What is Universal Design for Learning?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach to teaching, learning and assessment based around a set of principles for curriculum development that supports educators to proactively design teaching, learning and assessment that include the diversity of learners in higher education. The UDL approach to teaching, learning and assessment seeks to remove barriers to learning for ALL learners rather than addressing individual barriers to learning. UDL aims to change the design of the environment rather than to change the learner. When environments are intentionally designed to reduce barriers, all learners can engage in rigorous, meaningful learning.

What kinds of barriers can students experience?

Students can face a range of barriers to learning including (and not limited to):

  • caring responsibilities
  • accommodation shortages
  • increased cost of living necessitating jobs
  • students with disabilities
  • students for whom English is a second language
  • students who lack academic esteem in their learning skills
  • internal barriers, such as feeling depressed, anxious or disconnected.

The goal of UDL is to use a variety of teaching methods to remove any barriers to learning and give all students equal opportunities to succeed. It’s about building in flexibility that can be adjusted for every student’s strengths and needs. That’s why UDL benefits everyone.

How is UDL different from making accommodations for individual learners?

UDL is about intentionally designing teaching, learning and assessment that minimises barriers for learners and therefore benefits ALL learners rather than making accommodations for individual learners. The link between UDL practices and assisting students with disabilities is clear, but UDL actually helps all students. For example, by providing captions on your videos you can help students who are deaf or hard of hearing. This practice can also help other students, such as students for whom English is a second language who may need help with understanding some of the vocabulary you use. Captions can also help students who can't listen to a video easily, such as those who are commuting on public transport, or parents who have a sleeping child nearby. Not all students disclose the barriers they face, and we can help many students by using UDL practices to break down those barriers.

Is UDL a totally new approach to teaching, learning and assessment? Will I need to start from scratch? You may already be applying the principles of UDL in your teaching, learning and assessment. For example, you may already offer students a variety of options to engage with content through video, audio and text-based resources. Offering choice for students is a key strategy for embedding UDL in practice. By learning more about UDL and the UDL framework, you can continue to remove barriers to learning for students by drawing on the principles and framework for practical examples and strategies to manage contemporary challenges to teaching in higher education such as student engagement; large cohort teaching; assessment design; feedback.

Does applying the principles of UDL mean a complete overhaul of my teaching, learning and assessment?

Absolutely not! The Centre for Transformative Learning advocates for the ‘Plus One’ approach to embedding UDL in your practice. The Plus One approach involves reflecting on one aspect of your teaching, learning and assessment that potentially creates a barrier to learners and drawing on the UDL framework for practical ideas on how to address that potential barrier. The Plus One approach is about incrementally introducing small changes to your teaching, learning and assessment over time. Learn more about the Plus One approach for embedding UDL. (link to Getting started plus one page).

Is there any evidence that UDL works for students?

There is a growing evidence base for the impact on students of applying the principles in practice (McGuire-Schwartz & Arndt, 2007; Davies, Schelly & Spooner, 2013). You can also hear directly from UL students about the impact of embedding UDL on their learning experience in the clip below. 

What is the UDL framework?

The internationally recognised and widely used UDL framework UDL framework was developed by CAST (US based organisation) in the 1980s. The framework offers practical support to apply the principles of UDL in practice.

Watch this video by UL staff and students on how UDL can help diverse learners in higher education settings (3:09 minutes).

How can I learn more about UDL?

There are several ways to learn about UDL at UL. Check out the infographic below to find the right option for you.

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Depending on the time available, you can take a quick dip into some video resources on the UDL@UL YouTube channel, or a deeper dive by attending a 45-minute introductory workshop (link to Introductory workshop blurb and dates/times) or get involved in the UL Community of Practice.


Davies, P. L., Schelly C. L., & Spooner, C. L. (2013). Measuring the Effectiveness of Universal Design for Learning Intervention on Postsecondary Education. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability 26:3, 195–220.

MCGuire-Schwartz, E. & Arndt, J. (2007) Transforming Universal Design for Learning in Early Childhood Teacher Education from College Classroom to Early Childhood Classroom, Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 28:2, 127-139, DOI: 10.1080/10901020701366707

Email: ctl@ul.ie

Phone: 061 234652

For Integrated Curriculum Development Framework queries, contact curriculum.development@ul.ie for further information or to request assistance.

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