An exciting and well-established concept known as Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is gaining attention in higher education as a way to make digital learning programs more accessible to all learners, including those with a wide variety of learning challenges. Endorsed by EDUCAUSE’s Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) and the Department of Education’s Horizon Report, UDL is a framework to design learning in a systematic way to anticipate and remove barriers to student learning.
UDL isn’t about accommodating people after the fact, or just for students with physical or learning challenges–it is meant to design learning that’s engaging and effective for everyone, right from the get-go. It does this by encouraging and supporting multiple ways for students to express ideas, demonstrate knowledge and engage with their learning environments–all lofty goals that are difficult to do in practice in a traditional classroom, but uniquely enabled by technology like the Learning Management System (LMS).
By applying UDL principles through your institution’s LMS, colleges and universities can keep every student engaged and focused on mastering key concepts.
UDL has long been a fixture in the K-12 space, but respected resources are now endorsing it, including EDUCAUSE’s NGDLE (mentioned above) and the widely-used higher education blueprint, the National Educational Technology Plan. Aided by the ubiquitous use of LMSes, UDL is spreading rapidly throughout higher education.
There are three core principles of UDL that support the design of inclusive classroom instruction and accessible course materials without the need for adaptation or specialized design:
- Multiple methods of representation to give learners a variety of ways to acquire information and build knowledge.
- Multiple means of student action and expression that provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they have learned.
- Multiple modes of student engagement that tap into learners’ interests, challenge them appropriately and motivate them to learn.
Each core principle has been expanded into guidelines and checkpoints that teachers, faculty and designers can apply to the curriculum; they are known as the UDL Guidelines and are maintained by CAST, a non-profit research institute based in Boston.