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Universal Design for Learning

The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines provide a framework to improve teaching and learning. UDL is a framework to guide the design of learning environments that are accessible and challenging for all. Ultimately, the goal of UDL is to support learners to become “expert learners” who are, in their own way, purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, and strategic and goal-driven. UDL aims to change the design of the environment rather than to change the learner. When environments are intentionally designed to reduce barriers, all learners can engage in rigorous, meaningful learning.

Three primary brain networks that affect learning

Each principle of the Universal Design for Learning touches on one of the three primary brain networks that affect learning.

Affective networks are the "Why" of learning

Affective networks in the brain enable us to assign significant or personal meaning to newly acquired knowledge and discover what stimulates us during the learning process.

Recognition networks are the "What" of learning

Recognition networks enable us to collect knowledge.

Strategic networks are the "How" of learning

Strategic networks enable us to apply the acquired knowledge.

Principles of Universal Design for Learning

Provide Multiple Means of Engagement

Affective networks support this principle.

Affect represents a crucial element of learning, and learners differ markedly in how they can be engaged or motivated to learn. There are a variety of sources that can influence individual variation in affect including neurology, culture, personal relevance, subjectivity, and background knowledge, along with a variety of other factors. Some learners are highly engaged by spontaneity and novelty while others are disengaged, even frightened, by those aspects, preferring strict routine. Some learners might like to work alone, while others prefer to work with their peers. In reality, there is not one means of engagement that will be optimal for all learners in all contexts; providing multiple options for engagement is essential.

Instructors should provide options for:

  • Recruiting learner's interest
  • Learners to sustain their efforts
  • Learners to self-regulate

Provide Multiple Means of Representation

Recognition networks support this principle.

Learners differ in the ways that they perceive and comprehend information that is presented to them. For example, those with sensory disabilities (e.g., blindness or deafness); learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia); language or cultural differences, and so forth may all require different ways of approaching content. Others may grasp information quicker or more efficiently through visual or auditory means rather than printed text. Also learning, and transfer of learning, occurs when multiple representations are used because they allow students to make connections within, as well as between, concepts. In short, there is not one means of representation that will be optimal for all learners; providing options for representation is essential.

Instructors should provide options for:

  • Perception through different modalities
  • Language and symbols
  • Comprehension through the design and presentation of information that build scaffolds for knowledge

Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression

Strategic networks support this principle.

Learners differ in the ways that they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know. For example, individuals with significant movement impairments (e.g., cerebral palsy), those who struggle with strategic and organizational abilities (executive function disorders), those who have language barriers, and so forth approach learning tasks very differently. Some may be able to express themselves well in written text but not speech, and vice versa. It should also be recognized that action and expression require a great deal of strategy, practice, and organization, and this is another area in which learners can differ. In reality, there is not one means of action and expression that will be optimal for all learners; providing options for action and expression is essential.

Instructors should provide options for:

  • Interacting with tools and environments that make learning physically accessible
  • Learners to express themselves and communicate
  • Building learners' executive functions through scaffolding

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