Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning



Explore the information and resources available at UDL in Higher Education.


Share your thoughts in the comments below in response to these spark prompts:

  • How might you add multiple means of engagement (the why of learning) in your course?
  • How might you apply multiple means of representation (the what of learning) to materials or information you provide your students?
  • Redesign one of your assignments using multiple means of action and expression (the how of learning).


  1. Since this is the same question as in the OER/ZTC workshop, I hope it is okay to give the same answer:

    The first essay assignment in English Composition is an Analysis Essay in which we analyze a piece of writing using in text citations.

    If I open up this assignment, we could co-create a zine in which each student contributes something about the piece of writing.

    In looking at the piece of writing, we could use *multiple means of engagement by reading the text together, by listening to the audio recording of the piece, by discussing personal reactions and responses, and by talking about connections to other things we have read, seen or possibly experienced.

    Moving on to *multiple means of representation, we could have the option to write a straightforward essay, create an audio recording, create a video, create an artwork or cartoon (with a written explanation of our process), or if we were meeting f2f, we could offer the option of a live performance. These works could be combined to create an online zine by the class as a whole.

    If I apply these suggestions to the Analysis Essay Assignment, this gives the option of *multiple means of action and expression.

  2. I am also posting what is largely the same response to my OER reflection (though I am redesigning my SOC 100 course for OER and Social Problems for Open Pedagogy, so there are slight differences).

    Most of my Social Problems students are sociology majors and have a good understanding of the kinds of social problems that we cover in class, including for many of them, career and academic plans that include trying to mitigate such problems, so the why of what we are doing is pretty clear. However, I think that if I can craft a new open pedagogy assignment that can be shared more widely this will make the why even more important.

    In terms of multiple modes of representation, I have always tried to offer this, such as using PPTs, videos, lectures, discussions, readings, games, etc. I plan to keep this in mind and even further diversify the modes through which I convey information to students — perhaps I will add some podcasts and I already have ideas for additional active learning exercises that we can do together in class.

    Finally, I also try to give students many different kinds of graded assignments (multiple choice quizzes and exams, essays, informal writing assignments, in class group work) and make sure that nothing is weighed too heavily so that students can succeed no matter their particular strengths. But I would like to take this further as I redesign the central assignment for my Social Problems class. I plan to give students a choice, so they can either write a research paper (which has been the assignment in the past) or present their research in a different format, such as a zine, comic book, podcast, website, etc.

  3. Many of the concepts in the UDL video remind me of the importance of considering the idea of learning styles. As individuals, students come to the classroom with different learning styles and preferences. It is up to the instructor, to their best ability, to meet students learning where that learning will be most effective. This calls for dynamic planning, teaching, and execution. Technology can help, but it is not the answer for a well-planned out and thoughtful lesson.

    Since many students who take policing with me aspire to a career in the field, I find it is very helpful for them when I connect the course material to it’s practical application. Doing so allows the material to come alive and be more real to the students. This connection helps to provide an answer to the “why” of learning.

    With the switch to the fully online classroom, I have had to challenge and push my teaching beyond what I did before. In the past, students who enrolled in my online class did so at their own discretion, and with it, they willingly accepted the terms of the course. With the switch-over to the online classroom, many students who were forced into this platform did not ask or sign up for it. In fairness to them, I have had to adjust to their styles more than them adjusting to mine. To meet their needs, I use different types of technology and assignments, trying to be as broad an instructor to meet their preferences – not mine. This includes; standard essays, video lectures, podcasts, and multiple choice exams. Looking ahead, I may give students preference over which type of assessment they would like.

    1. Hello Jason, I really appreciate your comment about connecting the course material to its practical application. I would be interested to hear more about an example of this. Incidentally, I have worked for some time on the show, Live PD (which is in some trouble now), and I frequently found myself concerned about the practical applications of policing law, and the humor that people seemed to find in the misfortune of others who often seemed to be at a low ebb in life.

      Since my class, English Composition, is required, it can be more challenging to help students see a practical application for writing. They sometimes arrive with the idea they just have to get through it and pass it. This is a concept I am working on, because I believe that composition is crucial for your people who want to have their voices heard in any forum, and also the concepts are helpful in general communication and interaction.

