Universal Design for Learning (UDL):

A framework built on research-based principles offering the potential to design equitable learning environments for all students



[Title: UDL On Campus, Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann, Co-President of CAST, appears on the screen.]

GABRIELLE RAPPOLT-SCLICTHMANN: Learning is really a lifelong journey and when students come to postsecondary they're incredibly diverse. They have a wide range of strengths and weaknesses and UDL is really about how to make that learning journey tractable for as many of those learners as possible.

[Students sit in a circle on a lawn on a college campus. The scene changes to a large display of artwork. The screen changes to a photo of three students working together. Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlicthmann returns to the screen, followed by Skip Stahl, Senior Policy Analyst at CAST.]

SKIP STAHL: UDL is important because of the variability that we have across learners. We often think about individuals with disabilities as individuals at the margins and then if we can develop or create learning environments for those individuals at either end of the bell curve we go a long way towards addressing the needs of everyone else in between.

[The screen shows students gathered around tables in a student center, then a student taking a picture, followed by many students standing and smiling during graduation in green caps and gowns. Sam Johnston, Research Scientist at CAST appears on the screen.]

SAM JOHNSTON: We've seen a an enormous growth in interest in using UDL ranging from individual faculty members wanting to use it to full departments to sometimes whole institutions wanting to adopt it as an approach to really better serving the broader range of students that are on campus.

[Students are gathered around a table with papers and laptops. The scene changes to an instructor lecturing in a large classroom full of students. Another scene shows students passing by a library. Sam Johnston returns to the screen briefly, followed by Manju Banerjee, Director of Landmark College Institute for Research and Training.]

MANJU BANERJEE: It is not about faculty being the experts or administrators being the experts but the ethos of we're all in this together.

["Finda" Ihudiya Ogburu, a student, appears on the screen.]

FINDA IHUDIYA OGBURU: In a UDL classroom I felt like I wasn't feeling bad because you know I didn't participate like another student. I was more so looking at myself and trying to be my best learner.

[Elysa Greenberger, a student, appears on the screen.]

ELYSA GREENBERGER: I think this has really made my learning deeper. It's different to me than lecture based courses where I sort of hear information and think it's really interesting but then end up forgetting it down the line.

[Sam Johnston returns to the screen, followed by a photo of two students meeting with an instructor in an office. The scene changes to an instructor projecting images to a classroom of students, followed by students gathered around artwork displayed on the floor. Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann returns to the screen.]

GABRIELLE RAPPOLT-SCLICTHMANN: UDL is really about bringing flexibility and options into the environment by design so that students will have the resources that they need to make learning tractable in postsecondary environments.

[End credits: UDL On Campus, CAST: Until learning has no limits]


While UDL was inspired by the Universal Design movement in architecture, in its current incarnation, it owes more to neuroscience insights about the nature of learning and learners. UDL is based on the idea that learners show a great deal of variability in what engages them in learning, in how they perceive and process information, and in how they are able to interact with the learning environment and demonstrate their learning.

Originating from the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), the concept of UDL emerged as a framework of 3 guiding principles, offering educators a pedagogical framework in which to design their instruction and learning environments to provide increased access for the variability of learners in today’s classrooms.

UDL Guiding Principles:


 “It seemed ironic to us that legislators and architects were working very hard to ensure that educational buildings were universally accessible, but no such movement pursued universal accessibility for the methods and materials used inside the buildings—the curriculum. From our work with individual teachers and learners, we realized that the concept of universal design could be applied to curriculum materials and approaches.” (Rose & Meyer, 2002, p.72) 


Source: CAST (2011)

Goals of UDL:

The UDL Framework and Guiding Principles are designed to provide:

  • Access to Information – accessible materials, technology, websites, etc.
  • Access to Learning – accessible activities, evaluations, etc.
  • Access to Knowledge Demonstration – accessible action and expression opportunities, etc.

The National Center on Universal Design for Learning UDL Guidelines 2.0 (2012), provide benchmarks to guide you in the development and implementation of UDL in pedagogy. These Guidelines serve as a tool with which to critique and minimize barriers inherent in curriculum as you endeavor to increase student opportunity to learn while optimizing challenge.

Universal Design (UD): the origins of UDL

"Universal design seeks to encourage attractive, marketable products that are more usable by everyone. It is design for the built environment and consumer products for a very broad definition of user."
- Ron Mace

What is UD: 

Originating out of the field of architecture, Universal Design emerged through recognition that full access to the built environment was often achieved through individual adaptations and retrofits. Emanating from a value system that espouses responsibility to architects and designers in the consideration of human diversity in the design of products and spaces, UD results in environments and goods that are usable by the diverse public (Welch, 1995; Wilkoff & Abed, 1994; as cited by McGuire & Scott, 2006).

Why is UD important: 

In part due to the fact that retrofits are expensive, sometimes misaligned with original design aesthetics, and often solving only one ‘local’ barrier or problem, the aim of UD is to consider the universal needs of all potential users, proactively. Universal Design accounts for the full range of human diversity, including physical, perceptual and cognitive abilities. By designing for diversity, functionality and usability is increased for all. 

How is UD achieved:     Much like UDL, UD is achieved through consideration of Guiding Principles : 

  • Equitable Use
  • Flexibility of Use
  • Simple and Intuitive Use
  • Perceptible Information
  • Tolerance for Error
  • Low Physical Effort
  • Size and Space for Approach and Use

References & Resources can be found HERE.