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Universal design for Learning
Article · January 2022
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Santhosh Areekkuzhiyil
University of Calicut
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Universal Design for Learning
Dr. Santhosh Areekkuzhiyil
Associate Professor, Govt. College of Teacher Education, Kozhikode,
Research Centre in Education, University of Calicut, Kerala, India
Mob: 9447847053
The learning environment and the teaching learning process have to satisfy their diversified
needs and requirements each and every learner. The designs and structures must be barrier
free and has to facilitate the all-round and fullest development of the all learners. Universal
design is directed towards this goal and applicable in all spheres of life including education.
Key words: Universal Design for Learning, Universal Design in Education, Inclusive
Published in 2022
Cite this paper as:
Areekkuzhiyil, Santhosh. (2022). Universal Design for Learning, Edutracks, Vol: Vol: 21 (4).
pp: 19-22.
Universal Design for Learning
Dr. Santhosh Areekkuzhiyil
Associate Professor, Govt. College of Teacher Education, Kozhikode,
Research Centre in Education, University of Calicut, Kerala, India
Mob: 9447847053
The learning environment and the teaching learning process have to satisfy their diversified
needs and requirements each and every learner. The designs and structures must be barrier
free and has to facilitate the all-round and fullest development of the all learners. Universal
design is directed towards this goal and applicable in all spheres of life including education.
1. Introduction
Learners are diverse in their very nature, spacing, attitude and aptitude. They are
multicultural and diversified in the very learning styles and modalities too. Hence, the
learning environment and the teaching learning process have to satisfy their diversified needs
and requirements. Every learner has to be recognised and their potentials have to be nurtured
and facilitated through education. To realise this goal, the system, practices and the very
environment of education have to be made appropriate for all learners.
Sometime the system and the structure itself became barrier and create learning difficulties as
it may not be conducive for learners and especially for learners with special needs and
requirements. Hence the designs and structures must be barrier free and has to facilitate the
all-round and fullest development of the all learners.
2. Universal Design
The concept of universal design has been emerged from the field of architecture. The term
"universal design" was coined by the architect Ronald Mace to describe the concept of
designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest
extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life. Universal design
(UD) is also called inclusive design, design for all, or life span design. Universal design is an
approach to designing environments and products so they can be used by the widest range of
users without adaptation (Centre for Universal Design, 1997). Universal design is the design
of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible,
without the need for adaptation or specialized design" (Mace, 1985). It is a process that
enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health and
wellness, and social participation (Steinfeld and Maisel, 2012). In short, universal design
makes life easier, healthier, and friendlier for all. Universal design benefits people with
functional limitations and society as a whole. It supports people in being more self-reliant and
socially engaged.
The Disability Act (2005) defines Universal Design as: the design and composition of an
environment so that it may be accessed, understood and used To the greatest possible extent
In the most independent and natural manner possible in the widest possible range of
situations without the need for adaptation, modification, assistive devices or specialised
solutions, by any persons of any age or size or having any particular physical, sensory, mental
health or intellectual ability or disability, and means, in relation to electronic systems, any
electronics-based process of creating products, services or systems so that they may be used
by any person.
3. Goals of Universal Design
According to Steinfeld and Maisel, (2012) following are the goals of universal design:
1. Body fit. Accommodating a wide a range of body sizes and abilities
2. Comfort. Keeping demands within desirable limits of body function
3. Awareness. Insuring that critical information for use is easily perceived
4. Understanding. Making methods of operation and use intuitive, clear, and
5. Wellness. Contributing to health promotion, avoidance of disease, and prevention of
6. Social integration. Treating all groups with dignity and respect
7. Personalization. Incorporating opportunities for choice and the expression of
individual preferences
8. Cultural appropriateness. Respecting and reinforcing cultural values and the social,
economic and environmental context of any design project.
4. Principles of Universal Design
The Centre for Universal Design (1997) developed seven basic principles for the universal
design of products and environments. While these principles are not specific to education,
they are being used by education researchers and practitioners as a foundation for
implementing universal design in educational settings. These principles include the
Equitable use. The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse
abilities. Career services example: Job postings in formats accessible to people
with a broad range of abilities, disabilities, ages, racial, and ethnic backgrounds.
Flexibility in use. The design accommodates a wide range of individual
preferences and abilities. Campus museum example: A design that allows a visitor
to choose to read or listen to the description of the contents of display cases.
Simple and intuitive use. Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the
user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
Assessment example: Testing in a predictable, straightforward manner.
Perceptible information. The design communicates necessary information
effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory
abilities. Dormitory example: An emergency alarm system with visual, aural, and
kinesthetic characteristics.
Tolerance for error. The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences
of accidental or unintended actions. Instructional software example: A program
that provides guidance when the student makes an inappropriate selection.
Low physical effort. The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with
a minimum of fatigue. Curriculum example: Software with on-screen control
buttons that are large enough for students with limited fine motor skills to select
Size and space for approach and use. Appropriate size and space is provided for
approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user’s body size, posture,
or mobility. Science lab example: An adjustable table and work area that is usable
by students who are right- or left-handed and have a wide range of physical
characteristics and abilities.
5. Universal Design for Learning
Over the past two decades, educators have begun to apply universal design concepts in
schools and classrooms to ensure that instructional practices, materials, and educational
environments meet the needs of the wide spectrum of students. At its most basic level,
universal design for education seeks to ensure that all students have the option of learning
from instructional materials and practices that suit their abilities and learning styles in
settings and facilities that can accommodate their various needs.
The Centre for Applied Special Technology (CAST) defines UDL as a research-based set of
principles that together form a practical framework for using technology to maximize
learning opportunities for every student (Rose & Meyer, 2002). Centre for Applied Special
Technology (CAST) has developed a framework called ―Universal Design for Learning‖ that
applies universal design principles to curricular materials and instructional strategies to
support student learning. This approach emphasizes that curriculum needs to be flexible and
presented in multiple formats in order to be accessible and appropriate for students with
diverse backgrounds, learning styles, and abilities. The framework is based on the following
three neural systems involved in learning: (i) recognition systems that identify patterns and
objects, (ii) strategic systems that tell us how to do things, and (iii) affective systems that
determine what is important and provide the motivation for learning.
Universal Design for Learning advocates for flexible multiple media and tools targeted to
these systems. It also supports curricular materials and instructional strategies that provide
numerous means of representation, expression, and engagement (Meyer & Rose, 2000).
6. Benefits and Examples of Universal Design in Education
Universal design in education means providing information in a variety of formats because
multisensory methods of receiving and expressing information can make curricula more
accessible for students with and without disabilities. Further, universal design means
delivering instruction using a variety of teaching methods. Technology provides the capacity
to easily change information from one format to another. Materials, tools, and teaching
practices developed with universal design concepts in mind can support student’s learning by:
Building accessibility into design to ensure that features meeting the needs of the
widest range of students are integrally incorporated into the curricula. Such
designs can prevent the need for adaptations or retrofitting. For example,
electronic curricular material that is designed to be compatible with assistive
technology devices allows paraprofessionals, parents, or teachers to more easily
program these devices with appropriate content.
Providing adaptable materials and media that allow students to choose and
customize formats suited to their learning needs in a number of ways. For
example, using digitized text students can change text-to-speech, speech-to-text,
font size, colours, and highlighting. Digitized materials can also support students
through built-in scaffolding or cues to assist with activities such as word
recognition, decoding, and problem solving and optional background knowledge
for concepts that may not be familiar to some children (Pisha & Coyne, 2001).
Using Multiple Media such as video and audio formats provides a variety of ways
to represent a concept and allows students to access the material through their
different senses (Meyer & Rose, 2000). For example, computer-based simulations
that include video description can help students with and without disabilities to
visualize difficult concepts.
Providing challenging, salient, and age-appropriate materials to students with a
range of abilities. For example, a student with dyslexia can utilize decoding
supports and text-to-speech features incorporated into digitized history or science
books, which enhances their ability to access this content. A recent study by
CAST found that students who read novels in a digital format with decoding
supports are more motivated to read because they can access the content at an ageappropriate level that is just challenging enough (O'Neill & Dalton, 2002). In
addition, students and teachers can also use the Internet as a resource to find
current and real-world examples of concepts that can make information more
salient and grounded (Meyer & Rose. 2000).
Presenting information in multiple, parallel forms to accommodate diverse
learning styles. For example, information can be presented orally in a lecture,
visually through pictures, kinaesthetically by modelling it in a demonstration, and
using technology-based programs that further allow students to interact with the
concepts (McGlauglin, 1998).
The universal design enables more people to successfully live within that space with no
adaptations. Likewise, a curriculum that contains universal design elements is more likely to
be compatible for learners with diverse learning needs, including students with and without
disabilities. One model of universal design applications was designed by Simmons and
Kammeenue (1996). They described six curriculum design features that promote learning for
students with diverse learning needs, including students with mild disabilities:
(i) Big ideas: targeting concepts, principles, rules, or problem-solving techniques that
underlie and/or span critical ideas in the course or curriculum;
(ii) Conspicuous strategies: presenting explicit and overt instruction on steps for
accomplishing tasks;
(iii) Mediated scaffolding: eliciting thoughtful, provocative, and probing questions during
instruction that advance students' learning to higher levels of understanding and applications;
(iv) Strategic integration: explicitly linking the big ideas across or within curricula;
(v) Judicious review: planning for sufficient review and application of previously taught
information; and
(vi) Primed back ground knowledge: ascertaining that students have sufficient background
knowledge on which to base and build new learning.
UD has been applied to many educational products (computers, websites, software,
textbooks, and lab equipment) and environments (dormitories, classrooms, student union
buildings, libraries, and distance learning courses). Unlike an accommodation for a specific
person with a disability, the practice of UDE benefits all students, including those who are
not receiving disability related accommodations from the school.
When UDL is applied, curriculum designers create products to meet the needs of students
with a wide range of abilities, learning styles, and preferences. UDL draws on ―brain research
and media technologies to respond to individual learner differences. It reflects an awareness
of the unique nature of each learner and the need to address differences.‖ UDL curricula
Multiple means of representation, to give learners various ways of acquiring
information and knowledge;
Multiple means of expression, to provide learners alternatives for demonstration
of what they know; and
Multiple means of engagement, to tap into learners’ interests, offer appropriate
challenges, and increase motivation. (CAST)
Universal design can be applied to all aspects of instruction—teaching techniques, curricula,
assessment (Burgstahler, 2007).
Class Climate. Adopt practices that reflect high values with respect to both
diversity and inclusiveness.
Interaction. Encourage regular and effective interactions between students and the
instructor and ensure that communication methods are accessible to all
Physical Environments and Products. Ensure that facilities, activities, materials,
and equipment are physically accessible to and usable by all students and that all
potential student characteristics are addressed in safety considerations.
Delivery Methods. Use multiple, accessible instructional methods that are
accessible to all learners.
Information Resources and Technology. Ensure that course materials, notes, and
other information resources are engaging, flexible, and accessible for all students.
Feedback. Provide specific feedback on a regular basis.
Assessment. Regularly assess student progress using multiple, accessible methods
and tools and adjust instruction accordingly.
(viii) Accommodation. Plan for accommodations for students whose needs are not met
by the instructional design.
7. Universal Design in Education
The practice of universal design in education (UDE) considers people diverse characteristics
in the design of all formal and informal educational products and environments. The practice
of universal design in education (UDE) considers people diverse characteristics in the design
of all formal and informal educational products and environments. Universal design has wide
applications in learning. Its principles are applicable in the design of educational products,
environment and process as well as based on the very philosophy and pedagogy of inclusive
education. When education became international and opening ups its vistas, the pedagogic
practices must also be widened to incorporate the varied requirements of learners. Universal
design in education is a prerequisite to go global and to ensure inclusive developments and
thereby make the world a better place to live in.
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