners by applying the following principles to the development of goals, instructional methods, classroom materials and assessments:
- Presenting information and content in different ways (the “what” of learning)
- Differentiating the ways that students can express what they know (the “how” of learning)
- Stimulating interest and motivation for learning (the “why” of learning)
Students differ from one another in many ways and present unique learning needs in the classroom setting, yet high standards are important for all students. By incorporating supports for particular students, it is possible to improve learning experiences for everyone, without the need for specialized adaptations down the line.
Rose, D. H., & Meyer, A. (2006). A practical reader in Universal Design for Learning. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Education Press.
- Universal Design Introduction and Background - Adapted from the Universal Design for Learning Webinar, co-sponsored by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the Arizona Literacy and Learning Center and the Council for Exceptional Children.
- Universal Design Q&A for Educators and Administrators - Answers to the most commonly asked questions about Universal Design asked by educators and administrators.
- A Parent’s Guide to Universal Design for Learning (UDL) (PDF, 14pp) - This advocacy brief helps parents learn the basic details of UDL, review a case study, and get helpful tips for talking with your school about this framework.
- Universal Design for Learning Podcast on LD.org - Listen to this podcast featuring Skip Stahl, director of Technical Assistance at the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), project director for the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) Development Center, chair of the NIMAS Standard Board, and co-director of the AIM (Accessible Instructional Materials) Consortium, all funded by the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education.
- LD Talk: Universal Design for Learning (UDL): Effective Technology-based Teaching Practices for All Struggling Learners - This chat about UDL provides a blueprint for creating flexible goals, methods, materials, and assessments that accommodate learner differences. From a series of onlinediscussions of topics of interest to the learning disabilities community.
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