Universal Design for Learning
Columbus State University
25 September 2021
The principles for Universal Design for Learning (UDL) are intended to provide every student the opportunity for success by implementing a framework of tools that accommodate multiple learning styles. Along with having varied interests, every individual thinks and learns in different ways. UDL breaks down the guidelines into three parts, representation, engagement, and action and expression.
The first principle is in how information is presented to the students and is called representation. In the video, “UDL: Principles and Practice,” David Rose discusses how the lessons and instruction should be facilitated or represented in multiple ways to reach students who are in different levels of development or whose learning styles are varied. A teacher can achieve this ideal of implementing multiple ways of presenting material by including images or videos along with the text. This type of presentation is achieved through mediums such as PowerPoint, Prezi, Flipgrid, or any other multimedia platform. Using still images, audio, and video supplement the lesson for students who need more than just the basic text instructions. The UDL guidelines on cast.org suggest that the type of text is also important, as the size of the text, along with other factors like the font or background color and contrast can affect the students’ understanding. Additionally, these guidelines recommend flexible use of the different video, audio, and still images, as well as using different layouts of the elements. The inclusion of subtitles or transcripts for video or audio tracks can be beneficial for some students while having features such as Immersive Reader or other speech-to-text tools can be advantageous for others. Another aspect of Rose promotes for representation is that educators should offer some sort of manipulative when presenting a lesson. These manipulatives could be models, coins, puzzles, or even markers. The intent is to provide students a physical connection through objects that appeal to visual and kinesthetic learners.
The second principle for UDL is engagement. The UDL guidelines promote offering choices in activities which enables a sense of autonomy in the student. This method allows for a differentiated classroom, as students who are struggling can choose a level of work that suits their needs, while a higher-level student can opt for a more challenging level of work. Rose expresses the concern that educators need to “engage students in learning, …make it important to them, [and] make them motivated for it,” or the rest of the teachers’ efforts are wasted (4:31-4:36). Engagement and choice also connect to allowing students to determine what tools they use in the lesson, including choices in “color, design or graphics of layouts” (National).
Another choice is allowing students to determine any goals related to their success, as they will apply their interests and personal preferences to those goals. Cultural diversity does come into play, as well as the students' age and individual abilities. Other aspects that improve engagement include ensuring the lessons are authentic or can be understood in context as to how it affects the students’ lives and that it allows the students to reflect on that relationship.
The last principle of UDL is action and expression. The emphasis is on offering a broad choice of action, or how to navigate the lesson and materials, along with differentiating the time scale of work for the students. Allowing students to proceed at their own pace will prevent student frustration from getting behind their peers or from waiting for their peers to catch up. Students should also be allowed multiple ways to show mastery of the concept or express their understanding. While some students may be adept at writing, others may excel in art, or oral communication, so teachers should allow students to display their learning through various assessment methods.
I already incorporate many aspects of UDL for presentation in my classroom, starting with ensuring the font type and size are easily readable. I have glaucoma and need high contrast and larger font size to compensate for being partially blind, so I am cognizant that some students need similar accommodations. I also frequently include graphics or video in presentations. For example, when introducing vocabulary, I provide students a PowerPoint slide that includes the word at the top of the page, plus in bold and underlined in a sentence with context clues, and a graphic or image that connects to the word’s definition. Students are prompted to determine the definition based on the clues and then presented a slide with the definition and synonyms and antonyms. Adapting these materials to an online course is quite simple, as the students can further modify Word documents to suit their needs or preferences. Also, the PowerPoint, videos, and audio tracks can be adjusted to increase the size of text, volume, or even switched to a larger screen for enhanced viewing.
Because I teach literature and composition, there is a heavy emphasis on formal writing and writing skills, especially as an assessment tool. These methods readily translate to an online course, as students can use Word or Google Docs to complete the writing tasks. Fortunately, I can include assignments where students can create artwork, use creative writing, or implement technology to explore concepts and express understanding or mastery. To adapt artwork to an online course, students could opt to use computer art programs or could simply use their smartphone to take a picture of their art and submit it via email or class dropbox. Additionally, daily discussions meet the needs of students who are best suited to talk about a topic, as part of the learning process. Also, I typically conclude each unit with a Socratic Seminar to allow for oral expression of the covered text. Adapting a discussion to an online course would require a synchronous lesson via Zoom or other conferencing tools. The initial grading may be more difficult for the teacher, but the session could be recorded for additional review. In an asynchronous class, the discussion board post is not a perfect substitution, but, alternately, students could record an initial post and responses using a program like FlipGrid.
Incorporating the concepts of UDL into any classroom setting may seem daunting. Realistically, teachers can adapt and modify the existing curriculum to meet the needs of the different learners in their classes. Not every assignment has to be perfect for every learning style, but if educators make a concerted effort to address multiple learning styles, every student will benefit from the choices provided.
About universal design for learning. CAST. (2021, April 20). Retrieved September 25, 2021,
Cornell University. (2012, November 29). Universal Design.
National Center on Universal Design for Learning. (2010). UDL: Principles and Practice.
Retrieved September 24, 2021, from
About universal design for learning. CAST. (2021, April 20). Retrieved September 23, 2021, from https://www.cast.org/impact/universal-design-for-learning-