Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework based on learning and neuroscience that aims to create learning environments that are usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design. At its heart, UDL celebrates the uniqueness of each and every learner.
E koekoe te tūī, e ketekete te kākā, e kūkū te kererū.
The tūī sings, the kākā chatters, the kererū coos.
Just as this whakatauki sees each bird as unique, UDL sees the diversity and variety of students in a class recognising and valuing the individual.
UDL thinking — Every student is unique — so, how do I design learning so it works for everyone?
The UDL worldview contrasts with industrial-age education that aimed to build a compliant workforce to work in factories. In this view, students in a class were viewed as essentially the same (same level, same subject).
Industrial age thinking — My students are essentially the same so I plan lessons for the whole class
and they all learn the same things at the same time.
In the industrial-age education model, students who did not fit into the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach were seen as needing something different and special to help them to learn. They were often not included in classes with their peers because their needs could not be met using the one-size-fits-all approach.
Thinking — I plan lessons for the class but I have someone different in my class, so what special things will I do for that person?
UDL is a framework for purposeful design for all
UDL relies on a strengths-based approach where the focus is on making the curriculum work for students rather than the student fit the curriculum. It is about smart, purposeful design for everyone from the outset. It is the opposite to a one-size-fits-all approach, but it does not mean that teachers are expected to plan 25 lessons for a class of 25 students. UDL aims to build student agency and utilise flexible learning pathways so that everyone can seamlessly access and engage in learning.
For example, if a student cannot access reading material, UDL asks how else the information could be presented, or how the task could be redesigned to cater for anyone who found the reading or content difficult. It does not focus on remediation of the student’s reading difficulties. Of course, I am not suggesting that reading problems should be ignored – they should be addressed as part of a well-balanced literacy programme. What I am saying is that poor reading should not be a barrier to learning.
Flexible options always depend on the specific learning intention for the group but in this example (to access reading material), options could include:
- students using text-to-speech technology to read the passage aloud
- offering ebook options
- adding images to support understanding
- peer reading (tuakana/teina options).
The aim is to offer flexible options that allow all students to be independent and successful without the teacher having to create multiple resources for multiple individual students.
Using an iPad to support independent writing for a student with ADHD
Video: from the TKI website
UDL thinking — creating an inclusive education
UDL is about what we believe is important and how we address the needs of students in our everyday classes. By working to remove barriers and design for all, we can help all students to be successful learners.
UDL thinking is a personal value and belief that we can apply to everyday decisions about the way we do things and the way we design lessons and curriculum.
Source for images:
All images are by: Daniel Nodder (firstname.lastname@example.org)