Online Education

A Division of the Office for the Advancement of Teaching & Learning

Universal Design for Learning

Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.–Ron Mace

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles and techniques applied to course instruction that creates the most inclusive environment and accessible course materials.  The theory behind UDL is that ALL students benefit from learning and communicating course content in a variety of ways.

Three Primary Principles


Provide Multiple Means of Representation

Students differ in how they process and perceive information presented.  Students with sensory of learning disabilities require a range of content delivery (visual, audio, textbook, etc.) Other students may simply comprehend material more effectively when presented in multiple ways.

Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression

Students differ in their optimal method for communicating their understanding of course material.  Some may be best at verbal communication, while others may like to write or creatively represent the course material.  Giving students a variety of ways to articulate what they know can improve the experience for all students.

Provide Multiple Means of Engagement

Students vary in motivation towards learning, and this can fluctuate based on circumstances. If students are uninterested in the content of the course, then the course is inaccessible.  Lessons and assignments should fulfill course objectives, but also meet students where they are while challenging them.

Great resources for learning more about the three principles of UDL can be found at The National Center on Universal Design for Learning and Center on Disability and Inclusion at the University of Vermont.

Course Design


Now that you know the basic principles of course design, you may be wondering how to apply these principles to your course. The best approach to UDL is being aware of the course materials and assessments you include in your course.

  • Do you provide multiple means of content delivery?
  • Do you give students the opportunity to express what they are learning in multiple ways (multiple types of assessment)?
  • How does your content and assignments engage your students?

There is no checklist to determine whether your course is universally designed. The best approach is to make small changes in your course as you notice them. UDL is a mindset faculty should take when designing their course and requires a continued process of assessing how your course meets the needs of your diverse students.

However, checklists can be a great place to start if you are new to UDL. Try checking out the Ten Simple Steps Toward Universal Design of Online Courses from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

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