      1. Hi Yolande,

        I try to incorporate quite a few scenarios into the lessons, particularly when we are discussing police and the law. I think this serves two functions: first, it brings them higher up into Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning, and second, seems to keep them interested. I tend not to use reality television for lessons, because as odd as it may sound, aren’t very realistic when it comes to policing. Although Live PD, which I understand is coming off the air, attempted to do. Yet, it’s emphasis on the enforcement of law is just a small part of what police do each day. Like I say to my students, “if they made a show about what cops really do all day, no one would watch it”.

  4. I tried universal design learning in my CSC231 course. This is pure math and kind of boring for students. But it includes very important topics so I asked my students to bring their job interview questions into the class and design one of their assignments. They really liked this idea and felt much more engaging. They should provide the question with the solution and presented it to their classmates and answer their questions.
    I am going to use more of the universal design learning approach in my courses since the student’s engagement will be increased.
    I also designed some workshop-based assignments. I divided my students into 3-4 groups and asked them to solve a series of questions. In these assignments the group members discuss materials with each other and try to convenience their groupmates about their proposed solutions

  5. C.B.

    I provide the conventional MC exams but try to put focus on thinking and engaging with ideas and community. FlipGrid has really helped motivate learners to take a deep dive into activities related to clinical care. It seems that allowing them to employ their passion for care allows for meaningful effort based learning.

    Ancient medicine provides an alternative basis for modern medicine and science. I try to go across cultures to show shared know-how and diverse history to medical progress.

    For blood I use an assignment to allow the learner to role play being a clinician sharing info about blood with a patient using FlipGrid. I could redesign this to include multiple patients from different demographics and allow learners to form teams to best formulate strategies that are catered to each patient.

  6. Universal design is yet another educational framework like Growth Mindset, Danielson…. an interesting marketing tool and another attempt to articulate what it means to be an effective educator to the mainstream bureaucracies that are in charge of education in this country. It is arts integration, differentiation, utilizing the multiple intelligences, the 5 senses, cultural awareness, access and equity in curriculum to ensure all learners are connecting to the material. There seems to always be some new framework that is going to really change the face of how we teach and allow our students to truly feel empowered in their learning. The challenge is the barriers to that change. No matter how we gift wrap, rationalize and provide support that these shifts will improve learner outcomes the resistance is strong. Hence the numerous “frameworks” and attempts to initiate change.

    That said, I will focus on what I can control, my classroom…

    Adding multiple means of engagement (the why of learning) in a speech course is a lot of fun and helps the students really identify specific situations in their life and careers where they might be required to speak publicly. At first they often feel like they will never have to do this, then we brainstorm specific situations like advocating for a child, job interview, communicating to a team you are managing, advocating in a doctors office, PTA meeting… I could take this a step further and have the students outline 5 specific situations in their life or career where they might have to speak publicly and have them develop what 5 speeches they will prepare and present throughout the course based on the chosen situations

    Using multiple means of representation to materials or information I provide students is something I already do a lot of. I have ALL assignments in written format, videos of me explaining the content with closed captions, as well as information in syllabus format and course calendar format. In class we review and talk through expectations with images, videos and written examples. I also provide student samples for each assignment on BB for student reference. I do my best to provide information accessible to all learning styles. I have a couple of DB’s with further resources like articles, videos, examples… and encourage students to share any other resources they have found useful in the platform. I’m excited at the prospect of having students create videos that outline the learning outcomes for the course that I can include in my repertoire. Honestly, this has taken 5 years to build, every year I add, edit or revise based on student feedback and student needs.

    Here is an example of a fresh and flexible assignment I am looking forward to launching using multiple means of action and expression based on the open pedagogy assignment worksheet.

    What learning outcome(s) would you like to address with an open pedagogy assignment?

    Students will clearly connect to the skills and techniques outlined in the course outcomes.
    Students will be able to align the course outcomes with their field of study.
    Students will create opportunities for practical application within the course outcomes.

