top of page

Best Practices in UDL

There is no formal checklist for embracing the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, but the best practices involve reflection and design that incorporates UDL principles. Specific UDL guidelines and checkpoints, as developed by CAST, should be taken into account as a course or activity is developed. Visit the CAST website for an in-depth look at these guidelines and the concepts discussed below. 

You can embrace UDL by answering yes to as many of the following prompts as possible.

Saying Yes to the UDL Approach

Accessible/Usable, Flexible, Purposeful
  • Reflect on the course or activity and see if you can answer yes to the following:

    • Is it accessible (and useable)? Think about how the information is presented to learners. The learners need to be able not only to perceive the information in the way that suits them best, but also to understand what needs to be learned.

    • Is it flexible in its approach? Think about how learners will express themselves or act strategically. If it is designed so that one size fits all, then it is not flexible.

    • Is it purposeful in its design? Think about how learners will engage with the curriculum. The activities and resources should be proactively evaluated against other options and designed or selected to strategically motivate all learners to meet the desired learning outcomes. 

  • In thinking specifically about providing multiple means of engagement, does the course or activity offer:

    • Options for recruiting interest? 

    • Options for sustaining effort and persistence?

    • Options for self-regulation?

  • Options for recruiting interest? Look for and minimize potential threats and distractions to create a supportive, safe environment where students can focus their energy and efforts on the curriculum. Provide opportunities for students to direct their own learning. Allow students to find value and personal connections to and relevance in their learning. 

  • Options for sustaining effort and persistence? This can start with clear objectives, where the relationship between a task and a learning outcome is transparent. Resources and differentiating support systems meeting the unique needs of individual learners can also prove motivating. Learning communities built through peer interactions and collaboration are another way to inspire students and reinforce their growth. Finally, when students receive constructive, meaningful feedback that rewards development as well as expertise, they are often driven to reflect on their own performance, which leads to sustained effort and persistence. 

  • Options for self-regulation? Expert learners are motivated intrinsically as well as extrinsically. Consider modeling goal setting, including establishing a pace with personal milestones that meet deadlines and expectations. Build opportunities for mentoring, self-assessment, and self-reflection. Encourage students to further develop their own personal strategies.

  • To spark the recognition network, does the course or activity offer multiple means of representation by providing:

    • Options for perception? 

    • Options for language and symbols?

    • Options for comprehension?

  • Options for perception? All media should be accessible, and students should be offered alternatives to any representation, even written text (in instances where analyzing the text is not essential). For example, an infographic or cartoon may convey the same key elements as a journal article. And transcripts, written descriptions, or physical models might present the same information as an audio or video file.

  • Options for language and symbols? We need to make the information we are presenting not just accessible, but also understandable. Think about how you might promote clarification and understanding across languages, cultures, and even varied a priori knowledge. This might include building legends for icons and text-based symbols, creating glossaries for key terms, writing captions or long descriptions for complex charts, or even using translation tools such as those built into Microsoft PowerPoint.

  • Options for comprehension? We want to make sure that students are able to not only understand the information, but also fully process and even relate to it. Relevant background knowledge can be activated (or provided!) as support, simulations can be offered to help reinforce visualizations, or templates or other organizers can be presented to build meaningful connections.

  • Does the course or activity offer multiple means of action and expression through:

    • Options for physical action? 

    • Options for expression and communication?

    • Options for executive functions?

  • Options for physical action? Consider how students are expected to interact in the lessons and assessments. Not every student will be able or even want to do the same actions on any given day. A timed assessment or quick response game may not be a fair thing to ask of someone whose bandwidth or other resource is limited. And if a student requires an assistive technology (AT), will a modification be needed, or are the student interactions “AT-ready”?

  • Options for expression and communication? Center the learning on the learner’s preferences and strengths while maintaining the curriculum goals and objectives. When appropriate, be flexible in permitting methods or tools that support the students’ independence. For instance, can the same expertise be shown through an animation storyboard as it might be through a written essay? A rubric can still be used to measure whether a student has met all of the criteria, but if mastering a specific tool is not essential, then allow for student choice. Also allow student choice in communicating with faculty teams (office hours, email, discussion forums, etc.) and receiving feedback (written versus oral).

  • Options for executive functions? We want students to become expert learners who are strategic and goal-directed throughout their lives. This is fostered when we encourage and guide them in setting personal goals with milestones and strategies, incorporating tools for organization, measuring their progress, and building their capacity for self-reflection.

Plus-One Approach

When embracing the UDL framework, it is important to understand that the principles, guidelines, and checkpoints are not meant to stand alone. The idea is to embrace multiple means of engagement, representation, action, and expression. But getting started may seem intimidating! There are three principles, several guidelines, and many more checkpoints in the framework! The “plus-one” approach makes it a bit easier to digest: begin with simply one application toward universal design, pause and reflect on that strategy, and then see how you might add more UDL practices across your learning environment and activities. As you incorporate more UDL strategies, you will support more students and hopefully provide everyone the opportunity to become an expert learner.

Consider the concrete suggestions below to begin applying the plus-one approach.

Concrete Suggestions for Designing with UDL in Mind

  • Specify course and module learning objectives and align these to learning activities, including assessments, in such a way that they are transparent to students.

  • Represent content in a variety of formats, for example, video, audio, and text.

  • Provide diverse assessment strategies, including different formats of both formative and summative assessments.

  • Incorporate active learning strategies, including collaborative online tools such as wikis and discussion forums, for students to build and demonstrate their knowledge.

  • Provide checklists and organizers to maximize memorization and knowledge transfer.

  • Embrace a JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) approach to developing your curriculum to recruit interest and provide options for comprehension.

Concrete Suggestions for Facilitating with UDL in Mind

  • Introduce content in a progressive manner, to encourage and allow for purposeful and sequential information processing.

  • Involve all students in whole class discussions, accepting a variety of accessible communication pathways (oral, written, video, etc.).

  • As a class, build an accessible glossary of key terms and acronyms for the subject matter.

  • Provide reminders and further support so students’ efforts can go toward maximizing comprehension.

  • Provide feedback that is “frequent, timely, and specific.”

  • Embrace a JEDI approach to maintaining your course environment and communications.

For more suggestions for applying the UDL framework, visit the interactive UDL Guidelines linked from the CAST website. When you navigate to one of the checkpoints, such as “Minimize threats and distractions” (checkpoint 7.3), you will be presented with a concise yet comprehensive explanation of that checkpoint along with sample methods of how it might be achieved in a course.

bottom of page