Universal design for learning is an all-inclusive methodology that ensures that all students succeed irrespective of their learning pace, nationality, age, culture, etc. The target of this framework is to cater to the pedagogical needs of every student.
Rather than molding every student as per the age-old educational system, this system takes every student’s needs into account and provides resources so that everyone enjoys learning. We have discussed 8 different aspects related to this learning approach. You can directly jump to the desired section of the article through the table of contents.
The beginning is just the “how” part of the approach. To make this program work, we also need to have a passion for it. Our beginning should be from knowing the “what and why.” It means we need to know what we are creating and why we are doing it.
Our vision behind our efforts determines our path. UDL is not just a program with protocols to follow. It is a mindset. That’s why it welcomes suggestions and upgrades. The idea is to be the best for every student.
What is Universal Design for Learning?
The origin of UDL can be credited to the field of architecture. In the 1970s, universally designed buildings came on the market. These catered to all people, including those with unique needs, and could be used without any additional remodeling.
The same idea is incorporated into the field of education. The notion is to design the educational system for the student’s needs and not make the student adjust or, sometimes, refrain from their skills for the conventional system. Universal design for learning builds a rewarding learning environment where different learning needs are acknowledged and addressed accordingly.
UDL is a scalable educational paradigm that is open to ideas and suggestions. The idea is based on research on the cognitive procedures of our brains. Cognition is the ability of the human brain to perceive information and retain the same by understanding it using our senses and thought processes. The UDL framework targets to increase our cognitive abilities by presenting information in a way that is the easiest for us to fathom.
The foundation of universal design for learning lies in its three principles. To learn about UDL, it is essential to understand these principles first.
The 3 Principles of Universal Design for Learning
The principles of universal design for learning serve the what, why, and how of the system. Anyone willing to introduce this system into their classroom should start by thoroughly researching these principles first.
The three principles of universal design for learning:
- Representation: As the design strives to appeal to all kinds of learners, it is only fair to accommodate a variety of knowledge representations, starting from visual and audio lessons through textbooks, tutorials, videos, lectures, etc., to a kinesthetic learning style.
- Action and Expression: The goal is to set an environment for students to demonstrate and explain their knowledge freely. The students should be allowed to choose any method of narrating their lessons to demonstrate their understanding of the topic.
- Engagement: The design has to be inclusive. For this, educators need to intrigue the students to keep their interest. Accommodating games, puzzles, etc., to memorize facts will help them enjoy their lessons. Using hands-on learning methods will help students become a part of the teaching and thus help them retain the knowledge better.
Along with the principles, there are a few guidelines that provide the pathway for implementing universal learning design. Let’s have a look at them.
The UDL Guidelines
All the guidelines of UDL are for facilitating the principles mentioned before. These guidelines are basically mechanisms that enable the application of the universal learning design.
- The display pattern should be open to changes as needed. The font, the color contrast, the volume and speed of the speech, the format, etc., can be adjusted as per student requirements.
- Vocabulary: Teaching about language, vocabulary, and symbols. Including hyperlinks to definitions of new words and breaking down complicated language terms into simpler and smaller terms.
For action and expression:
- Physical response to lessons: Students should be offered multiple ways of physically interacting with the content, through skits, writing, via gadgets like joysticks, etc. Also, they should be provided with any tools needed for the lesson. For example, any apparatus for experimentation.
- Variety of ways of communication: Using a wide range of mediums like text, speech, animation, presentation, 3d models, etc.
- Capture the interest: Use various activities to make the lessons interesting and get rid of any kind of distractions so that students can wholly concentrate on learning.
- Use of multiple measures: Rewards and appreciation for task completion, timers for tracking the activities, charts or calendars for sequencing tasks.
Having knowledge of these principles and guidelines is the basis of accommodating universal design for learning into the curriculum. Adopting UDL requires you to follow certain steps. These steps and an inclusive mindset make UDL a success.
The Essential Presumptions and Steps for UDL
Universal design for learning strives to end any sort of hurdle in the path of learning. These barriers could be related to language differences, the comprehension capabilities of the students, any kind of physical or cognitive disability, or the classroom setup. The aim is to build a system that makes education available and interesting to all.
So what are the basic steps for employing this strategy in your classroom? There are certain beliefs for the design to work. The UDL framework is a mindset, and following are the deliberate steps o make it a success are as follows:
- The best way to start is: Begin with baby steps. Small goals are easily achievable and give an overall great and ever-lasting achievement. Begin with believing in each and every student in your class.
Also, avoid a backlash of any kind. Harsh demotivating language makes the students scared and underconfident, and they start disliking you. Always make them feel safe and confident enough to ask questions.
- Self-reflecting Educators: In-depth understanding of every student’s reaction is the top job of the teachers. Teachers also need to scrutinize their own methods of teaching and find out what worked for whom.
- Adaptable and cooperative lessons: Design and incorporate meaningful assessments that are easy to perform. You can also try George T. Doran’s SMART goal concept. The acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. If you plan the lessons as per each of the aforementioned features, you will be able to track the progress of your students more accurately.
This innovative and valuable technique is being recognized on a large scale everywhere. So why exactly is the UDL framework adopted? Let us find out how this system contributes to the growth and development of students.
