Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning


What It Is

The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework addresses learner differences through a neurocognitive perspective (Rose & Strangman, 2007). The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) suggests three neural networks play a role in cognition and learning: the affective network focuses on why learning is important, the recognition network understands what needs to be learned and retained, and the strategic network decides how to learn the new material (CAST, 2022; Rose & Strangman, 2007). In education, UDL refers to designing lessons and courses around the assumption of student variability in the classroom—taking a proactive approach and promoting multiple pathways for engagement, representation, and expression in learning.


Why It Matters

CAST (2022) provides two reasons why UDL is important: 

  1. Postsecondary institutions have specific legal obligations to students with disabilities; they must comply with disability-related civil rights laws to make course content accessible. 
  2. UDL supports access for all students. All learners can benefit from multiple pathways for learning.

Apply It

Faculty can apply UDL to course policies, learning goals, materials, methods, and assessments with the needs of learners and the specific context in mind. UDL relies on three basic principles:

  1. Create multiple means of engagement – Any strategy that provides learner choices about learning or personalizes learning supports the affective network. Instructors might allow learners to adapt class projects to their interests or career plans, opt out of 1-2 homework assignments, and offer frequent opportunities for dialogue, discussion, and feedback between the instructor and students as well as among students.
  2. Include Multiple means of representation – When an instructor allows learners to read a scholarly article, listen to a podcast, or attend a lecture all connected to the same learning objective, content is represented in multiple ways. These strategies support the recognition network, increasing the likelihood students will recognize and retain what they need to learn. Additionally, instructors should define new or important terminology and symbols before teaching a lesson about the content, avoid idioms and jargon that might be a barrier for non-native English speakers, and include captions on all video and audio materials.
  3. Use multiple means of action and expression – Providing learners with multiple ways to demonstrate their learning supports their strategic network. Consider allowing students to submit short videos or voice memos rather than typed discussion board posts or allowing for pre-recorded presentations rather than requiring students to present in front of the class in real time. Supporting this domain extends to providing progress checks, interim feedback, checklists, and rubrics that support learners’ time management and organization. 



CAST (2022). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. http://udlguidelines.cast.org

Fornauf, B. S., & Erickson, J. D. (2020). Toward an inclusive pedagogy through Universal Design for Learning in higher education: A review of the literature. Journal of Postsecondary Education & Disability, 33(2), 183–199.

Nelson, L. & Rose, D. H. (2014). Design and deliver : planning and teaching using universal design for learning. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Reardon, K., Bromley, K. W., & Unruh, D. (2021). The promise of Universal Design in postsecondary education: A Literature Review. Journal of Postsecondary Education & Disability, 34(3), 209–221.

Rose, D. H., & Strangman, N. (2007). Universal Design for Learning: meeting the challenge of individual learning differences through a neurocognitive perspective. Universal Access in the Information Society, 5(4), 381–391. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10209-006-0062-8 


Cite This Resource

Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation. (2023, January). Universal design for learning (UDL) [Teaching resource]. https://stli.wm.edu/universal-design-for-learning/

Updated 2/2023