    Course Outcomes as Outlined in the Syllabus by the Speech, Comm and Theatre Arts Dept.
    1.) Prepare presentations for listeners.
    2.) Prepare presentations using effective delivery techniques including extemporaneous speaking, standard language, and eye contact with the audience.
    3.) Prepare presentations that locate, evaluate, select, and incorporate different forms of supporting material, including visual aids.
    4.) Demonstrate acceptable ethical standards in research and presentation of materials.
    5.) Research and organize material to support a thesis.
    6.) Listen critically and respectfully to others’ speeches.

    Have students gather in groups per “outcome” as outlined in the syllabus and have them create a 1-2 minute presentation, skit, video, slideshow, podcast, collage, … communicating the outcome to their peers and how it applies to various fields of study as well as career goals.

    The activity directly addresses the “outcomes” for the course and allows the students voice in identifying the outcomes, how they connect to their various fields of study and how the skills explored can be practically applied in a real world context.

  7. I was so puzzled to see doodles and drawings in one paper in my ancient Roman history course. It was only for this one assignment, based on a PBS video documentary. The question was: Explain influences (at least two) and innovation (at least two) in Roman Structural Engineering and illustrate using two structures of your choice. The culprit was the “illustrate,” however, in my mind the word “illustrate” (in a history of civilizations context ) was “to make clear by examples, to enlighten, to clarify one’s words, writings, etc.” I did not expect a drawing. And drawings I would often get. So, I change the phrase from illustrate to describe. Listening to UDL podcast with Mark Hoffer (July 23, 2015) I recognized that a sketch of an aqueduct as a series of columns and arches with covered water-carrying duct was actually a still frame of a mental slide put on paper; that will also have another one, perhaps depicting two amphiteatres (Greek) facing each other and thus forming the Coloseum (Roman). This was fulfilling the prompt, and only now do I see that it is a creative and valid way of discussing the influences and innovations…

  8. Some alternative ways of learning that I incorporate are student-led class discussions, games (recently got to learn to use Twine which has a lot of potential to make narratives interesting for students), analyzing photographs, field interviews with professionals, group worksheets, students reading aloud in class, student’s daily contributions of news, quotations and jokes, group formulating questions and alternatives for policy-makers, thought experiments, student-created video of advice for the next cohort etc. However, it is certainly a challenge to constantly maintain all students’ interests. With the move to online teaching, I think there are terrific opportunities to include more audio-visual materials, integrate a lot more individual contact through video chats and meetings as well as the possibility of bringing the world’s theater of events into the classroom. In future, I am hoping to be a lot more planful in incorporating as many ways of teaching (to see, hear, speak, do and to think) in as many course modules as possible.
    One concern I have about universal design is that I don’t want it to be an excuse to ignore the difficulties many students have with the written word. It bothers me greatly when I have students who are ready to graduate but are not able to string together a complete sentence or more importantly, show disorganized thinking. I am mindful that universal design should not be an excuse to abdicate responsibility to teach core reading, writing and critical thinking skills, but should in fact, be a way to strengthen these core skills of value in any professional setting.
    I would like to create an assignment in which I ask students to adopt a single policy issue throughout the semester (e.g. civil rights/immigration/ poverty etc.) and pick an aspect of the issue (e.g. the history, laws, funding sources, their personal experiences with it, current practice, changes over time, interviews with professionals who implement this policy, critical analysis and proposed policy alternatives etc.) which they ‘teach’ through any means (video, audio, interviews, role play, photographs, drawings, songs, performing art etc.)

  9. How might you add multiple means of engagement (the why of learning) in your course?

    Rarely are my students trying to become economists. On any given semester, neither me nor my students know exactly why they are there. Which is freeing. My favorite mean of engagement is to better understand current events but this isn’t for everyone. I often ask students what they want to get out of the class and sometimes let them pick subject matter for the end of the semester — i’m wondering now if it would be better to present them with a set of questions, to get the gears going, and allow them the chance to talk about which they find most interesting, why, and if they are inspired to ask any related questions of their own.

