Universal Design for Learning Overview

What is Universal Design for Learning?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach to curriculum and teaching that provides equal opportunities for learning to all students. The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 includes a concise definition of UDL that emphasizes reducing barriers while providing appropriate supports without compromising rigor. “The term ‘universal design for learning’ means a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that–

  1. provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and
  2. reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient” (110th Congress, 2008).

In addition to publishing a wealth of resources to guide the practical application of UDL, the National Center on Universal Design for Learning (2014) presents UDL as an “educational approach with three primary principles:

  1. Multiple means of representation,
    to give diverse learners options for acquiring information and knowledge,
  2. Multiple means of action and expression,
    to provide learners options for demonstrating what they know,
  3. Multiple means of engagement,
    to tap into learners’ interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation.”

Why Universal Design for Learning is Important

Every student has a unique profile of abilities, strengths, learning styles, and previous experience. For example students differ in how they: perceive and comprehend information; are able to express their learning; and are engaged or motivated to learn. Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) seminal “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” suggests that educators “respect diverse talents and ways of learning” and as a result educators should use a variety of teaching and assessment methods in order to make learning accessible to all learners in the course.

Additionally, colleges and universities in the U.S. must comply with the Americans with Disability Act and other pertinent policy. Universal Design for Learning provides a strategy for compliance with laws regarding accessibility, and also promotes more effective learning for all students.

What You Can Do 

Using the resources below as a starting point, take some time to review your course with UDL in mind. Consider the course goals, learning objectives, assessment and evaluation methods and teaching strategies you use in the course. How can you apply principles of UDL to enhance teaching and learning? You may be able to make some changes relatively easily (change PowerPoint slides to improve color contrast, provide captions for images used in course content, etc.) Other changes make take longer to complete (provide closed captioning for videos and audio files), but are worth the investment to support student learning.

If you aren’t sure where to start with course modifications, contact CELT at 515-294-5357.

Additionally visit the Student Accessibility Services (SAS)  website, call SAS at 515-294-7220 or email accessibility@iastate.edu for more information on resources available to students.

Resources at ISU

10 Tips for Creating Accessible Course Content (CELT)

Accessify your Course (CELT)

An Overview of Universal Design (CELT YouTube Playlist)

Accessibility Tips for ISU Websites

Captioning video for universal access

Digital Access

e-Library – Disability Services

Student Accessibility Services

Your Role in the Life of a Student with a Disability YouTube Video

Information about the accessibility of widely-used technologies at ISU:

Top Hat, a cloud-based audience response platform

Resources Elsewhere

Introduction to Universal Design in Education

The Center for Universal Design in Education (a program of the Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology [DO-IT] Center, based at the University of Washington, Seattle. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation).


Web accessibility products, services, blog, articles, resources, and community

UDL In Course Design 

Detailed examples of how to implement UDL in course design including considering course learning outcomes, assessment approaches, online teaching-learning strategies, and preparing multimedia content. (The Ohio State University)

UDL Essentials

General information about UDL in the context of higher education. (The Ohio State University)

UDL Strategies

UDL strategies are instructional methods and tools used by teachers to ensure that ALL students have an equal opportunity to learn. All of our strategies are aligned with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines. These guidelines help you to select strategies that remove barriers in instruction so that all students can achieve their learning goals.

Universal Design for Learning

Provides examples of UDL in practice as well as disability specific teaching accommodations. (University of Vermont)

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)

Essential components of web accessibility, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0,
How to meet WCAG 2.0 (quick reference), Mobile web best practices


110th Congress (2008). Higher education opportunity act: Public law 110-315, sec. 103, p. 122 stat. 3088. Retrieved 2-25-2011 from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/highered/leg/hea08/

National Center on Universal Design for Learning (2014). What is Universal Design for Learning? Retrieved 8-18-2015 from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/whatisudl

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, March, 1987. 3-7. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED282491)