What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

By Dr. Aibhin Bray

Over the course of the last two decades, there has been a global movement towards approaches to teaching and learning that create more inclusive school environments, with the aim of meeting the needs of diverse learners. One such approach is known as Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which provides a framework to guide the design and implementation of learning experiences that are flexible and supportive, and that encourage student interaction and learning. UDL proactively addresses inclusive education by assuming a level of student variability in each classroom and by building in flexibility and choice in how students engage and take part in the learning process. The framework was designed by the US organisation CAST, and is based on a set of three principles:

  • multiple means of Engagement, where students are provided with multiple ways to engage in learning;
  • multiple means of Representation, where students are provided with choice in how they access their learning; and
  • multiple means of Action & Expression, where students are given choice and flexibility in how they demonstrate or share their learning.

It is hardly surprising that technology is considered a key enabler for UDL. (For a detailed description of the guidelines, checkpoints and each of the principles see www.cast.org.)

To date however, much of the research on UDL has focussed on its impact in higher education, with less evidence available on its use at post-primary level. In an attempt to identify and synthesise existing research in this field, we have conducted a systematic literature review of fifteen empirical studies (selected from an extensive initial search) to explore the ways in which digital technology has been used for UDL at post-primary level. Our aim was to identify good practice and to highlight any gaps and opportunities for future work.

The findings show that empirical research at post-primary level has focused mostly on what we consider the “easy wins” within the UDL principle of Representation, where educators offer choice about how learners can access content. However, there is a clear gap in UDL research on the use of technologies to support the Engagement and Action & Expression principles of UDL, such as supporting student self-regulation and self-assessment, and on technology-mediated communication and collaboration. The paper highlights the potential for future cross-pollination of research in educational technology with UDL.

Read the full paper:


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