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Memorial University

St. Johns, Newfoundland

Education 6620

Universal Design for Learning

Submitted to Dr. Hch

August 3, 2015

Chad Bennett
Colleen Collett
Colleen Scott
Julianne Thompson

Classrooms today are filled with students who are diverse and learn in a variety of ways.
Traditionally curriculum was designed for delivery to the average student through textbook,
lecture, demonstration, or PowerPoint presentation, with the teacher as the focal point for the
dissemination of information. The common practice in most classrooms consisted of a teacher
assisted example, with discussion, followed by assigned problems based on the demonstrated
solution.
This model of curriculum design does not suit our modern day classes, as most
classrooms are filled with many students who have some form of an individualized learning
plans, or have specific learning preferences and styles. This, coupled with the fact that the
majority of classes are filled with an increasing number of English Second Language (ESL) and
Special Education Needs (SEN) learners, requires teachers to look beyond the one size fits all
style of teaching. This is where Universal Design for Learning (UDL) comes to the foreground.
While UDL started with a focus on students with disabilities, it is really for the benefit of all
learners. In the past teachers and curriculum designers have found it challenging to implement
UDL. However, with the advances in technology, this task is becoming less daunting as one can
implement it in a more timely and efficient manner.
What is UDL?
Universal Design for Learning is an educational framework based on research in the
learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, that guides the development of flexible
learning environments so as to accommodate individual learning differences. Much of the
information we have on this design framework evolved from the architectural design principle
developed in the 1970s, as a result of the American government formally outlawing

discrimination based on disability. Instead of retrofitting buildings in response to special needs,


which was often deemed ineffective and expensive, the government sought to begin to introduce
solutions during the design phase (Cast Inc.,2014). Educational reformists began to assume the
same principles and developed UDL as an attempt to establish a framework for change in
education (Rose & Meyer, 2002) and it has been popularized above other design perspectives as
it aims to achieve a balance between curriculum and instructional practice (Hitchcock, 2001).
In Canada the UDL framework is gaining popularity. The Canadian Human Rights Act
(1998) declared it is illegal to discriminate due to disability, and after thirty years of research
around the world it is now clear that the presence of students with disabilities does not negatively
impact the learning of other students (Katz, 2013). In fact, much of the evidence indicates that
when a framework is provided and adequate support is given to teachers, having students with
varying level of needs improves the learning opportunity for all students. Proponents of UDL
argue that disability lies not within the individual but rather the learning environments
themselves are disabling to the learner. (Rao, Ok, & Bryant, 2015)
In order to successfully implement UDL, Ralabate (2011) contends that the following
three principles should be followed for each area of the curriculum:
Principle 1: Provide multiple means of representation.
Principle 2: Provide multiple means of action and expression.
Principle 3: Provide multiple means of engagement.
These principles will allow every student in the classroom to learn and express the
learning in their own way. The underlying factors are expanded upon by Hitchcock, et al. (2001),

who maintain that UDL addresses the four interrelated areas of: goals, materials, methods, and
assessment within any largely defined curriculum.
Goals are the learning expectations or outcomes. They represent the knowledge,
concepts, and skills students need to master. It is critically important that the outcomes match the
Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) of the students for UDL to work effectively.
Methods are the instructional strategies used by classroom teachers to support student
learning. They should be evidence-based and supported by analysis of individual students
differences. UDL instructional methods are flexible and adjusted through consistent monitoring
of student progress.
Materials are the media used to present content and demonstrate learning. UDL materials
offer multiple options and include necessary supports for all students whether on an IEP or not.
Assessment refers to the process of gathering information about students progress using
diverse methods and materials. UDL assessments are concerned with accurately measuring the
knowledge, skills, and engagement of students using authentic methods that provide a degree of
variability and reliance.
The ultimate goal of UDL is student achievement and the assurance that each student is
given the opportunity to be successful. Overcoming all the issues that the students may face
because of the diverse audience we have in our classrooms, is often a challenge for students and
teachers. UDL can be a critically important means for reaching all students through the
conveyance of the curriculum in multiple sensory modalities, flexible groupings, and adjusting
the instructional pace (Courey, Tappe, & Siker, 2013). The Center for Applied Science and
Technology (CAST) advanced the concept of UDL as a means of focusing research,

development, and educational practices on understanding diversity and applying technology to


facilitate learning (Edybrun, 2005, p. 1). The role of technology in the advancement of UDL
cannot be underestimated.
The main idea that provides the foundation for UDL is the understanding that there are
different paths or modes to learning. Each UDL model has a set of principles that focus on
reducing barriers in learning environments and increasing access to curriculum and instruction
for learners with diverse needs, especially students with disabilities. Essentially everyone has the
capacity to learn but learning needs to be approached in different ways for certain individuals.
When considering instruction and lesson delivery, the UDL model combined with technology
integration, shares many commonalities with differentiated instruction, which has been a
mainstream topic in Canada. However, UDL surpasses the differentiated model, as UDL allows
learners not only multiple platforms from which instruction can be received, but also multiple
ways of student expression and engagement. Burgstahler (2015) noted the common three
components of the UDL curriculum that reflects an awareness of the unique nature of each
learner. Noted as well is the need to address differences among students by offering multiple
means of learning, ways to be evaluated, and engagement levels.
Multiple Means of Representation
Representation refers to designing instructional materials that make content accessible to
the greatest number of diverse learners. When it comes to instruction, representation allows
students to acquire knowledge through various techniques and teaching strategies. Instead of the
traditional chalk and talk, which still works for some students, the advances in technology have
provided many more options to teachers and curriculum designers. Using the multiple means of

representation method students can learn through multimedia such as videos or podcasts, printed
off notes, being read to, incorporation of web pages, and an unlimited number of other modalities
or mediums such as audio, video, text, speech, Braille, still photos, or images. Representation is
about getting students to understand. Tools and technology such as lecture capture, clickers, web
authoring software, and learning management systems also provide teachers with a variety of
options to present material in more diverse ways, to reach more students. The beautiful thing
about teaching, is that it does not matter how a teacher gets students to learn, what matters more
is getting students to learn.
Multiple Means of Action and Expression
Action and expression can be defined as an alternative communication method for
students to communicate or demonstrate their learning. It tries to solve the problem of how you
can get learners who struggle with traditional testing to convey what they know to you in a
different matter if necessary. Some of the alternatives to what society has conveyed to be the
norm, when it comes to written testing, could be a series of formative assessments, oral testing,
online testing, self assessments, computer simulation or getting students to create their own
innovative method to illustrate what they know through writing, speaking, drawing, videorecording, animation, drama, and various other means. When teachers increase the number and
variety of participation options and forms of assessment for students, both teachers and students
benefit.
Multiple Means of Action and Engagement
Students who struggle in school and who experience low levels of motivation because
they are struggling, or students who feel like the projects are not fun, will tune out and not reach

their full potential as they believe that no matter what they do, success will avoid them. This
aspect looks at reaching students through their own interests and offering different challenges or
tasks to reflect these interests. Stimulating student interest and motivation to learn through
creative, hands-on, and meaningful instruction is the goal for this aspect. The incorporation of
technology in teaching and learning certainly adds more variety to the classroom, thus creating a
positive and engaging environment for learning. Essentially, action and engagement equates to a
teacher meeting the differing needs of students for predictability in learning, novelty, and group
interaction.
Effective Implementation of UDL
As UDL is both a philosophy and an intervention, careful consideration must be given to
the operationalization of UDL. Two examples of strategies for the operationalization of UDL are:
universal access by design and universal access through accommodations and modifications.
Universal access by design, includes products such as the Thinking Reader, developed by
CAST. Thinking Reader is a software product that contains electronic books with supports for
readers of all skill levels. Software such as this, serves as a powerful example of the application
of UDL principles and the notion of considerate text as a means of supporting all students
(Edyburn, 2005, p. 19).
Universal access through accommodations and modifications allow us to leverage digital
media and technology to create solutions such as tiered levels of interest and ability, language
translation making it more accessible for ESL students, and text to speech allowing students to
have pieces of text or full pages read to them.

