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Universal Design for Learning

Since I started studying again at the University of Vienna a few weeks ago (Digital Humanities), I've noticed that a few things have changed in the last few years since I graduated from university in 2020.

By this I don't mean the university per se, but the way I see communication and knowledge transfer between professors and students from an accessibility perspective.

In this article, I want to introduce to you the world of universal design for learning by giving a brief overview of what Universal Design of Learning is and by showing you ways to deliver content in different ways so that everyone, regardless of how they best process information, can use it.

What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

Regarding to CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology) website

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.

The Three Pillars Of UDL

There is no one right way to learn. Because everyone's brain works differently and learners have different backgrounds, abilities, needs, and interests, multiple options for learning should be provided in class to effectively teach diverse learners so that everyone can successfully acquire knowledge.

The three brain networks and how they affect the way of learning. Description in the following chapter.
APA Citation: CAST (2018). Universal design for learning guidelines version 2.2 [graphic organizer]. Wakefield, MA: Author. Clicking on the link opens the website showing this graphic and let's you interact with its content.

The three brain networks and how they affect the way of learning

Let's take a closer look at these networks.

Affective networks - the WHY of learning

These networks help us assign important or personal meaning to newly acquired knowledge and discover what stimulates us during the learning process.

Recognition networks - the WHAT of learning

This network enables us to gather knowledge, such as perceiving and collecting information, understanding ideas, remembering facts, and recognizing voices and speech.

Strategic networks - the HOW of learning

This network helps apply what is learned, for example, by planning and organizing tasks, connecting ideas, performing actions, and demonstrating skills.

Universal design for learning Guideline structured in a table divided into the three ways a brain works and with instruction how to provide learning material. These instruction are going to be discussed in more detail in the next chapters.
APA Citation: CAST (2018). Universal design for learning guidelines version 2.2 [graphic organizer]. Wakefield, MA: Author. Clicking on the link opens the website showing this graphic and let's you interact with its content.

Let's take a closer look at the three different pillars of UDL.

1. Multiple Means Of Engagement

Because learners are very different, especially when it comes to identifying what is meaningful to them (because of their different backgrounds and interests), implementing multiple options for learners' engagement with the learning process is critical. If learners can make a personal connection to their education and attach meaning to the learning, they are more likely to internalize the information.

Some learners may explore meaning through solving real-world problems, research projects, and experiments, while other learners learn through lectures and discussions. Still others learn through lectures and discussions, others through routine tasks such as daily pop quizzes, and some through group activities.

Provide options for

  • generating interest
  • sustaining effort and persistence
  • self-regulation

2. Multiple Means Of Representation

Representation focuses on ensuring diversity in the delivery of instructional content by providing a variety of media, such as presenting information in print, electronic, visual, and audio formats, which is important for learners.

Consider learners with cognitive, visual, and hearing disabilities or with a different native language. A learner with a cognitive impairment may be helped by the provision of visuals to process information, but a visually impaired learner may not. Therefore, introducing multiple instructional options increases the chances of diverse learners achieving their learning goals.

Provide options for

  • perception
  • language, mathematical expressions, and symbols
  • comprehension

3. Multiple Means Of Action & Expression

Learners demonstrate their knowledge and skills in a variety of ways. The learning process can be severely limited if learners are given only one way to demonstrate their understanding of a given topic, such as traditional assessments like multiple-choice tests and fill-in-the-blank tests.

Give learners multiple opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge in other ways as well, such as using authentic assessments like creating a project apply.

Provide opportunities for learners to track their progress. This can help learners demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

Provide options for

  • physical action
  • expression and communication
  • executive functions


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