Universal Design for Learning: Allowing Diversity to Flourish in the Classroom

According to the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is “a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged.”

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the University of Cincinnati’s online Master of Education degree program.

The Introduction of UDL in Schools

Goals of the Universal Design for Learning

The goals of the UDL are to reduce inherent barriers in instruction, provide appropriate support to all students, and maintain high achievement expectations from them. Moreover, UDL also seeks to address the specific needs of various classes of learners including talented students, students with learning disabilities (such as dyslexia), students with sensory disabilities (for example, with a hearing impairment), students with a movement impairment, students with different learning perspectives, as well as students with alternative strategic and organizational abilities. The ultimate goal of UDL is to promote a scholastic environment in which students of all abilities can flourish in the classroom despite the unique barriers and challenges they face.

The Introduction of UDL in Schools

Surveys revealed that 78 percent of teachers find it challenging to personalize lessons for students requiring more support, and 91 percent of teachers believe that technology gives them an increased ability to create these lessons. Therefore, the most essential upgrades to be made to any given classroom involve having more time to plan and research resources and collaborate with colleagues; creating new, unique strategies to engage students; and including increased and better-quality technology in the classroom.

UDL Across the United States

Although this model is still fairly new, there are UDL resources located all across the country. For instance, all states have at least one UDL initiative in place. Furthermore, in 2015, congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which is another step towards making learning universal for students. Under the ESSA, states must prove they have implemented high-quality student assessments in math, reading, language arts and science. Moreover, these assessments must be created using the standards of the UDL. Some examples of elements of a UDL lesson include group projects, lessons, audiovisual components, multimedia presentations, illustrations, lectures and music.

Universally Designed Products and Architecture for the Classroom

The UDL asserts that certain technological upgrades should be made to every classroom to create a barrier-free environment for all students. These upgrades include doors with automatic sensors, lamps that can be controlled without switches, door handles that are easier to reach, larger buttons on technology for easy use, signage and documentation that is clear and easy to read, accessibility features on computers and other devices, and flexible learning environments with room for quiet, individual learning as well as group learning.

Implementing UDL

When implementing UDL in the classroom, teachers are encouraged to use multiple strategies to account for the various learning capacities of students. These strategies include providing both written and oral instructions, using visual aids such as pictures and charts, incorporating audio and visual into the classroom, employing text-to-speech technology, and using built-in glossaries and language translators.

The teachers are also charged with providing multiple means of student action and expression as a means of accounting for the differences in physicality, expression and executive function. Some examples include allowing students to demonstrate learning using written, verbal, visual, dramatic or multimedia response.

In addition, teachers must also provide multiple means of student engagement that account for differences in interest, effort and self-regulation. Some examples are personal journals, peer tutoring and monitoring, field trips, differentiated goals and support systems, and individual goal setting and planning.

Strategies for Administrators From Schools That Have Successfully Implemented UDL

With regard to implementing UDL in schools, administrators have had success with the following tactics: allowing enough time for the UDL implementation initiative to grow, using the specific needs of the school district as the basis for UDL implementation, and focusing on the success of all students and building collaborative relationships within districts which center on learning. In addition, the following practices have been successful: employing certified UDL facilitators to help guide the group, devoting adequate time for the training of administrators and teachers alike, and establishing data collection and evaluation processes to continually measure progress.

Conclusion

Overall, the mass implementation of the Universal Design for Learning within schools across this nation will help ensure the needs of all students, regardless of the various disparities and barriers facing them, are met. However, it’s important for educators to take the time to learn this system and assess the resources required for implementing it, as well as following up with students as needed.

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