Universal Design for Learning


Just as buildings have been designed so that people with disabilities can have easy access (ramps, automatic doors, etc.), classroom instruction can be designed so that diverse learners can all access the learning and experience success.  Universal Design for Learning helps teachers build flexibility and multiple approaches into their lessons so that all learners can acquire, represent and engage in the material being taught.


Based on brain research, UDL has organized itself around three primary principles.

  • Principle I: Provide Multiple Means of Representation (the "what" of learning). Students differ in the ways they perceive and comprehend the information presented to them. For example, those with sensory disabilities (e.g., blindness or deafness), learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia), language or cultural differences, and so forth may all require a different means to approach content. Some may simply grasp information better through visual or auditory means than through printed text. In reality, no one type of representation will be optimal for all students, so providing options in representation is essential.
  • Principle II: Provide Multiple Means of Expression (the "how" of learning). Students differ in the ways they are able to navigate a learning environment and express what they know. For example, individuals with significant motor disabilities (e.g., cerebral palsy), those who struggle with strategic and organizational abilities (e.g., executive function disorders, ADHD), those who have language barriers, and so forth approach learning tasks very differently and also demonstrate their mastery of tasks differently. Some may be able to express themselves well in writing but not orally, and vice versa. In reality, there is no one means of expression that will be optimal for all students; it is therefore essential to provide various options.
  • Principle III: Provide Multiple Means of Engagement (the "why" of learning). Students differ markedly in the ways they can be engaged or motivated to learn. Some students are highly engaged by spontaneity and novelty, while others will be disengaged or even frightened by those approaches and prefer a strict routine. In reality, no one means of representation will be optimal for all students, thus, providing multiple options for engagement is essential.

The goal then is to intentionally plan for options around each of the three principles.

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