How Do Students Benefit from the Universal Design for Learning?
The universal learning design not only works for the scholastic inclusion of the students, in turn, but also makes the student confident and paves their way for social inclusion as well. Apart from generating philomaths (lovers of learning and studying), UDL also cultivates values like self-respect, respect for others, self-awareness, a sense of self-worth, efficiency, and collaboration.
“There are no labels in UDL. There are only fabulous, amazing students with different levels of variability.”
– Katie Novak (education consultant, author, graduate instructor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a former assistant superintendent of schools in Massachusetts)
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are the main values behind UDL education. No matter who you are, where you come from, or what your learning pace is, your needs will be acknowledged. Universal design for learning is a sophisticated approach that offers an intricate, many-sided knowledge base.
The lessons provided under the UDL framework are in universally recognized formats. Additionally, the method is open to suggestions. UDL is a constantly upgradable process. It is welcoming to new ideas. This way, this approach becomes a comprehensive learning program.
UDL principles offer many fruitful ways of engagement, representation, and expression. This abundance of options helps the students understand and learn the lesson and express their own viewpoints about it. The content is not just accessible; it is also meaningful and productive.
The universal design for learning does not single out anyone. It is designed to accommodate even individuals with unique needs. It aims to uplift the students by unraveling their strengths. Students are free to choose from the series of mediums for gaining knowledge. This freedom also helps them in selecting their suitable profession in the future.
This particular learning approach is gaining immense popularity. However, there are still certain obstacles due to which it is yet to be an extensive choice.
How to Introduce UDL in the Education System?
Baumann T., and Melle, in their “Evaluation of a digital UDL-based learning environment in inclusive chemistry education” in 2019, discovered that following the UDL guidelines has shown considerable improvements in the learning process of all students, irrespective of whether they have special needs or not.
Such a beneficial procedure should be adopted by everyone for the betterment of the students and the education system. Following are certain methods that can be used to incorporate UDL in the classroom.
- Presenting content in multiple interesting ways helps to adhere to multiple needs. Using case studies to envision the lesson unraveling in front of your eyes. Arranging skits to perform a particular event history helps make the topic fun and eventful, thus leaving a mark on the memory of the students.
- Following numerous learning and teaching styles. Incorporate movement or activities in the teaching process. Oral dictation, PowerPoint presentations, etc., are various ways of imparting knowledge.
- Use materials to convey your teaching. Starting from podcasts, e-books, skits, debates, etc., online resources, videos, and seminars.
- Try reducing the complexity of the tasks by dividing the curriculum into small, achievable goals. Summarizing the points might help in memorizing stuff. Also, explaining to clear doubts will help you understand it in the long run.
- Find scalable ways to demonstrate what the students have learned. Allow students to explain their knowledge using more than one way. Written assessment engages only one part of the brain, thus making learning boring. When they are tasked with the narration of their knowledge via multiple different methods, more importantly, using the method they feel comfortable with, they are going to remember the stuff for much longer.
- Simpler designs appeal to a larger mass. Teaching methods should be customized in a way that they are self-explanatory. Students shouldn’t be needing any prior or background knowledge of your strategies to adapt to your teaching methods.
Major Hindrances in Incorporating UDL
Universal learning design is also called inclusive education. UDL is a process to embrace a wide variety of learners. Needless to say, something this revolutionary is going to be difficult to implement. Here are some of the challenges that the UDL framework is facing:
- People are not very welcoming to new ideas.
- Lack of facilities.
- Lack of trained professionals.
- Time-taking process.
- Need to complete the syllabus on time.
- Even the educators are either not very enthusiastic or don’t have a proper understanding of the system.
Being an entirely new concept, UDL has also attracted a lot of people, and some of them have spread a couple of myths about it. Let us now have a look at them and the actual facts to clear up these rumors.
Myths About UDL
Universal design for learning is not just a theoretical hypothesis that came into the market. It is a properly investigated concept based on researching brain activities relating to the responses. It has proven to be effective during many experiments by various researchers. The concept is still in its prime, and hence the lack of knowledge has led to some rumors about it.
We are now going to address this issue:
- Myth 1: UDL is only for people with unique needs- UDL is surely helpful for, but is not limited to, special ed. The approach caters to all students, as its goal is to identify and fulfill every learning need.
- Myth 2: UDL is the same as differentiation- First, we need to know what differentiation is. Differentiation means discretely addressing every learner’s needs. Whereas UDL focuses on creating an entire classroom environment that has all kinds of resources, and these resources are available to everyone.
- Myth 3: UDL is technology dependent-Technology nowadays is an aid in every sphere. Therefore, it has also found a place in the UDL framework. However, it is not an inevitable part of UDL. The UDL guidelines alone are sufficient for designing an all-inclusive learning domain.
UDL literature defines curriculum in terms of 4 subsections: instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments. The principles and the guidelines mentioned before all together are needed to follow up all of these four aspects of the curriculum.
The ultimate goal of universal design for learning is to have expert learners who are inspired to choose meaningful learning, learners who recognize their goals and make a strategy to achieve them. UDL produces learners who are knowledgeable and want to learn more because they have found a way to make learning fun.