Universal design for learning (UDL).

According to Turnbull, R, Turnbull, A, Shank, M and Smith, S (2004).  Universal design originated as a concept in architecture. There design seeks to ensure that buildings and public spaces are accessible to all people, including those who experience mobility impairments. Drawing from the success of designing buildings that are accessible to everyone. From the outset, universal design for learning is a process for:

(1) Considering the needs of all students in the classroom-including those with an exceptionality, linguistic diversities, and varied learning styles-from the beginning of the planning stage, and

(2) designing curriculum, instruction, and evaluation with sufficient flexibility so that each student benefits. 

According to Turnbull, R, Turnbull, A, Shank, M and Smith, S (2004), universal design  for learning begins by assuming that students vary widely, even though  they may all be in the same grade and same course, and is flexible in order to respond to a wide degree of student diversity  from the very onset.

Principles of the Universal Design for learning.

             There are three principles of the universal design for learning. 

  1. Presentation- to offer learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge.
  2. Expression- to provide students alternatives for demonstrating what they know
  3. Engagement- to tap into students’ interests, challenges them appropriately, and motivates them to learn.

Multiple methods of presentation:  Based on information retrieved from an article entitled “what is universal design for learning” (n.d) presenting information and ideas in multiple ways is an essential part of good teaching. This principle of the Universal design for learning (UDL) addresses diverse learning styles and provides multiple opportunities for students to grasp key concepts. The same article went on to identify some strategies that can be implemented to facilitate this principle of the UDL in the classroom. They are: “apply this principle by breaking up long lectures and reading assignments into activities that engage students into listening, watching, reflecting, and doing. They also asserted that teachers should offer documents in multiple electronic formats, and check materials for compliance with accessibility, standards and guidelines. 

It is also important to note that a number of individuals have given their perspectives on the benefit of administering this principle in the classroom. The article entitled (what is Universal Design” (n.d) outline some quotes identifying others perspectives of the benefit of administering this principle in the class room. One such quote is:

“The thing I like about UDL is that it maximizes students learning by increasing the number of ways that students get to see information, and I think that more students can be reached when you use many alternatives to traditional lecture….”

  • Erica Suchman, Assoc. Professor of Microbiology

Immunology and Pathology .

Multiple modes of expression:   the second principle of UDL is that students should be given multiple ways to express their comprehension and mastery of a topic. 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. Information retrieved from an article entitled “what is universal design for learning” (n.d) identify some ways in which this principle of the UDL can be achieved. it was stated that teachers should consider accepting students projects in alternative formats, including oral presentation, videos, newspaper articles, photo essay, radio documentaries, community research, community research, and web publication for students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

“Students like the fact that there are opportunities to show what they know outside of traditional examinations- that they can participate through the clickers, that they can do group problem solving, and that they can show their knowledge in alternative ways”.

Dr. Erica Suchman

Multiple opportunities for engagement: getting students excited about learning by providing multiple opportunities for engagement in the third, and perhaps most powerful, UDL principle.  Affect represents a crucial element to learning, and learners differ markedly in the ways in which they can be engaged or motivated to learn. There are a variety of sources that can influence individual variation in affect including culture, personal relevance, subjectivity, and background knowledge, along with a variety of other factors presented in these guidelines. Some learners are highly engaged by spontaneity and novelty while other 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. Information retrieved from an article entitled “what is universal design for learning” (n.d) identifies ways in which this principle can be facilitated in the classroom.  Begin by focusing your course objectives on essential knowledge and skills. As you teach, clarify the importance of each topic, and express your own enthusiasm for it.  Put students in an active learning role. Provide prompt and informative feedback. Explain to students how the concepts you present are relevant to their careers and meaningful to society.




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