Universal Design for Learning & Equity

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) was developed by the Centre for Applied Special Technology (CAST) in the United States. Its framework and guidelines reflect theories and practices in education, developmental psychology, cognitive science, and cognitive neuroscience (Rose & Gravel, 2012) and is about removing barriers to learning for students by ‘enabling’ the curriculum. It builds on the work of Ronald Mace at the Centre for Universal Design, which was mainly concerned with the accessible design of physical architecture such as curb cuts and ramps; CAST developed these principles to apply to learning environments (Gradel & Edson, 2009: 111). UDL applies this universal design concept to pedagogy. As stated by CAST (2011);

'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.'

UDL is a set of principles for curriculum development that provide multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement (CAST, 2011). Through this multiple provision, students from a range of backgrounds are able to participate on a more level playing field. UDL pedagogies are an acknowledgement that students, regardless of their background, bring a diversity of learning needs and approaches to HE. UDL offers a method to teach all student groups more effectively, based on three central principles of curriculum design (CAST, 2011). The first of the three principles is the need to provide multiple means of representation – this means that teaching staff will need to present information and content in different ways. The second of the three principles is the need to provide multiple means of action and expression – this involves planning and performing tasks and how we organise and express our ideas. Teaching staff need to differentiate the ways that students can express what they know. The third principle is the need to provide multiple means of engagement. This relates to how learners get engaged and stay motivated and how they are challenged, excited, or interested. Teaching staff will need to stimulate interest and motivation for learning among students.

  • CAST. (2011) Universal Design for Learning Guidelines Version 2.0. Wakefield MA.
  • Gradel, K., & Edson, A. J. (2009) Putting universal design for learning on the higher education agenda. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 38(2), 111-121.
  • Rose, D. H., & Gravel, J. W. (2012) Curricular Opportunities in the Digital Age. In N. Hoffman, A. Steinberg & R. Wolfe (Eds.), Students at the Center Series: Nellie Mae Educational Foundation.

UDL and Equity Resources