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UDL On Campus · Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education

About UDL


What is this resource about? This resource provides a brief overview of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) for postsecondary settings, links to the UDL Guidelines and the National Center on UDL, videos discussing the retention in higher ed and the intersection of UDL and accessibility and a list of resources.


Why is this important for higher education? UDL provides useful guidelines for developing curricula, selecting materials and creating learning environments that takes into account the wide variability of learners in higher ed environments.

UDL in Higher Education


[Title: UDL On Campus, Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann, Co-President of CAST, appears on the screen.]

GABRIELLE RAPPOLT-SCLICTHMANN: Learning is really a lifelong journey and when students come to postsecondary they're incredibly diverse. They have a wide range of strengths and weaknesses and UDL is really about how to make that learning journey tractable for as many of those learners as possible.

[Students sit in a circle on a lawn on a college campus. The scene changes to a large display of artwork. The screen changes to a photo of three students working together. Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlicthmann returns to the screen, followed by Skip Stahl, Senior Policy Analyst at CAST.]

SKIP STAHL: UDL is important because of the variability that we have across learners. We often think about individuals with disabilities as individuals at the margins and then if we can develop or create learning environments for those individuals at either end of the bell curve we go a long way towards addressing the needs of everyone else in between.

[The screen shows students gathered around tables in a student center, then a student taking a picture, followed by many students standing and smiling during graduation in green caps and gowns. Sam Johnston, Research Scientist at CAST appears on the screen.]

SAM JOHNSTON: We've seen a an enormous growth in interest in using UDL ranging from individual faculty members wanting to use it to full departments to sometimes whole institutions wanting to adopt it as an approach to really better serving the broader range of students that are on campus.

[Students are gathered around a table with papers and laptops. The scene changes to an instructor lecturing in a large classroom full of students. Another scene shows students passing by a library. Sam Johnston returns to the screen briefly, followed by Manju Banerjee, Director of Landmark College Institute for Research and Training.]

MANJU BANERJEE: It is not about faculty being the experts or administrators being the experts but the ethos of we're all in this together.

["Finda" Ihudiya Ogburu, a student, appears on the screen.]

FINDA IHUDIYA OGBURU: In a UDL classroom I felt like I wasn't feeling bad because you know I didn't participate like another student. I was more so looking at myself and trying to be my best learner.

[Elysa Greenberger, a student, appears on the screen.]

ELYSA GREENBERGER: I think this has really made my learning deeper. It's different to me than lecture based courses where I sort of hear information and think it's really interesting but then end up forgetting it down the line.

[Sam Johnston returns to the screen, followed by a photo of two students meeting with an instructor in an office. The scene changes to an instructor projecting images to a classroom of students, followed by students gathered around artwork displayed on the floor. Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann returns to the screen.]

GABRIELLE RAPPOLT-SCLICTHMANN: UDL is really about bringing flexibility and options into the environment by design so that students will have the resources that they need to make learning tractable in postsecondary environments.

[End credits: UDL On Campus, CAST: Until learning has no limits]

UDL is a Framework

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. 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.

The UDL principles are based on the three-network model of learning that take into account the variability of all learners—including learners who were formerly relegated to “the margins” of our educational systems but now are recognized as part of the predictable spectrum of variation. These principles guide design of learning environments with a deep understanding and appreciation for individual variability.

The UDL Guidelines (2012), whose foundation includes over 800 peer reviewed research articles, provide benchmarks that guide educators in the development and implementation of UDL curriculum. These Guidelines serve as a tool with which to critique and minimize barriers inherent in curriculum as educators aim to increase opportunities to learn.

UDL Guidelines graphic organizer

Download the UDL Guidelines graphic organizer

Download any of the three variations of the UDL Guidelines on the UDL Guidelines site.

Consider UDL as a way to shift your understanding of how all people learn, then UDL becomes a systematic means by which to move to the practical. UDL is not a prescriptive checklist or formula with set methods and tools to be applied in every situation.

The UDL framework is translational —a means for translating research and innovation into practice—providing guiding principles. From the principles, guidelines are derived for creating and choosing tools, methods, and practices, whose specifics depend upon context: learners' developmental levels, varied schools and communities, and the proclivities of teachers who are doing the teaching, among many other variables. UDL can help reshape teaching and learning by guiding the design of an entirely new system with flexibility at its core.

Another important consideration in implementing UDL in any learning environment is including the learner in the learning process. Support students to become an “expert” about their own learning. The goal is to find a way into the learning experience, remain persistent in the face of challenge or failure, and continue to build self-knowledge. Encourage students to communicate their learning preferences and needs. Include students in designing better learning environments.

