Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning, or UDL, is based on the assumption that all students can be included in all lessons.  The concept comes from architecture where buildings can be designed so that they are fully accessible for everyone, even those with physical, sensory of other disabilities.  These aspects are very common now with accessibility being required in building applications. Accessible toilets, ramps, braille markings, lever action handles and automatic doors are so common as not to be exceptional.

In education the concept of ‘one lesson fits all’ has never been effective and most teachers regularly make adjustments to cater for individual differences.  UDL is designed to look at the issue of diversity systematically so that teachers have a range of modifications that they can use to minimise or eliminate barriers to individual students being able to access the curriculum.  UDL is based on brain research where different areas of the brain are involved in gaining the information, demonstrating competence and becoming engaged in the learning process.

This means three major areas are developed:

  • What are the different ways that we could present the information so all students could interact with it.  This means  looking at alternatives to didactic teaching such as use of films, recordings, exercises and different time limits.  It might mean providing visual options for some students, opportunities to be in low stimulation environments for others and supportive groupings for struggling students.
  • What are the different ways that we could assess  the students’ learning.  The national curriculum provides extensive alternatives to achieve this, and again there are normally multiple was to assess whether a student has gained competence other than written tests.
  • What are the different ways that we can engagthe students in the learning process.  This means having a deep understanding of each student in terms of their needs and desires as well as structuring the learning to maximise student involvement and choice.

When provided with the framework, the creativity of teachers comes out in multiple ways of implementing UDL in their classroom with major benefits academically and in the culture of the classroom.  

In additional to UDL, work on teaching to diversity from the University of Oregon show how good lesson preparation can ensure that all students gain core concepts, most gain broader applications and examples and some students are challenged to extend the material into new areas.  In this way we ensure that all students from the most challenged to the most gifted are challenged at their level.