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Research Spotlight on Universal Design for Learning

NEA Reviews of the Research on Best Practices in Education

Found In: teaching strategies

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.

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