    How might you apply multiple means of representation (the what of learning) to materials or information you provide your students?
    I try to give students a good mix of podcasts, articles, videos, etc (comes with not using a textbook). In lecture I draw a handful of flow charts that i come back to over and over throughout the class and build upon.

    Redesign one of your assignments using multiple means of action and expression (the how of learning).

    i frequently have students respond to news articles in the context of the subject matter of class. I usually take these in written format but this could easily done as a video/recording/ppt etc.

  10. How might you add multiple means of engagement (the why of learning) in your course?
    How might you apply multiple means of representation (the what of learning) to materials or information you provide your students?
    Redesign one of your assignments using multiple means of action and expression (the how of learning).

    I could deepen UDL principles in my course in the following ways:
    Engagement: We could develop our own course outcomes or annotate the existing course outcomes. Students can develop their own assignments and/ or identify the steps to completing the assignments. Students have the freedom to chose activities that support their learning already.
    Representation: I could add more graphics & visuals to handouts. I could try to find podcasts on subjects connected to the course. We have hands on learning activities, scenarios, and videos embedded in the course.
    Representation: I could offer students the opportunity to share assignments in different ways — written, visual/ graphic, audio, presentation, etc.

    Adapting Assignments:
    1) For the Toy Making Project — during which the students create toys for children 0-18 months, I traditionally have them present the toy they made & explain how it supports development in groups. I could have students choose their method of sharing the info — write a paper, develop a presentation, create an audio message, or find another way to share their toy & how it supports development
    2) Teaching Philosophy — instead of having students create a traditional paper, I could have students choose the format they want to share the info — create a presentation, graphic display, audio recording, or written paper, etc.

  11. My mandate is fairly traditional (reading and writing) and my assignments are correspondingly old-fashioned, but since this is another duplicate question I’ll repeat what I’ve said about including *optional* oral and video responses as building blocks for larger, formal papers. I think some students will balk at anything resembling public speaking or performance, but our seminars are helping me to think through how offering these other modes of engagement might be liberating for others. I stress *freewriting* quite a lot as a tactic for getting started or unstuck, and I even advise recording, but I think now that actually building these tools into the framework of a course (in a much more explicit, accessible way) might prompt more students to take up the idea. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that, very often, *any* engagement is good engagement. Once a student gives me some material to work with we can go anywhere.

    I already talk a bit about orality and performance in my Intro to Lit courses, and preparing for the likelihood of online teaching in the fall has me shooting video lectures, finding (or sometimes recording myself) audio versions of readings, and preparing an accessible (i.e., legible and screen-reader friendly) Blackboard site. There are almost too many multimedia additions possible, and I’m mindful that my primary responsibility is to teach textual literacy (which is what the majority of students are lacking), so I want to stress that these tools should be portals rather than crutches. I can imagine allowing students to “write back” in comparable ways. I already sometimes encourage them to respond to writing prompts by recording their speaking voices, as a kind of oral freewriting, and using the result to develop or distill ideas. I could incorporate this into the drafting process for pretty much any assignment. It might also be appealing to open up the usual weekly discussion board for audio or video responses (Flipgrid might be the most straightforward platform). These kinds of off-the-cuff or unscripted responses could serve as stepping stones to more formal writing or scripted performances. My only major worry here is accessibility (ironic, I know). In my experience, students struggle a great deal even with the basics, so I’d want to emphasize that any departures are optional. I can see many students embracing them, but I don’t want the others to worry that audio-visual assignments are suddenly a mandatory part of an English class.

  12. Anchalee

    I have applied and integrated the universal design principles into what we are learning in class. I feel that it helps creates a learning environment that is engaging and an opportunity for students to express their views on what they have learned in the course. I find many students do not enjoy reading or writing. This creates a problem since the majority of the assignments require students to read and write.

    I keep in mind that students have various learning abilities, backgrounds, and accessibility to learning materials. The goal is to create assignments that are effective and meet learning objectives by giving the students the opportunity to choose how they approach their assignments through, action, engagement, expression, and flexibility. students can present their assignments in the following ways, BB discussions, oral presentations, PowerPoint presentations, research papers, role-playing, or written essays.

