Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning is a planning framework that supports teachers to enable every student in every classroom to access the curriculum and optimise learning for all students. Universal Design for Learning has 3 guiding principles and research suggests that this proactive planning approach has benefits for all students.

Universal Design for Learning uses inclusive instructional design principles to inform the planning, programming, and assessing stages of the teaching and learning cycle. This supports teachers to use evidence-based strategies and provide multiple options for students when planning teaching and learning experiences. Many of these practices are already used by teachers in NSW public schools.

About Universal Design for Learning

Universal design for learning is a planning framework that can be used for inclusive curriculum design.

History of Universal Design for Learning

It is based on the architectural principles of universal design used to minimise barriers and ensure access for all. These principles were developed in the 1980’s and are also known as a human-centred approach to design. Examples in everyday life include automatic doors, closed captions and ramps. For example, ramps are used by people in a wheelchair to access buildings and are also used by parents with prams and elderly people with walkers. This example demonstrates that what is essential for some can be useful for all.

In the same way, Universal Design for Learning can help all learners reach their full potential. Learners receive and process information in different ways, work at different rates, have varied family and cultural backgrounds and bring different knowledge and experience to their learning. It is important to plan, program, teach and assess using evidence-based practices that cater for the full range of students. Universal Design for Learning is a planning framework that impacts the design of all aspects of the learning environment.

Principles of Universal Design for Learning

There are three principles in the Universal Design for Learning framework (CAST 2023).

1. Provide multiple means of engagement to interest, motivate and challenge learners.

2. Provide multiple means of representation to give learners options to acquire information and knowledge from curriculum content.

3. Provide multiple means of action and expression for learners to demonstrate what they have learnt.

Use of these 3 principles by teachers in their curriculum planning practice can optimise learning for all students, not just the mythical ‘average’ learner. Teachers incorporate multiple means to represent lesson content and provide learners with a variety of options demonstrate their learning.

Using Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning supports inclusive practice. Every student learns differently, so teachers need to create flexible, barrier-free learning environments for all students to become successful, lifelong learners.

Benefits of Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning is a proactive planning approach that has benefits for all students (Spencer 2011) by:

  • using a range of strategies that most teachers already have in their toolbox, (Leif et al. 2021).
  • allowing ‘students to achieve success in the classroom through reducing barriers to learning’ (Levey 2020:8).
  • improving student learning processes and engagement in learning for all students (Capp 2017; Spencer 2011).
  • planning to optimise learning from the outset, reducing the need for differentiating and adjusting instruction to meet specific student learning needs.
  • supporting teachers to design more flexible, inclusive learning experiences and environments.

Capp (2020:718), suggested focused, targeted professional learning helps increase teacher confidence to implement the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Teacher confidence to use the UDL framework in curriculum planning is linked to the professional learning they receive about UDL.

The Universal Design for Learning framework supports the NSW Department of Education goal to ensure every student is engaged and challenged to continue to learn, and every student, every teacher, every leader and every school improves every year. (NSW Department of Education Strategic Plan, 2021) as well as the national education goal of promoting excellence and equity (The Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration, 2019).

Inclusive curriculum planning

Inclusive curriculum planning using the three principles of Universal Design for Learning acknowledges learner variability and the potential impact this has on a student’s learning. The principles of engagement, representation and expression help identify and remove limitations allowing all students to thrive and reach their full potential (Barteaux 2014).

The literature suggests curriculum design based on the three principles:

  • reduces learning barriers between students
  • improves attitudes towards learning
  • can be used with different modes of learning, including online learning

(Al-Azawei et al. 2016).

The Universal Design for Learning framework incorporates:

  • high expectations
  • quality teaching practices
  • effective learning environments.

Curriculum planning using the Universal Design for Learning framework enables teachers to effectively address the diverse learning needs of all students and may, in the long term, lead to more efficient planning, programming and assessing practices.

Inclusive instructional design provides greater opportunity for learners to engage in learning and fully demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and skills. Using the Universal Design for Learning principles to proactively plan teaching and learning programs will reduce the need to retrospectively plan individual accommodations and personalised adjustments.

Professional learning

Curriculum planning for every student in every classroom professional learning supports K-12 teachers effectively plan to optimise learning for the full range of students.

Curriculum planning for every student in every classroom (AC00180) professional learning is available in MyPL.

Al-Azawei A, Serenelli, F and Lundqvist K (2016). Universal Design for Learning (UDL): A content analysis of peer-reviewed journal papers from 2012-2015, Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning,16(3):39-56. DOI: 10.14434/josotl.v16i3.19295

Barteaux S (2014). Universal Design for Learning, BU Journal of Graduate Studies in Education, 6(2):50-54.

Capp MJ (2017). The effectiveness of universal design for learning: a meta-analysis of literature between 2013 and 2016, International Journal of Inclusive Education, 21(8):791-807. DOI: 10.1080/13603116.2017.1325074

Capp MJ (2020). Teacher confidence to implement the principles, guidelines, and checkpoints of universal design for learning, International Journal of Inclusive Education, 24(7):706-720. DOI: 10.1080/13603116.2018.1482014

CAST (2023). The UDL Guidelines, accessed 26 April 2023.

Education Council (2019). Alice Springs (Mparntwe) education declaration, accessed 26 April 2023.

Bernard JL and Wade-Woolley L (2005). Education for all: The report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students with Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6. Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Education.

Leif E, Alfrey L and Grove C (2021).Practical, research-informed strategies to teach more inclusively (teachermagazine.com), accessed 26 April 2023.

Levey S (2021). Universal Design for Learning, Journal of Education, 203(2):1-9. Boston University. DOI: 10.1177/00220574211031954

NSW Department of Education (2022). NSW Department of Education Strategic Plan (2018-2023), NSW Department of Education, accessed 26 April 2023.

Spencer SA (2011). Universal Design for Learning: Assistance for Teachers in Today’s Inclusive Classrooms, Interdisciplinary Journal of Teaching and Learning, 1(1):10-22.

Category:

  • Teaching and learning

Business Unit:

  • Curriculum and Reform
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