Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

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Today’s diverse classrooms are comprised of students with a wide range of abilities, learning preferences and interests. Educators are responsible for providing high quality instruction that enables all students to achieve high standards with curricula that may present unintentional roadblocks to instruction.

So the question is this: How do you build and implement a curriculum that helps all students learn and achieve to the best of their abilities?


For many educators, applying Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles is viewed as a philosophical approach for designing curriculum, shaping instruction, selecting instructional materials/technology, and developing assessments that provide greater access to learning for all students. Designing curriculum and instruction for diverse learners using the principles of UDL at the outset enhances the classroom environment and requires less retrofitting and adaptation by classroom teachers.

What is UDL and how can it help you?

UDL was first developed in the 1990s by researchers at the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). They define UDL as:

“…a research-based framework for designing curricula – that is educational goals, methods, materials and assessments – that enable all individuals to gain knowledge, skills and enthusiasm for learning. This is accomplished by simultaneously providing rich supports for learning and reducing barriers to the curriculum, while maintaining high achievement standards for all students.”

Brothers Working On Laptop Computer Sitting On Floor. Shot in studio over white with the Canon 20D.

In this overview, we will take a look at the research and theory behind UDL, and how UDL principles serve as a framework for designing educational environments that enable all learners to gain knowledge, skills and enthusiasm for learning.  UDL does not suggest a single solution for everyone, instead it encourages multiple approaches to meet the varied needs of diverse learners.

On the CAST website there already exists a wealth of information for you to access for assessing your current status of implementation of UDL and tools for applying UDL principles within the field of education.  This site will also provide you with some examples of how you can use UDL principles in your classroom.

To get you started, here are several of the key elements of UDL:

  • A “one-size-fits-all” approach to teaching simply does not work; every child – not just the students  with disabilities – is different from another
  • Educators must adjust their curricula to fit their students and not ask their students to adjust to the curricula
  • It is not enough for students to have access to the classroom and the content available in the classroom; they must also have access to learning in the way that works best for them
  • Every child can learn and every child has the right to appropriate instruction

As you explore CAST’s and this website you will gain an understanding that UDL  builds upon the best practices of excellent teaching and enhances them so educators can reach every student.

UDL for Dinner

Imagine that you are preparing dinner for a large gathering of friends and family. You decide to serve a one-dish entrée to everyone. Once your guests arrive, though, some of them are not pleased with the dinner you have prepared: the children think it looks weird; someone else has a food allergy to one of the ingredients; and the vegetarians are dismayed by all the meat in the dish. You want to please everyone and give them what they want, so you hurriedly prepare some macaroni and cheese for the children, a salad for the vegetarians and something dairy-free for your allergic uncle. Things are a little hectic at your dinner party and no one is really happy with how it turns out (especially you).

Now imagine the same scenario, only this time you have taken into account the differences among your guests’ eating habits ahead of time. You have solicited input from all of your guests long before the dinner and prepared a range of dishes that is likely to please everyone. They all find something that they like at your table, no one feels left out and no one feels fussed over because you had to leave the party and make a special plate for them. You have designed the meal so that it will be a good fit for everyone.

This is not an exact metaphor for UDL (cooking and eating are, of course, different from teaching and learning), but it does get to the essence of some of UDL’s building blocks. As you learn about UDL, keep the following keywords front and center in your mind: “flexible,” “alternatives,” “choices,” “anticipate” and “proactive.”

UDL Interactive

Try our UDL Activity to learn how to plan for all of your students.



UDL: Planning for All Learners (PAL) Toolkit

This resource from the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) outlines important steps for planning and developing curricula that align with Universal Design for Learning. Organized in the form of a toolkit, the Planning for All Learners (PAL) resources provide educators with information and documents for creating lessons that promote access, participation, and progress in the general education curriculum for all learners. Begin with the Overview to learn more.