Powerful digital technologies applied using UDL principles enable easier and more effective customization of curricula for learners. Advances in technology and the learning sciences have made “on-the-fly” individualization of curricula possible in practical, cost-effective ways, and many of these technologies have built in supports, scaffolds and challenges to help learners understand, navigate, and engage with the learning environment. However, it is important to note that these technologies should not be considered to be the only way to implement UDL. Effective instructors can be creative and resourceful in designing flexible learning environments that address the variability of learners using a range of high-tech and low-tech solutions.

UDL and Retention


[Title: UDL On Campus: Student Retention. Sam Johnston, Research Scientist at CAST appears on the screen.]

SAM JOHNSTON: So we know from retention research that, we actually, when we think about retention and study retention, we often forget to study the classroom. But the classroom is really, really critical. I mean it's the key element in why students persist or why they don't.

[Groups of student listen to an instructor in a classroom. The scene changes to another instructor explaining a projected image to students. Sam Johnston then returns to the screen.]

SAM JOHNSTON: And UDL really offers a systematic way of looking at the persistence of all students in the classroom. That's why UDL is so critical for this issue of student persistence and institutions trying to retain their students.

[A student works diligently in the library. The scene changes to students passing through a campus center. The screen displays numerous books on Universal Design for Learning. Sam Johnston returns to the screen.]

SAM JOHNSTON: It offers a systematic framework to look at better supporting all students in the classroom so they can persist in a course, get a degree, and get to the next place they want to go.

[End credits: UDL On Campus, CAST: Until learning has no limits]

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008

The inclusion of UDL in HEOA indicates a federal recognition of the potential for UDL to improve practice in classrooms and provide opportunities for students to succeed.

The definition incorporates the three principles of UDL—representation, expression, and engagement—and emphasizes reducing barriers with appropriate supports and challenges built into instruction.

In addition to defining UDL, HEOA emphasized that pre-service training through teacher education programs incorporate instruction on strategies consistent with UDL. If future teachers are taught the principles of UDL, they will be able to better meet the diverse needs of their future students.

UDL and Accessibility

“The purpose of education is not to make information accessible, but rather to teach learners how to transform accessible information into usable knowledge.” --Introduction to the UDL Guidelines (CAST, 2012)

Postsecondary institutions are obligated to provide accessible learning materials and technologies for students with disabilities, but UDL is more than simply providing information in accessible ways. Skip Stahl discusses the relationship between UDL and accessibility in the video below.


[Title: UDL On Campus: Accessibility. Skip Stahl, Senior Policy Analyst, appears on the screen.]

SKIP STAHL: Accessibility is one of the key foundational principles of Universal Design for Learning and it's a component of Universal Design for Learning but is not by itself Universal Design or Learning. I always think, the way we sometimes phrase it is that accessibility is essential but insufficient on its own to be Universal Design for Learning. Accessibility is really captured in the first principle of UDL which is multiple representations of information and from an instructional perspective there's a whole mantra that if you can't reach them you can't teach them. That information has to be accessible and presented in a variety of ways; audio, print, tactile, graphically, by video, as many possible ways as there are to make sure that people can get the information they need. Where as UDL really expands beyond that and talks about action and expression, how people exhibit mastery how they can express their achievement, how they can really articulate well what it is they know. And then the third principle really thinking about engagement--how we engage learners to enforce and enhance their persistence in ways that really support them in the face of challenges.

[End credits: UDL On Campus, CAST: Until learning has no limits]

Go to UDL and Accessibility for more information about legal obligations and recent developments pertaining to accessibility in higher education.



Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal design for learning: Theory and Practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing.


UDL is an educational approach based on the learning sciences with three primary principles—multiple means of representation of information, multiple means of student action and expression, and multiple means of student engagement.


Video is the recording, reproducing, or broadcasting of moving visual images.


Assessment is the process of gathering information about a learner’s performance using a variety of methods and materials in order to determine learners’ knowledge, skills, and motivation for the purpose of making informed educational decisions.


Accessible instructional materials (AIM) are instructional materials that have been designed or converted into alternate or accessible formats.

multiple means of engagement

Multiple means of engagement refers to the why of learning. Because learners vary in how they can become interested or motivated to learn, it is crucial to provide multiple ways to engage learners.


Self-regulation is the ability to strategically modulate one’s emotional reactions or states in order to cope or engage with the environment more effectively.

multiple means of representation

Multiple means of representation refers to the what of learning. Because learners vary in how they perceive and understand information, it is crucial to provide different ways of presenting content.


Self-regulation is the ability to strategically modulate one’s emotional reactions or states in order to cope or engage with the environment more effectively.


Audio, in this context, is a digital form or representation of sound. It is a format that stores, copies, and produces sound according to the data in its file(s).