    In regards to trauma-informed pedagogy, as an educator, I not only view students as just people who are just taking a course but as human beings as well. Also, to create a safe classroom environment as possible; I take the opportunity to teach and promote, academic integrity, compassion, change, collaboration, empowerment, expression, growth, resilience, respect, support, and trust when I can.

  13. As Yolanda mention, since this is the same as OER/ZTC workshop I am going to share the same answe and hope it is ok.
    How might you add multiple means of engagement (the why of learning) in your course? On the first day of class, I ask my students to talk about themselves, their major and why are they taking my course, and I actually tell them that it is okay to say ” because I had too” . This way I kind of filter the interest my student will have for the course. What I should do, then is ask them, what are they expecting to learn on this course ( as Amy said) and create their own learning goal. Maybe revise a little the learning outcome without interrupting the frame of the science department for the courses: Also I should add more resources for students who are not just obligated to take the course but they have a passion for the course. ( such as, links, articles and interesting facts)
    How might you apply multiple means of representation (the what of learning) to materials or information you provide your students?
    Since most of my students take chemistry for the first time, I try to incorporate flow charts that links them from the information that should have known, to the information they need to know.
    I should incorporate videos for some of the subjects that students encounter but I haven’t found the rights ones. I should do more research about that.
    Redesign one of your assignments using multiple means of action and expression (the how of learning).
    The course I teach ( Chem 121, 201) is designed only of exams, but I have always incorporated a presentation, with a topic my students like ( they choose, their own topic within a chemistry subject) to give students who are not such good test takers an opportunity to express them selves outside of the exam frame.
    What I think I can do for this presentation,is to encourage them to even come up with a video or drawing that bests represent their topic.

  14. Joe Heissan

    I answered this series of questions in the OER/ZTC workshop, so I’ve provided the same answers here. :
    • How might you add multiple means of engagement (the why of learning) in your course? My students and I discuss the amount of time and energy needed to prepare, rehearse and reworking an outline/presentation notes in order to present projects effectively. I could build low-stakes self-reflections/assessments of those processes into some of their projects. My students and I talk about the ways that the kinds of projects developed in class might apply to their life situations outside or beyond the classroom. I could make those discussions about connecting assignments to those situations more formal parts of an assignment. (In my theatre courses where knowledge of a particular script in required, I have not only provided written or online copies of scripts, but links to audio recordings, or recordings of performances.)
    • How might you apply multiple means of representation (the what of learning) to materials or information you provide your students? In the past, my students and I have not only talked about topics but, I have provided written materials/slides/images and videos that support those discussions. I could incorporate more images or videos into our coursework. At times I’ve also provided links where students can read/watch/hear more about certain topics.
    • Redesign one of your assignments using multiple means of action and expression (the how of learning). Some of my assignments involve more formal writing, in that student need to draft formal outlines, which they then (ideally) transform into presentation notes. All of the presentation assignments already require students to incorporate presentation aids such as objects, videos, images, music and/or charts/graphs. I could make greater use of a combination of written versions of presentations, audio versions of presentation, filmed versions of presentations in certain modules

  15. UDL affords me the privilege to make learning challenging but also interesting and inclusive for all learners. When thinking about UDL in my course design, I embrace the freedom to think seriously about what I want students to learn, why they should learn it and how they can learn it. I’ve heard from students that English is not their favorite subject (their past histories), so it’s my chance to change their minds and help them learn to enjoy the act of reading and writing.

    Two learning objectives that I stress are: that learners are be able to learn methods of composing, drafting, revising, editing, and proofreading their own work –individually and collaboratively– and that learners learn to conduct research (primary and secondary), evaluate sources, integrate research to support ideas, and cite sources as they learn to share their own voice in the on-going scholarly dialogue/conversation. For our tasks to align with the objectives, I need the students to fully engage with the content and the projects/assignments. When students are given the freedom, within parameters, to create their own work, they blossom. An assignment that I give to my ENG 101 students that I want to revise it a bit is the required documented research project. The students will spend time discussing and conducting preliminary research using the library’s databases and mapping/outlining, etc. before arriving at the research question and narrowing their research to begin their first draft. I want them to understand that writing and researching are sometimes tedious processes. Even though they will be required to choose their own research topic (based on the course theme) and conduct their own independent research (student-centered learning), they will share their learning with the class.

