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Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn. Essentially, it is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.

UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.

Why UDL is important in Higher Education?

Today’s higher education institutions are dealing with an increasingly diverse student body consisting of students with different needs, educational backgrounds, attention spans, interests, language abilities and cultural backgrounds

These students have a wide range of strengths and weaknesses and often traditional instructional approaches, such as lectures and readings, when used exclusively don’t address the diversity of learners that are likely to exist in any given cohort. To reduce barriers to education and increase student engagement, the needs of all learners need to be considered through course design, learning experiences and the learning environment.

Who developed UDL?

The UDL framework was developed by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) and was originally developed to explore ways of using new technologies to provide better educational experiences to students with disabilities.

What does the UDL Framework look like?

The UDL framework is underpinned by research in the field of neuroscience and is designed to improve the learning experience and outcomes for all students. It encompasses three broad networks of cognition associated with learning:

  1. Affective neural networks – responsible for emotion and affect, located at the medial regions of the brain. These networks represent the ‘why’ of learning (i.e., responsible for evaluating the significance or importance of the information being perceived).
  2. Recognition neural networks – situated at the posterior half of the brain’s cortex and can be described as the ‘what’ of learning (i.e., responsible for recognition and perception of information).
  3. Strategic neural networks – situated in the anterior regions of the brain’s cortex (e.g., frontal lobes), these networks represent the ‘how’ of learning’ (i.e., responsible for planning, organizing, and execution).

These neural networks roughly correspond to the following three principles of UDL, which inform accessible pedagogy and establish a framework for course planning and learning experiences.

How do I implement UDL in my practice?

CAST developed the UDL Guidelines which serves as a tool that educators can use to critique and minimize barriers inherent in curriculum and increase opportunities for learning to take place.

These guidelines 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.

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