Universal Design for Learning: educating for diversity

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can support the deliberate design of more inclusive environments, activities and learning opportunities in schools and workplaces. It helps us “educate for diversity” (Bolstad et al 2012).

1. Why UDL?

UDL can help us:

  • identify and minimise barriers to participation and learning hidden in the way we teach and create learning and working environments,
  • design more flexible environments where supports, options and challenges are built in at the outset and offered to everyone.

3 principles of UDL

2. Key themes

  1. Know your learners and use the knowledge. Build learning on learner’s strengths and experience. Utilise connections. Consciously design opportunities to learn more about people. Difference is the default.
  2. Seek diversity and design from the edges. Consider those with the most diverse strengths and needs in each context first. Design from there. Offer all learners the supports, choices and challenges traditionally offered only to those that need support or extension.
  3. Plan for flexibility. Variability is predictable: we can plan for it. We can remove potential barriers and build in supports and options at the outset. Utilise technologies.
  4. Builds on what we know works. UDL compliments and increases the inclusiveness of other aspects of effective practice, e.g teaching as inquiry or solo taxonomy.

3. UDL thinking cycle: getting started

This UDL thinking cycle is adapted from the Planning for All Learners cycle created by CAST. It is a personal adaption that has evolved from unpacking UDL with educators over the past couple of years.

It is aimed at introducing the idea of recognising and removing barriers to learning and participation created by our own practice and processes. It also makes explicit that we begin with the people, the context and what we know about them.

UDL thinking cycle

UDL thinking – getting started

5. Universal supports

Universal supports or as CAST calls them “Systematic supports” are often a solution, approach or tool that has traditionally been offered to one student, but actually can be offered to everyone.

For example, text-to-speech tools are often offered to student’s with dyslexia. Actually they can be great tool for all editors of all ages. Listening back to writing can help a writer spot more errors (lots of journalist do this). Text-to-speech is also a useful tool for students whose comprehension is ahead of their ability to read – then they can access more sophisticated texts by listening to them.

Common universal supports

Common universal supports

Here are some “how to’s”:

4. Using UDL to plan learning

As you explore UDL, start small. Take a look at  just one lesson or learning activity you teach regularly. Consider the learning outcomes, your teaching methods, the resources and environments and assessment processes you offer students. Think about:

  • Any barriers to student understanding or participation hidden in the way you do things.
  • Select approaches and tools that increase flexibility so students can customise the task and the environment to meet their needs.
  • Offer the options, tools and approaches that you previously reserved for the students that needed most support or extension, to everyone.

learning outcomes, resources, teaching methods, assessment

More personalisation, less differentiation. In an environment or opportunity underpinned by UDL, people can personalise their participation because what’s on offer is flexible, rich in choices and built in supports. This often results is less need for differentiated activities and approaches

UDL everywhere. UDL  can be applied in the classroom, to the design of professional learning, to home-school partnerships, to the design of physical buildings and online environments.

5. Documents to support reflection and planning

6. Dig deeper

UDL toolkit

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