Universal Design for Learning (UDL)


Universal Design for Learning (UDL) was developed by CAST , a non-profit educational research group formed to improve education for people with disabilities. They have designed a framework for instruction based on neuroscience research, that uses flexible tools and methods that they call Universal Design for Learning or UDL (“CAST Timeline”, 2018). The term, Universal Design, actually comes from a set of architecture design principles created at NC State University aimed at designing physical spaces that are usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaption. (“The Principles of Universal Design”, 2006).

Like curb cuts that allow a wheelchair user to navigate sidewalks, but that also benefit bicyclists and baby carriages, UDL benefits many students, not just people with disabilities because many students face barriers and impediments that interfere with their ability to make optimal progress and to develop as educated and productive citizens (Meyer, Rose and Gordon, 2014). As we all know from experience, there isn’t one typical or average student, but curriculum is too often designed for this typical or as I like to say, mythical student.

The Basic Premise

The basic difference between Universal Design for Learning and traditional education is that UDL considers the student to be at the center of the learning experience, not the curriculum. Diversity is expected and appreciated. “When students encounter difficulty, the curriculum – – not the student – – is assumed to be inadequate to meet the varied and diverse needs of learners”  (Meyer, et al., 2014). With UDL, flexibility is built into the curriculum design. 

Online Instruction

Online instruction by its very medium, is more universally designed than a standard face to face course because it is more usable by all people, near and far, without the need for adaption. And digital documents also are usually more universal than print documents because they can be read by assistive technologies,  they can be magnified , and reformatted to meet the reader’s needs.  But even online instruction can have unintentional barriers.

Guidelines and Tools

By following the UDL guidelines, created in 2008 by CAST  (“CAST Timeline”, 2018), Instructors and Instructional Designers can create learning opportunities that “improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn” (“About Universal Design for Learning, 2018). In order to help instructors and instructional designers implement UDL, CAST created a UDL Guidelines tool. The latest edition of the UDL Guidelines tool, published in 2018, provides in-depth explanations on how to implement each guideline and provides the research for why that guideline is important.

In addition to the UDL Guidelines tool, CAST has many other resources including a free ebook on the theory and practice of UDL and a curriculum self-check that are available when you create a free account.

How to use the UDL Guidelines Tool


North Carolina University College of Design (2006, September). The Principles of Universal Design. Retrieved from https://projects.ncsu.edu/ncsu/design/cud/pubs_p/docs/poster.pdf

CAST Timeline (2018). Retrieved from: http://www.cast.org/about/timeline.html#.W-Ita5NKhPY

Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2014) Universal design for learning: Theory and practice, Wakefield MA: CAST