National Pyjama Day 2023

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework to improve accessibility and enhance teaching and learning for all students. It is based on how we learn as individuals and recognises that everyone learns in different ways.  There is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’. The UDL framework provides a set of guidelines to give learners the same opportunity to achieve, no matter if they have or have not got a documented learning disability. It is about offering flexibility and choice in how we provide information. It helps us consider how students engage with the lecture or training and suggests different options that can be given to students to demonstrate their knowledge or skills. Students can then take ownership of their learning experience as they discover multiple ways to engage with their learning online or onsite.

I recently took part in training for the Digital Badge for Universal Design in Teaching and Learning developed by AHEAD and UCD Access & Lifelong Learning, and in this post, I outline some of the key aspects.

Three core principles of UDL
  • Providing multiple means of engagement
  • Providing multiple means of representation
  • Providing multiple means of action and expression (AHEAD 2022)

The UDL Badge with AHEAD introduced me to these concepts of UDL and has been one of the most valuable courses I have completed so far. It made me reflect on my current practice and really think about the students who attend my lectures. As I reflected on the principles of UDL, I realised that I had been applying some of the principles in my different approaches to engage and motivate learners, however UDL supported me to ask questions like:

  • how many different ways I can present this information?
  • do I create barriers to learning for students?
  • do I provide a space that empowers students in their learning and are students really engaged in the content (AHEAD 2022)?
Providing Choice

Many lectures have moved fully online and are available in synchronous format(real-time) via for example Zoom or MS Teams or asynchronous format (not real-time) on a learning platform that can be viewed by learners in their own time. Planning using the UDL principles can improve the learner experience. Giving ownership to the learner by providing flexibility and choice as they access materials in this new learning environment.

It could be as easy as showing the users how to turn on the camera, blur their background or mute their mic and developing instructional videos so students can continuously watch them in their own time.

For self-paced modules, it could be sharing ways to add or resize text, add audio to text, sending reminder emails to participate in modules, opportunities to attend online peer groups or how to develop a community of practice to keep the connection with other learners. Do not presume all students are experts in the use of technology, many are self-taught.  Introducing new technologies and how to engage with them, will support learners in their future learning, and their daily lives.

Early Childhood Ireland Applying the Techniques

Just recently in a webinar delivered by Early Childhood Ireland, we included different opportunities throughout the webinar to keep participants engaged and motivated.  We had input from a subject expert delivered in small chunks across the session. We had large group discussion, small group discussion, and videos to pre-watch before the webinar. For those who did not get a chance to watch the videos before the webinar, we reflected on these videos throughout the webinar using video clips.  The key takeaways were noted and recorded at the end of the session.  We used real time polls and surveys during the session and feedback was encouraged through the chat box function.  Participants feedback was used to develop a follow-on webinar, to further extend reflection and discussion.

These are only a few examples of what can change using the UDL principles to improve user interactions and accessibility. When you plan your lectures with the UDL principles in mind, you proactively reduce barriers to learning so all students can participate and engage.

I found that the impact of using and implementing the UDL principles in my teaching and learning has been more interesting and challenged me to think about being more inclusive, to consider the students engagement, the environment they are in and the experiences they have.

AHEAD is an independent non-profit organisation working to create inclusive environments in education and employment for people with disabilities. For more information on the UDL Badge click here.

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