how to implement universal design for learning

How to Use Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in the Classroom

Looking out over a classroom of people today, you’re likely to find diversity in all aspects. There will be students who are from different countries, who speak different languages or have different shades of skin, and whose life experiences are all but unrelatable one to another. There will be students who are visual learners, who are independent learners, and those who require 1:1 time. Some students might be taking their homework home via bus, bicycle, on foot, or by car. They might be studying late at night, perched at a desk in a living room, in a shared bedroom with noisy family members, or a homeless shelter. Maybe they visit the library after school, take care of younger siblings, children of their own, or older relatives, or perhaps they have a job, or even two. Whether your classroom has three students or thirty, it can be hard to understand how, or if, each student is prepared for learning that day.

Universal Design Learning (UDL) is a teaching strategy that approaches learning with equitability. As a teacher developing your skillsets, this probably sounds too good to be true. How does one implement UDL in the classroom? Can you anchor each student’s interest in the subject with UDL? How can you use UDL to engage students in the classroom? It’s no secret weapon. With a UDL-focused Master’s in Education (M.Ed.) program, you can become a better teacher who is more prepared to manage all of the differences found in your classroom.

Get The Universal Design Learning framework was created by an organization that goes by CAST. CAST was founded in 1984 in Boston and has been a leader in education and student access since. The organization’s initial mission was to use new computer technology to aid students with learning disabilities. Through partnerships with parents, academics, researchers, computer developers, software designers, scientists, engineers, and policymakers, CAST has done just that. The CAST timeline is so rich with successful project launches, awards, and grant-funded work that it’s probably impossible to quantify the number of learners who’ve been impacted. Perhaps CAST’s greatest contribution has been the UDL Guidelines which, “offer a set of concrete suggestions that can be applied to any discipline or domain to ensure that all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities.” UDL today is an essential part of teacher training, and it is implemented in classrooms nationwide.

How does UDL work?

UDL seeks to activate learners who are purposeful, motivated, resourceful, knowledgeable, strategic, and goal-directed, regardless of their backgrounds. While students have much to share about their culture on the surface level, their deeper culture of unspoken and unconscious rules is rarely visible to outsiders. This theory is known as the iceberg concept of culture, coined in 1976 by Edward T. Hall, and it’s a great illustration of what good educators understand is within every learner. Therefore, to foster a positive relationship with learning that speaks to the unknowable depths of every learner, UDL teachers provide multiple means of engagement, representation, action and expression for students. UDL strategies are oriented towards options that recognize the diversity inherent in classrooms.

In further detail, UDL strives to create engaged learners who are interested and feel personally connected to the relevance and value of the learning at hand. These students persist in the face of challenges and use resources such as collaboration, coping skills, and self-reflective thinking. UDL accounts for a variety of representational perceptions, whether that is visual or auditory. UDL also understands that learners approach vocabulary, symbols, language, and therefore comprehension from different departure points. Not all learners are equally physically and emotionally able, therefore UDL offers multiple tools for communication and composition, and monitors mastery according to individual ability.

Why is it important to recognize diversity in the classroom with UDL?

Classroom diversity is the future. It’s here now, and it is growing at an exponential rate. A 2018 U.S. Census graphic illustrates the rise of classroom diversity between 2007 and 2017. The 2020 U.S. Census shows that by 2060, the percentage of children who are non-Hispanic White is projected to fall from about one-half to about one-third. This means that in less than forty years, two out of three children will be categorized in a group other than non-Hispanic White. The Universal Design Learning framework sees variability as an asset, which is increasingly important because it’s also a classroom fact.

How can I implement UDL?

The best way to learn UDL methods and learn how to use UDL in the classroom is to pursue a master’s degree program that focuses on these topics. For example, Goodwin’s Master’s in Education (M.Ed.) program offers UDL experiences and knowledge for those advancing their teaching skills. At Goodwin University, program faculty are experts in UDL and provide hands-on outlets for burgeoning teachers to experience UDL applications in the classroom. For example, courses like Teacher Leadership: Theory and Practice and Curriculum Theory dive into the “why” of UDL, while Instructional Coaching and Effective Learning Environments explain the “how.” With this approach that marries theory and practicality, M.Ed. graduates are well prepared for using UDL in the classroom and measuring student progress.

Examples of using UDL in the classroom

If you are a teacher and looking to implement Universal Design for Learning methods in your classroom, there are steps you can take to help meet each student’s needs. As discussed, your students will have different needs depending on their backgrounds, learning styles, home environments, and more. As a teacher, you can help to accommodate each student’s needs in the classroom by:

  1. Offering different options for an assignment. There is not always one way to complete an assignment—or at least, not one way that works for every student. Offering varied methods can help encourage students to contribute in a way that works for them. For example, you can have paper assignments as well as video, slideshow, and speech options.
  2. Creating flexible learning spaces. Some students may benefit from quiet, independent work while others may require larger group work or more involvement from the teacher and peers. Create different environments in your classroom where students can learn and thrive.
  3. Making materials accessible. The UDL method recognizes that if a student cannot access materials, they will not be able to learn. As a teacher, you can make materials accessible to students in a variety of formats, such as online and printable worksheets, audiobooks and traditional books, and more. Similarly, consider sharing content in different ways to help meet the different learning styles of your students. This helps to ensure that students who struggle in one area (for example, reading) do not automatically fall behind their peers.
  4. Establishing goals. While every student is different, they can all benefit from goals. Setting goals for each individual student can help motivate them, engage them in learning, and create something for them to work towards. Take into consideration their strengths, as well as areas of improvement, as you work with them to create those goals.
  5. Providing feedback. On top of creating goals for students, it is also important to provide feedback as a teacher. Both positive and constructive feedback are important for students’ progress. If students do not meet their goals, help them understand why and develop strategies for future learning experiences.

Learn more about using UDL methods as a teacher

To learn more about Goodwin University’s M.Ed. program and our commitment to helping teachers better implement universal design for learning in their classrooms, we hope you’ll visit us online or call 800-889-3282. Become the best teacher you can be with your master’s degree in this inclusive and effective approach to education.