Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a flexible pedagogical framework to minimize barriers and increase accessibility for the fullest range of students possible. A ramp allows the full range of people to access a building while a stairway allows only some. In the same way, UDL asks us to trade “one size fits all” thinking to imagine curriculum designs that open the doors to any student. UDL focuses on increasing flexibility, choice, and relevance within three main components of curriculum design and implementation:

  • Engagement: how students interact with and are motivated by the instructor, content, and their peers
  • Representation: how information or learning experiences are taught and presented
  • Expression: how students demonstrate their knowledge

While standard accessibility practices such as structuring text for screen readers and captioning videos are part of UDL (specifically increasing the range of how content is represented), these practices do not encompass all of UDL. Applying a holistic UDL lens to your classroom means deepened comprehension, accurate assessment of student knowledge, and a truly inclusive learning environment that welcomes physical, cognitive, and cultural diversity.

A Lens, Not a Checklist

So how can we apply UDL to course design? Here are a few ideas to get you started, but the possibilities are truly infinite. UDL is a lens or mindset that prioritizes increased flexibility, choice, and relevance; it should be continually adapted for your particular course(s) and students.

Engagement


What it is:

How students interact with and are motivated by the instructor, peers, and content

Strategy to try:

Use a variety of response options during synchronous and asynchronous sessions.

Examples:

  • Verbal responses during discussion
  • Written responses in chat
  • Artistic responses (doodles, flowcharts, metaphors, etc.)
  • Small group breakout rooms
  • Paired sharing
  • Whole group call and response
  • Self-rating levels of understanding in a poll
  • Written responses in online discussion forum
  • Video responses in online discussion forum (e.g. FlipGrid)

Representation


What it is:

How information or learning experiences are taught and presented

Strategy to try:

Allow students to choose when and how they receive content.

Examples:

  • Optional small-group Zoom sessions
  • Readings from various source types (research articles, primary sources, fictional or artistic interpretations, etc.)
  • Videos (documentaries, news broadcasts, etc.)
  • Audio (podcasts, radio, etc.)
  • Choose Your Own (students find their own related resource and share with the class)

Expression


What it is:

How students demonstrate their knowledge

Strategy to try:

Use key learning objectives as a guide to offer options for how students can show their learning.

Examples:

Learning Objectives:
  • Construct a thesis statement.
  • Support with at least three pieces of evidence.
  • Analyze connections between evidence.
Assessment Menu:
  • Write a traditional research paper.
  • Present with slides.
  • Build a website.
  • Interview experts in a podcast.

Need More Help?

We'd love to hear from you. Full-service remote support is available to all PSU instructors through the Office of Academic Innovation. Contact the virtual Faculty Support Desk, Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm.

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