Nugget #9: Understanding UDL

Learn About the Foundations of Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

What is UDL?
UDL is a curriculum design framework that proposes three principles of course design:
1) provide multiple means of engagement;
2) provide multiple means of representation;
3) provide multiple means of action and expression.

These three principles address the learning needs of students regarding why they should be learning the content, in what methods they are given the contents and how they would express their understanding of the course content. Examples regarding the 2nd principle include: providing lecture slides, audio transcripts or lecture videos with captions to make the content accessible and understandable for all students.

A brief history
This framework emerged in the 1990s from studies of the variability among different learners and the successful implementation of computerized readers supporting multi-modalities of contents by researchers from CAST. Although UDL is closely tied with accessibility and accommodations via technologies, it emphasizes the design for all students rather than the accommodations for individuals. This concept was originated/inspired by the universal design principle in architecture. For example, the ramp for accessing a building is available to and usable by all populations.

Some fun facts
1) The researchers who established the UDL (Anne Meyer and David Rose) met in California with Alan Brightman, chief of disability access for Apple Computer in 1985 while Macintosh was introduced in 1984.

2) Apple products such as iPhone and iPad both have accessibility features, i.e. the built in screen readers.

3) UDL is widely implemented in the classrooms of K-12 education, but not much in college classes.

4) A lot of educators intuitively applied practices or tools that are UDL compliant without being aware of the framework. For example, a flexible deadline is a good practice regarding the 3rd UDL principle.

UDL is a framework that is well established based on research and its principles are used to help make our education more flexible, accessible and inclusive. As new technologies emerge, we anticipate UDL is gaining more attention on college campuses.

Dig deeper


  • CAST – non-profit organization that developed the UDL framework
  • Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice, 2013, book by Anne Meyer, David Rose and David Gordon

Best practices and tools

  1. 20 Accessibility Tips
  2. Lecture-Related Software: ClassTranscribe and I-Notes
  3. A Guide to UDL by Yale University
  4. An Interactive Module on UDL by Vanderbilt University
  5. UDL Resources by Cornell University

Read the Latest Research

  1. Opportunities and Barriers in UDL
  2. Evaluating the Low-Stakes Assessment Performance Student-Perceived Accessibility, Belongingness, and Self-Efficacy in Connection to the Use of Digital Notes
  3. ASEE Paper Repository

Hear From Practitioners

  1. CAST: UDL to Change the World
  2. Boston College: Universal Design for Learning
  3. ADA Playlist: Digital Accessibility

Join the Community 

  1. CITL UDL Team: Connect with UIUC’s dedicated group of UDL experts at CITL
  2. The UDL podcast (
  3. Canvas Commons

See you again next week!

-UDL and Accessibility Group