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Summarized by Cindy Perras, M.Ed., OCT
Educational Consultant, LDAO

A teacher with a group of students

What is UDL?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research-based framework for designing curricula - that is, educational goals, methods, materials, and assessments - that enable all individuals to gain knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for learning. This is accomplished by simultaneously providing rich supports for learning and reducing barriers to the curriculum, while maintaining high achievement standards for all students (Source: www.CAST.org).

Core Concepts of UDL

In Learning for All (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2011), the core concepts of UDL include:

  • Universality and equity
  • Flexibility and inclusion
  • An appropriately designed space
  • Simplicity
  • Safety

UDL takes the many components of teaching into account:

  • Overall and specific objectives and expectations
  • Teaching strategies and learning situations
  • Pedagogical materials
  • Technological tools
  • A variety of student products resulting from learning situations
  • Assessment and evaluation

Click here to watch a video on the principles and practice of UDL: UDL: Principles and Practice

How Can Teachers Benefit from Using UDL?

From K-12, classrooms typically include learners with diverse abilities and backgrounds, including students with physical, sensory, communication and learning disabilities, differing cultural and linguistic backgrounds, varied learning styles, developmental disabilities, ASD, and so on. Essentially, UDL is integrated into regular instructional planning as a means to make diversity the norm. UDL provides learning activities that expand students’ opportunities for acquiring information and demonstrating learning; additionally, UDL provides enhanced opportunities for social participation and inclusion.

According to CAST, UDL supports teachers’ efforts to meet the challenge of diversity by providing flexible instructional materials, techniques, and strategies that help teachers differentiate instruction to meet these varied needs. It does this by providing options for:

  • 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)

Click here to watch a brief video on how teachers can use UDL in the classroom: UDL at a Glance.

In Supporting Students with Learning Disabilities: A Guide for Teachers (Province of British Columbia, 2011), UDL supports the acquisition and demonstration of knowledge by emphasizing:

  • Multiple means of presentation to provide various ways of acquiring information and knowledge, e.g. buddy activities, use of concrete manipulatives, video, computer technology, audio texts
  • Multiple means of expression to provide students with alternatives for representing learning beyond written work, e.g. video, teaching a peer, information booth, presentation drawing, sculpture and drama
  • Multiple means of engagement to tap students’ learning styles and personal attributes while still focusing on the required learning outcomes

Click here to access the guide.

How can UDL and technology be used to support the learning of students with LDs?

Students with learning disabilities may require a variety of accommodations to access the curriculum, including technology. In the student’s IEP, accommodations may include voice-to-text software (e.g. Dragon Naturally Speaking), text-to-speech software (e.g. Kurzweil), touch screen technology, interactive whiteboard, etc. As UDL is strongly linked to technology, teachers can use the framework of UDL in the classroom, not just for students with learning disabilities, but for all students. When technology is integrated purposely and seamlessly into everyday instructional practice, then it becomes less stigmatizing and isolating for the student with a learning disability, for whom technology is essential.

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CAST is a nonprofit research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals through Universal Design for Learning. CAST provides a variety of free learning tools for educators, including:

  • UDL Book Builder
  • UDL Curriculum Self-Check
  • Learning for All: A Guide to Effective Assessment and Instruction for All Students, Kindergarten to Grade 12
  • A Parents Guide to Universal Design for Learning
  • Supporting Students with Learning Disabilities: A Guide for Teachers
  • The Center for Universal Design in Education

Click here to access the CAST website.