    I usually spend a month on this project, but I’d like to extend it to at least a month and a half. Through independent work and oral free writing, I intend to provide them with ample feedback. Expecting young scholars to conduct substantive research, compose a draft, peer critique their fellow cohorts and revise their own work (in that short time frame) is not a real-world experience. Researching and organizing thoughts on paper requires much more time and focus. I believe that the more students discuss, think, create, etc., the more likely they’ll be engaged with the content and process of learning and be able to replicate that same process in other courses.

  16. Jill Strauss

    My classes usually sit in circle unless the room isn’t suited (attached heavy tables). I try to access different senses and abilities by include the transcript of a documentary when I can along with the film, different media and mediums that overlap on the same or similar themes so that the information is layered. I try to do experiential activities and pre-COVID and hopefully again sometime soon, take my students to museums and other places to learn and learn about the ways the visuals and text together create meaning.

    I am always looking for news ways to engage my students and have recently started teaching them augmented reality technology to interpret visually the course content learning.

  17. I teach Spanish for heritage speakers, and one of the learning objectives is being able to describe aspects of their daily lives, their family, and communities in Spanish.
    Means of engagement and representation:
    The first project of the course is to write a personal description. Students, more often than not, are insecure about their use of Spanish, so I expose them to many different types of texts: a song, a poem, a literary text with a description, a picture of a person they like or admire; also, to various different websites where they can look for vocabulary; we practice how to use an online dictionary to check that the words they want to use are appropriate for the message they want to convey. By using different type of input, students become aware that they’ve not only read descriptions of people in Spanish, but that they’ve also listened to personal descriptions in songs and videos, and described other people by observing images.
    Multiple means of action and expression:
    For a period of three weeks, students have familiarized with vocabulary, structures, etc., and they’ve been practicing creating songs, poems, descriptions of themselves and other public personalities so by the time they need to do their project, they choose which format they prefer to use: a song, a descriptive text, a poem or a picture (describing it with audio only).

    For the future I am interested in using as a theme or project focused on my students’ hobbies. This last semester I had photographers, dance instructors, bakers, etc. By creating tasks and activities having their hobby as a theme, students would learn and master their hobbies’ vocabulary and Spanish and use it in a variety of tasks/assignments. For example, they could follow news, bloggers and report. Or they could create a “How to guide…”, or other type fo texts.

    For the future:
    I would like my students to create a group project

  18. How might you add multiple means of engagement (the why of learning) in your course?
    The concept of mastery-oriented feedback really speaks to me! I want to begin incorporating immediate learner feedback on quizzes and tests so that students can understand why an answer is right or wrong, and where that information came from in the materials we studied in class. This is possible and easy to update on my tests and quizzes on Blackboard.

    How might you apply multiple means of representation (the what of learning) to materials or information you provide your students?
    I love the suggestion to incorporate relevant audio, video, and mixed media resources instead of text-based information, which often comes with the biases and constructs of a singular voice. I already incorporate videos to help explain certain concepts visually and in more tangible ways than the textbook I used to use could, but I plan to incorporate even more of these resources, and encourage students to seek out resources themselves that we can all learn from.

    Redesign one of your assignments using multiple means of action and expression (the how of learning).
    I’d love for students to be able to express themselves through multiple means for what was formerly our first writing assignment. While this may mean lengthening some other writing assignments to adhere to the department-promised writing credit, I think allowing students to use their own voice to create a submission that is meaningful to them speaks more to the content of their assignment (in summary, students watch “On The Basis of Sex” and then write a response. Instead, they could share a video and testimonial of what it meant to participate in a women’s (or other) march, attend the Pride parade, record an interview with a parent or grandparent who remembers this legislation being passed, etc. This way, students can honor their own experiences, while still responding to — and now interacting with! — the subject matter.

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