Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning does not have a rubric, rather it has guidelines for the creation of online learning based on research in three primary learning networks grounded in cognitive science:  (1) recognition networks, (2) strategic networks, and (3) affective networks.  These networks translate to three core principles, with three guidelines under each.  Their UDL Guidelines Version 2.0 contains rich descriptions and examples of what following each of those guidelines might look like in an online course (Cast, 2011).

Book icon denoting reading activityRead their one-sheeter overview of UDL here.

Eye icon indicating a direction to review the resource, but no need to read it in detail.Review the full copy of the Guidelines here.

UDL was created by researchers from the Center for Applied Special Technology[i].  UDL[ii] is an approach that minimizes barriers and maximizes learning for all students by utilizing the three primary brain networks:  (1) recognition networks, (2) strategic networks, and (3) affective networks, or the “what, why, and how” of learning.  “In learning environments…individual variability is the norm, not the exception. When curricula are designed to meet the needs of an imaginary “average”, they do not address the reality of learner variability.”  Three primary domains are used based on cognitive science:

  1. Recognition:  Present information and content in different ways
  1. Action and Expression:  Differentiate the ways that students can express what they know
  1. Engagement:  Stimulate interest and motivation for learning

The research evidence utilized in the creation of UDL Guidelines Version 2.0 was gathered in three stages:  (1) constructing the framework from research in cognitive science, cognitive neuroscience, neuropsychology, and neuroscience, resulting in the three basic learning networks; (2) drilling down to create the categories of the 9 guidelines; (3) reviews of research to create recommendations for practice to reduce barriers in each of those 9 guidelines.


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Below are the principles associated with UDL.

Principle I:  Provide Multiple Means of Representation

  • Guideline 1:  Provide options for perception
  • Guideline 2:  Provide options for language, mathematical expressions, and symbols
  • Guideline 3:  Provide options for comprehension

Principle 2:  Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression

  • Guideline 4:  Provide options for physical action
  • Guideline 5:  Provide options for expression and communication
  • Guideline 6:  Provide options for executive functions

Principle 3:  Provide Multiple Means of Engagement

  • Guideline 7:  Provide options for recruiting interest
  • Guideline 8:  Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence
  • Guideline 9:  Provide options for self-regulation

Learning and teaching is addressed.  The UDL framework does not separate out specific support for online or blended/hybrid programs.  It is less mechanical and more philosophical.

It is important to note that Universal Design for Learning goes beyond the legal requirements for accessibility in online and blended/hybrid courses.  As a design philosophy and set of guidelines, it is the most comprehensive and detailed.  It is also highly supported by research that is correlated with each of the Guidelines.  UDL provides checkpoints for each of the Guidelines.

Note that the language of “engagement” used in Principle 3 is focused on motivation and learner self-efficacy, rather than how “engagement” is typically used in learning vernacular as associated with how learners interact with content, with each other, and with instructors.

Eye icon indicating a direction to review the resource, but no need to read it in detail.Review the website for UDL here.

Play icon indicating proceed to next pageNow, let’s take a look at what rubrics are, and why we’d want to use them.