9.19 Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Author: Tracey Madden

What is Universal Design?

This is an approach to designing products and environments such that they are accessible to all users, by removing or reducing barriers to use. Universal design understands that users will always have a range of different needs and abilities, and this should be taken into account in the design stage [1].

If the principles of Universal Design are applied, the result should be a design which gives access to the greatest extent possible to all users. In short, universal design is good design.

Learn more about Universal Design: What is Universal Design? | Centre for Excellence in Universal Design

What is the difference between Universal Design and Accessibility?

This can be a contentious point, but really it hinges on your definition of accessibility. Accessibility in Higher Education can often be defined by legal requirements to support disabled students. If you use this as your definition of accessibility then you will find Universal Design goes far beyond this, aiming to be a holistic approach to supporting all students. If, however, your definition of accessibility is more open, you may find that accessibility and Universal Design sound very similar.

What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

Rose and Meyer, who devised UDL, state that “...barriers to learning are not, in fact, inherent in the capacities of learners, but instead arise in learners’ interactions with inflexible educational materials and methods” [2]

UDL applies the Universal Design approach specifically to education, so as to remove or reduce barriers to learning, in terms of what it calls its ‘Three Principles’ [3]:

  • Representation – The 'Why' of Learning
  • Action and expression – The 'What' of Learning
  • Engagement – The 'How' of Learning

Rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach, or designing for the majority of learners and making ad hoc arrangements for others, UDL advocates flexibility that allows for a range of use and ability.

If the UDL approach is used, the result should be a design, whether for a classroom, a course or an assessment, which is accessible to the greatest extent to all learners, ideally with no adaptations needed, due to this inbuilt flexibility.

The ‘Universal Design for Learning Guidelines’ [4] provide specific and straightforward examples on how the principles of UDL can be put into practice.

Learn more about Universal Design for Learning: About Universal Design for Learning | CAST

These top ten tips from colleagues at the University of Edinburgh offer some examples of how to implement UDL in your practice:

Top Ten Tips for Teachers - Download PPT - UDL TTT Feb 2020


  1. What is Universal Design? | Centre for Excellence in Universal Design: http://universaldesign.ie/What-is-Universal-Design/
  2. Rose, D.H. and Meyer, A., 2002. Teaching every student in the digital age: Universal design for learning. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1703 N. Beauregard St., Alexandria, VA.
  3. About Universal Design for Learning | CAST http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html#.XkGOuPZ2t_w
  4. Universal Design for Learning Guidelines | CAST http://udlguidelines.cast.org/?utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=none&utm_source=cast-about-udl


Why Universal Design for Learning is Essential to Higher Education's "New Normal"


9 The Real Deal

Home page

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *