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Bringing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to the Forefront!

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By Lisa Dubernard 

As I travel across the country and interact with school district leaders, we often discuss what pedagogical strategies they desire to implement. Unfortunately, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is rarely brought up as a priority, and when I bring it up I often get blank stares or responses like, “Oh, that’s what our special education department does.”

For those not familiar with UDL, Universal Design for Learning is a set of principles for curriculum development that gives ALL individuals equal opportunities to learn. (Note: All individuals means not just those tagged as “special needs.”)

However, I have new optimism on this topic and I’ll cite two cases.

1. The new American national education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), specifically endorses UDL. This is great news for all of us and is a welcome change to previous one-size-fits-all approaches.

○ See more at: UDL in the ESSA
2. American school districts like Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation (IN), a long-time leader in UDL, now use their Learning Management System (itslearning) to design every single lesson using the UDL framework. This flexible, multi-option approach to curriculum planning results in:

  • Multiple means of engagement (Why we Engage)
  • Multiple means of representation (What we Access)
  • Multiple means of expression (How we Express)

Obviously, planning lessons to accommodate all learners is a lot to ask of individual teachers. That is why a learning management system that also assists with curriculum management is so key. Collaborating and resource sharing is necessary to make this happen and the use of a customizable lesson planner can ensure that the structure needed for this is in place.

Here are some more resources for UDL related to Bartholomew Consolidated School District:
1. Developing Learning Agency with UDL
2. UDL in the Snow
3. CAST and Bartholomew

So give me your feedback:

  • How are you implementing UDL?
  • What strategies have you used to help make this a reality?
  • How do you think the new ESSA legislation will impact the adoption of UDL across the country?

Lisa Dubernard is the Director of Education Strategy for itslearning Inc.


(Graphic from American Action Forum)

“Education stakeholders should develop a born accessible standard of learning resource design to help educators select and evaluate learning resources for accessibility and equity of learning experience. … Using the principles and research-base of UD and UDL, this standard would serve as a commonly accepted framework and language around design for accessibility and offer guidance to vendors and third-party technology developers in interactions with states, districts, and institutions of higher education.”
National Education Technology Plan, 2016