Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach that minimizes barriers and maximizes learning for all students. Based on scientific insights into how humans learn, UDL can help refine why you teach, what you teach and how you teach.
UDL guides the design of inclusive instruction and accessible materials. UDL arose out of the disability community. When the Americans with Disabilities Act became a law in 1990, it became mandatory to alter buildings and city streets to make them accessible for individuals with disabilities. For example, when curb cuts were placed in sidewalks to allow individuals in wheelchairs the ability to access buildings, other people began to benefit as well. Those using strollers, bikes, and grocery carts noticed the ease of use the curb cuts provided. The point being, when a change or accommodation has been made for one group, it often benefits many.
UDL became a philosophical foundation on which to build a model of teaching and learning that is inclusive and equitable (Schelly, Davies, & Spooner, 2011, p. 18). The goal of UDL is to eliminate barriers to learning.
PANDA staff completed a year of UDL research and piloted implementation of principles in Minnesota Adult Basic Education (ABE) classrooms. These four principles are described in more detail during PANDA’s Universal Design for Learning Webinar Training. See below for more information. The following four principles were deemed practical and appropriate for ABE.
1. Creating a Welcoming Environment
This principle involves both physical and psychological components of making classrooms inclusive for all, including entrances, furniture arrangement, wall space and methods to build community.
2. Providing Clear Expectations
This principle is based on the knowledge most students thrive in an environment with classroom rules and consistent routines, so they know what to expect each day.
3. Presenting a Variety of Instructional Methods and Materials
This principle emphasizes the importance of offering instruction in a variety of ways. People have diverse learning styles and in turn learn differently. Presenting material in multiple ways improves learning and accesses different parts of the brain.
4. Allowing a Variety of Methods to Demonstrate Knowledge
The last principle is related to the third. Just as presenting a variety of instructional methods helps students learn, allowing them to demonstrate what they have learned based on their strengths is also important. For example, if the assignment was to read about a topic and write a paper, other options could be offered. Other options could include making a power point, poster board, or doing an oral report to demonstrate knowledge.