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Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (or, UDL) is a philosophy about teaching and learning that prioritizes giving all students equal opportunity to learn. At its most basic level, employing UDL design would inform the decision to create learning experiences that are flexible, and aim to meet the needs of diverse learners. Designing with flexibility can (and does) include creating a variety of ways in which you present content, students interact with learning activities and ways that students can demonstrate mastery of concepts and outcomes.

UDL, at its core, shouldn’t specifically target students with learning, physical and/or cognitive issues– though it can be especially helpful for these learners (including those who have not been formally diagnosed) and English-language learners. The beauty and focus of UDL-informed design is that it benefits all learners.


The basic principles of UDL


 Providing learning flexibility, under UDL  principles, includes considering:

  • Representation or, presenting information in a variety of ways, including visual, video, auditory, hands-on (experiential), collaborative, etc.
  • Action & Expression or, what are different ways that students can access your learning activities/materials (example: providing a video with a text-based transcript)–and how can you provide opportunities to express what they know in different ways?
  • Engagement or, how can you create activities to motivate students to engage with each other and make relevant connections between their experiences and content (example: providing a variety of ‘entrance ticket’ activities for students to think about what they know coming into a topic).

Where to start?

Thinking about adding the additional layer of differentiation to the (daunting) task to course design can seem overwhelming–but it doesn’t have to be!  There are a wealth of resources to help you–from the UDL pages on our Accessibility 101 page to your fellow faculty groups (who have a wealth of information and activity ideas) to your ID resources through CTL.  You also don’t have to feel the need to re-invent the wheel!  There are so many great resources online, including the comprehensive UDL training from the IRIS Center and our LMS’s Accessibility lab (which includes simulations), below:


What are some concrete ways this effects course building?

Sometimes it helps to know where to start–try these helpful tips:

Make sure your video content is captioned

Creating or editing your captions is not just a great accessibility practice, but if you’re are using Kaltura, it will also auto-create a printable text transcript that students can utilize to give voice and choice to how they consume your content.  And, editing captions in Kaltura is easy!


Create alternative text descriptions digital images

Add alternative text (Alt Text) to images for accessibility AND to provide text context if your online image breaks:


The connection between differentiation & retention

In higher education, each and every one of us is a potential ‘retention agent’, in that the quality of our instruction and connection with students can impact the student’s UMPI experience and the decision to continue or not.  Dosch and Zidon’s (2014) The Course Fits Us not only looks at the effect of differentiation on persistence and retention but also lays out actionable steps to effectively differentiate instruction for adult learners.

Use page formatting tools on your digital documents

Utilizing available page formatting can help all learners by making content more accessible AND easier to navigate for all, practice:

  • Using Headings 
  • Taking advantage of bulleted/numbered list options
  • Alt Texting images
  • using descriptive text for links (instead of 72-digit URLs)
  • Avoid blue-colored text, unless it is a hyperlink
  • Avoid photocopied book pages at all costs!  Call your friendly neighborhood Librarian for an acceptable digital alternative.

Read more about digital text formatting tools at W3C

Want to learn more about designing for all learners?

Check out these great resources, to learn more about Universal Design and your responsibilities as a UMS instructor.  Then, reach out to your friendly neighborhood CTL to book an appointment for an accessibility check of your course activities, documents or entire course!

National Center for Universal DesignUMS ITC Accessibility Policy