To understand what Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is, it helps to understand what it’s not. The word universal may throw you off. It may sound as though UDL is about finding one way to teach all kids. But UDL actually takes the opposite approach.
The goal of UDL is to use a variety of teaching methods to remove any barriers to learning and give all students equal opportunities to succeed. UDL doesn’t specifically target kids with learning and attention issues. It’s about building in flexibility that can be adjusted for every student’s strengths and needs.
Even if you’re not familiar with the term universal design, you’ve likely encountered many examples of it in your everyday life. Closed captions, automatic doors and accessibility features on smartphones are all examples of universal design. These design elements help people with disabilities. But people who don’t have disabilities may also want to use them.
For example, the closed-caption option on TVs allows people with hearing impairments to see onscreen text of what is being said. But closed captioning benefits everybody. If you’ve ever tried to watch the news or a game in a noisy restaurant, you probably used the closed captions to follow along.
This video from Understood founding partner CAST gives a quick overview of UDL.
To understand UDL, it also helps to know how it’s different from traditional education. See a chart that compares UDL and traditional education side by side.
Three Main Principles of UDL
UDL provides that same kind of flexibility in the classroom. The goal of UDL is to present school subjects so that all learners can access the information, and to give learners different ways to demonstrate their knowledge. UDL is based on three main principles:
- Representation: UDL offers information in more than one format. For example, textbooks are primarily visual. But providing text, audio, video and hands-on learning gives all kids a chance to access the material in whichever way is best suited to their learning strengths.
- Action and expression: UDL gives kids more than one way to interact with the material and to show what they’ve learned. For example, teachers can assess students using pencil-and-paper tests, oral presentations or group projects.
- Engagement: UDL looks for different ways to motivate students. Letting kids make choices and giving them assignments that feel relevant to their lives are some examples of how teachers can sustain students’ interest. Other common strategies include making skillbuilding feel like a game and creating opportunities for students to get up and move around the classroom.
Learn more by exploring these examples of UDL in the classroom.
Learning and Attention Issues and UDL
UDL presents information in ways that adapt to the learner, instead of asking the learner to adapt to the information. This is good for kids with learning and attention issues because it gives them more than one way to interact with material. UDL can make it easier for kids to use their strengths to work on their weaknesses.
If you’re not sure whether your school uses UDL, ask. If they don’t know about UDL, tell them. As a parent, you can advocate for making the curriculum more accessible for your child.