Rather than working with accommodations and modifications of the curriculum, the
principles of UDL, prompt teachers to design curriculum that is flexible and adaptable to
multiple forms of learning and engagement to facilitate the learning of all students (Lancaster,
2011, p. 2). Attention to goals is a significant aspect of UDL. The critical outcomes for all
students can be focused on when teachers work within the principles of UDL. It is imperative
that learning goes beyond access to materials and information.
Flexibility is at the core of UDL (Rose & Meyer, 2011, p. 2). This flexibility is
essential for two reasons. Firstly, it recognizes there are individual differences between learners
and secondly, it acknowledges the difference types and uses of instructional media. By providing
alternatives to learning, not a single solution for all, UDL can achieve the goal of meeting
individual needs. Alternatives offer increased access for those who need it and also offer
opportunities for everyone to choose according to circumstances (Rose and Meyer, 2011, 2).
Choice increases intrinsic motivation, effort, task performance, perceived competence, and
preference for challenge (Patall, Cooper & Civey Rovinson, 2008).
In any classroom, a hands-on learning activity can be planned for use within the UDL
framework, benefitting each of the learners and the teacher as well. In general, a hands-on
activity is defined as experiential learning where students handle and manipulate objects that are
being used to quantify and/or qualify the learning. This, according to Holstermann, Grube and
Bgehulz (2009), provides a more realistic and exciting learning experience for the student;
which motivates and provides an impetus to learn.
Reis (2005), argues that it is not the learning environment that holds back the learner but
the activity that is used to enhance the learning. If the proper activity is chosen to augment the

outcome being covered, all students in the class can benefit; making these activities the
quintessential learning tool. This puts hands-on activities squarely into the constructivist realm of
learning theory, where learning for an individual is an active process whereby the student builds
or constructs their own meaning from the activity (Reis, 2005). In a study conducted by Lee, Lin,
Guu, Chang, & Lai, (2013), students demonstrated gains in conceptual and procedural
knowledge via hands-on activities when the activities were at the educational level of the
student. As well, the study demonstrated that these activities had a positive effect on the attitude
of students toward the outcome being covered.
According to Bilgin (2006), in most instances, hands on learning would be a definite
benefit to all students in any learning environment. In any setting, classroom or science lab,
students learn and retain information better when they are engaged in hands on activities. These
are the ultimate UDLs those that require very little setup or previous knowledge. The lessons
being taught come directly from the activity. These types of activities can provide each student in
the class with a valuable learning experience, whether on an IEP for a learning disability or for
enrichment. Reis (2005), argues that the required outcome of the activity will be very different
for each group of learners, while the gist and outline of the activity remains essentially the same
for each student in the group. A study conducted by Holstermann et al (2009), shows that there is
a direct correlation between the interest of the student and the activity chosen to facilitate
learning. Holstermann et al (2009), argue that although hands-on activities can be a direct
benefit in the classroom they can also be a detriment to students on IEPs if the activity requires
individual problem solving beyond the ability of the students in question.

Looking beyond hands-on activities a teacher might wonder how to craft a lesson using
the UDL framework. In response to this query, Simmons and Kame'enui (1996) developed a
model to apply UDL to curricula which was supported by Orkwis and McLane (1998) who
suggest using the following five strategies to implement UDL in the classroom. Orkwis and
McLane note that the first four of these are consistent with accessible design guidelines from the
Telecommunications Act of 1996, while the fifth step extends the concept of accessible design to
include cognitive access. The cognitive strategies (item 5) include the ideas previously
recommended by Simmons and Kameenui (1996).
Orkwis and McLane suggest:
i. Providing all text in digital format.
ii. Providing captions for all audio.
iii. Providing educationally relevant descriptions for images and graphical layouts.
iv. Providing captions and educationally relevant descriptions for video.
v. Providing cognitive supports for content and activities, including:
Summarizing big ideas;
Providing scaffolding (supports that are diminished or removed as students gain
competence) for learning and generalization;
Building fluency through practice;
Providing assessments for background knowledge; and
Including explicit strategies to make clear the goals and methods of instruction.
(Orkwis & McLane, Suggested First Steps section, para. 4)

Conclusion
UDL is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based
on scientific insights into how humans learn. UDL is based upon the most widely replicated
research in education that indicates students are highly variable in their learning. In
understanding this, it seems essential that teachers and curriculum designers pursue a deeper
understanding of how to best meet these needs of their students. As we integrate technology into
our teaching, teachers now have the tools to allow them to more easily implement the principles
of UDL. The UDL framework requires teachers to rethink the traditional objectivist teaching
model and begin to take into account the individual needs of their students. As schools consider
the implementation of UDL, they have to ensure that teachers are provided with supports and
resources that will allow them to choose appropriate tools, technologies and resources. This is an
essential component in the operationalization of UDL. As we increase the number of learning
options for students, everyone teachers, students, and society - benefits.

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