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Universal Design for Learning and Instruction

Universal Design for Learning and Instruction (UDLI)

  • Is a philosophy and approach to learning and instruction that has emerged from
  • Is a philosophy and approach to learning and instruction that transcends any course design
      • Expects and subsequently plans for significant motivation and learning variations within any group of students
  • Is the removal of artificial barriers (enhancing accessibility) for learning and ways to demonstrate learning (assessment)
      • Identification of integrated skills, not critical to the goals and threshold concepts, which inhibit learning
  • Is a proactive approach to course design, instruction, and assessment
  • Is instructional and learning equitability and flexibility
  • Is learning and instruction that is appropriately challenging 
  • Is defined by the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 as scientifically valid educational practices which
      • Provide flexibility in the ways
        • Students are engaged
        • Information is presented and learning experiences are designed
        • Students respond or demonstrate knowledge, skills and capabilities
      • Reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient

Key Principles and Perspectives

Principles for Universal Design for Learning 

Developed by the National Center on Universal Design for Learning

Principles for Universal Design for Instruction

Developed by Scott, McGuire & Shaw, (2001), Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability - University of Connecticut

  • Equitable use (useful, accessible and equivalent)
  • Flexible in use (individual variability)
  • Simple and intuitive (predictability, elimination of unnecessary complexity)
  • Perceptible information (multiple means of representation)
  • Tolerance for error (scaffolding, formative activities)
  • Low physical effort (except when this is a key component of the threshold concepts)
  • Size and space for approach and use (compliments threshold concepts and students) 
  • A community of learners (promotes interaction and communication)
  • Inclusive instructional climate (high expectations for all)


"The course syllabus can be considered the first visual interface between instructor and students and, as such, its creation is the fundamental first task in universal course design", (Schreiner, Rothenberger, and Sholtz, 2013, p.37).

Design and Planning

Flexibility, adaptability and meaningful learning experiences are the cornerstones of UDLI. Subsequently, four critical components of UDLI course design and facilitation include the integration of:

  • Student CHOICE
    • How to learn/develop and progress toward the course goals/threshold concepts
    • Ways to motivate and explore knowledge, concepts, skills, and capabilities
    • How to best express/demonstrate what has been learned 
  • TECHNOLOGY and choice of technologies to:
    • Accommodate interests, preferences, and capabilities
    • Multiple formats for engagement and learning
    • Further challenge learners beyond the regular course expectations (no limits)
    • Empower 24/7 access to course, course learning experiences, and resources
  • AUTHENTIC learning experiences to:
    • Best simulate actual ways knowledge, concepts, skills, and capabilities will be applied
    • Learning from peers via projects, learning activities, discussions, peer reviews, etc.
  • SUPPORT for different learning engagement needs


Flexibility and adaptability will be required to effectively assess student learning, based on the threshold concepts. Rubrics, rating scales, checklists and multiple choice quizzes need to be designed and presented to:

  • Adapt to varying student needs (they may have learned it, but may have challenges demonstrating it via the format you offer)
    • Provide choice/options for expressing what has been learned
  • Provide equity across formats (e.g. diagrammatic, written, animated, etc.)
  • Assessment activities offer a broad range of options and opportunities to fully express what has been learned, and what is being learned
  • Assessment tools should emphasis process, application, functional capabilities and other formative assessments
    • Provide opportunities for both self-reflection and peer assessment to enhance metacognition
    • Effective assessment should provide meaningful feedback to continue the learning process
  • Frame to encourage and support creativity, critical analysis, synthesis, evaluation, etc. (higher order functions and capabilities)
  • UDL and Assessment (UDL on Campus)

Course Implementation

  • Key characteristics include:
    • Based in a learning management system for 24/7 access
      • Integrates technology throughout
    • Student-centered in design (user friendly, engaging/motivating)
      • Individualized learning opportunities and support structures
    • Supports student choice and offers learning options
    • Meaningful and contextualize learning experiences
      • Exploration and application of skills and knowledge
    • Healthy and well-utilized instructor-student and student-student communications
      • Discussions, emails, announcements, virtual office hours, notifications, group discussions, blog posts, etc.
    • Team/group and partner activities are integrated throughout the course
    • Includes a page/link to course terminology and key concepts
  • UDL On Campus (CAST)
  • About the Quality Online Learning & Teaching Rubric (UDL Universe, Sonoma State University)

Selecting Technology

References and Resources

Jan 30, 2024