Master of Education

Implementing Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has been gaining in popularity among teachers and school districts in recent years. This inclusive teaching methodology offers educators a set of strategies and tools for engaging every student and for bringing learning equity to a diverse classroom through acknowledging each learners individual needs and strengths—and then accommodating those needs and strengths. While UDL is typically implemented on a district or school level, there are ways that teachers can incorporate UDL into their curriculum. But first it is important to understand what UDL is and how it was developed.

What is Universal Design for Learning?

UDL is a set of principles that were born from the desire to offer every student an equal opportunity to learn, and is based on the idea that every person has their own unique and individual learning style.

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For example, the Thomas Edison Elementary and Middle school in Brighton, MA has been working towards UDL implementation because they recognize the need for diversity of instruction in order to reach every student. “We’re working on changing the way we teach,” said Principal Samantha Varano in the Harvard Gazette. “There used to be a standard way of teaching: One lesson for the whole class,” she explained. “But every child is different. Every child has a unique background and different way of learning. We must think of a variety of lesson plans for students with all varying capabilities. We want to reach students where they are — and work to grow from there.”

According to UDL, there are three primary brain networks that are responsible for how a person learns: the recognition network, the strategic network and the affective network.

National Center on Universal Design for LearningNational Center on Universal Design for Learning

The three main principles of UDL— Representation (the what of learning), Action and Expression (the how of learning), Engagement (the why of learning) — were formed based on these three brain networks. Understanding the foundation of UDL – the principles and brain networks — is imperative for teachers who wish to implement UDL in the classroom.

How to Implement UDL in Your Classroom

While implementing UDL is often a district, school or even statewide initiative, there are steps you can take to incorporate UDL into your lesson plans even if your school is not adhering to the UDL principles.

The first step is to define your goals.

  • What do you hope to achieve by implementing UDL?
  • What goals do you have for your class as a whole and each individual student? Be sure your goals are aligned with your state standards.

The second step is to assess your current class and each individual students needs.

  • What is the makeup of your class?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of your students? Look at each student through the UDL lens and evaluate them based on the three different brain networks and UDL principles.

Finally, evaluate what challenges you foresee.

  • How will you teach to the multiple learning styles in your classroom?
  • How will implementing UDL affect your current curriculum?

Luis Perez, author of Mobile Learning for All suggests starting small. In an article in The Journal, he said, “You’re not going to apply every single [guideline] to every single lesson. It depends on which ones are relevant to your learning goals. Start with a single lesson or activity and then build success from that, and then start to look at other parts of your curriculum.”

The National Center for Universal Design on Learning has a plethora of resources and information for educators interested in universal design. For implementation tips and ideas check out their universal design for learning series.

At the University of San Diego we offer a 100% online Master of Education with five specializations to choose from: Inclusive Learning—Special Education and Universal Design; Literacy & Digital Learning; STEAM; School Leadership; and Curriculum & Instruction. To learn more about our nationally accredited program visit our program page.

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