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What is Universal Design for Learning?

Universal design for learning (UDL) is the practice of embedding flexible strategies into the curriculum during the planning process so that all students can access the curriculum. If UDL is implemented meaningfully, then it greatly reduces the need for retrofitting accommodations for individual students. The needs of individual learners are met through flexible teaching and carefully planned choices for all students to demonstrate their knowledge.

Is UDL compatible with the principles of differentiated instruction?

Yes. UDL does not replace or negate the principles of differentiated instruction, but places more emphasis on readily available technology and accessible curriculum materials to meet the needs of diverse learners.  UDL can be considered a broader lens that helps us evaluate effective instructional practices with a mind toward

  • frontloading strategies during the planning process
  • building the metacognition skills of students so that they can identify which instructional practices work best for them
  • ensuring that those practices are available to ALL students instead of a selected group 

What are the three main principles of UDL?

  1. Multiple Means of Engagement 
  2. Multiple Means of Representation 
  3. Multiple Means of Action and Expression    


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What makes UDL different from differentiated instruction?

Some educators think of differentiated instruction as a philosophy of providing different learning activities to different students based on their needs. A UDL framework emphasizes the provision of flexible learning opportunities as opposed to simply multiple learning opportunities. Flexible learning opportunities allow students to interact with curriculum materials in a way that works for them. Teaching students to make choices based on their learning needs and preferences is central to UDL.

A universally designed curriculum has flexible strategies frontloaded.  With UDL, we focus on making strategies available to all students rather than designing accommodations for individual students after the planning process.  In addition, UDL focuses on the use of technology because it supports the creation of flexible materials.

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What is the difference between low, middle and high tech strategies?

We use terms like "no-tech" and "low-tech" to make the point that UDL is not about using technology.  UDL is about providing multiple means of representation, engagement and expression so that all students can learn.  Whether you use technology to do so is not important.

No-tech and low-tech strategies are those which provide students with choices in their learning. High-tech strategies leverage existing technology in order to provide that flexibility.

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Why, then, does technology seem to figure into many conversations about UDL?

Because UDL recognizes the power of technology to add flexibility in curriculum design.  For example, digital text can be read by a computer, easily manipulated to enhance understanding and readability, and supported with multi-media and interactive learning features.  Typing instead of writing provides for legibility and the supports of text-to-speech, spell checking, and easy editing. Using technology allows teachers to more easily provide flexible curriculum materials and allows students flexible methods of engagement and expression. 

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So what does that look like?

Teachers plan by frontloading accessible strategies into their lessons. They use flexible strategies, materials, and tools to implement their lessons. They build in student choice for demonstrating knowledge by proactively teaching students to use flexible tools for expression. Here are some video examples.

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What’s the key to making UDL happen in my classroom?

In our work with educators, we've found these to be important components of UDL Implementation:

  1. Use a UDL framework for approaching the planning process so that you address student needs at the outset rather than with accommodations after-the-fact.
  2. Use flexible materials to present your curriculum, engage students, and assess their learning. 
  3. Understand how digital tools provide flexibilty for learning and demonstrating knowledge and add a few new ones to your repertoire.
  4. Reflect deeply with your colleagues on the principles of UDL.

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