UDL Guidelines for Learning Experiences
In the College’s Commitments to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism, Bryn Mawr College strengthened its commitment to its community members by adopting the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework as a guideline for learning experiences offered at the College.
UDL facilitates the design of learning experiences that meet the needs of all learners to the greatest extent possible by:
- Presenting content to be learned in multiple ways
- Engaging learners in multiple ways
- Giving learners multiple ways to demonstrate their understanding
While UDL has advanced in the educational arena primarily as a mechanism for inclusion of students with a disability, conceptually the framework encompasses the full range of educationally relevant differences that exist within a modern university. A universally designed learning experience offers a variety of options and flexible structures that provide as many learners as possible the opportunity to learn to their highest potential.
UDL can reduce, but will never eliminate, the need to provide individualized accommodations for specific learners.
How to Incorporate UDL Principles into Learning Experiences
Faculty, staff, and students incorporate the UDL framework into the courses and other learning experiences they design and teach by focusing on three things:
Clear learning outcomes, or statements of what you expect learners to know or be able to do by the conclusion of the learning experience, are fundamental for designing any learning experience. Clear learning outcomes help you to design and measure the effectiveness of your learning activities, ensuring that what you ask learners to do as part of the learning experience helps them develop, apply, and practice the skills and knowledge you expect them to learn. They also help to assess learning by providing measurement benchmarks and ensuring assessments function appropriately.
Clearly communicating learning outcomes to learners and ensuring they understand how learning activities and assessments relate to those outcomes are also essential to creating an inclusive learning experience that empowers everyone to succeed. Learners cannot make informed decisions about how to manage their time and effort, or assess the efficacy of their learning strategies, if they do not understand what is expected of them and how different elements of a learning experience relate to those expectations. For example, when learners are informed that readings were chosen and scheduled to provide background information that is needed to understand concepts discussed and applied during a class meeting, they will focus their attention more effectively and better understand the importance of completing the reading before class. Learners’ past experiences, perspectives, and assumptions vary; adequately explaining activities, assignments, resources, and goals is crucial. Periodically checking in with learners to make sure they understand the course expectations is highly recommended.
Finally, clear learning outcomes are necessary for successfully incorporating the flexibility and multiplicity that are inherent to the UDL framework into a learning experience. Learning outcomes will help you determine the appropriate limits of flexibility and choice – that is, where you can offer learners flexibility or options without jeopardizing achievement of learning goals and/or measurement of that achievement. UDL is not an excuse to lower academic standards, but rather it provides a way of identifying and preserving what is essential for successful learning while removing arbitrary or inessential barriers that might prevent some learners from achieving that learning.
Flexibility and options are central to UDL. Incorporating multiple, flexible ways of presenting course material, engaging learners, and enabling learners to demonstrate their knowledge and skills increases the chances that each person can fully engage and is able to demonstrate the full extent of their learning. Opportunities for learners to tailor a learning experience to their interests or personal learning goals can increase inclusivity and motivation – one example would be to allow students to choose from a list of reading or shape their own research topic. Providing alternative ways for learners to process information helps them use study time and effort most effectively: for example, if the goal of a weekly response paper is solidifying understanding (retrieval practice), the assignment could be expanded to allow concept mapping using PowerPoint and audio responses to give learners who think visually or find it difficult to express ideas in writing a more productive means of achieving that goal. Asking learners to demonstrate skills and knowledge in diverse ways (e.g., orally, in writing, in a short video) increases the chance that everyone has at least one opportunity to demonstrate their learning through a medium that capitalizes on their strengths. Designing workshops and other learning experiences that allow multiple forms of participation – such as small group discussion, written posts to an online forum or providing written feedback to peers – is inclusive of participants who may have difficulty speaking and gives them meaningful avenues for contribution and self-expression. It also encourages self-reflection from those learners who are quick to speak.
Colleges are legally required to ensure that all learners have access to all aspects of the learning experience; this is also a primary goal of universal design for learning. This includes ensuring that all learning materials used inside or outside a classroom are accessible and that accessibility features such as captions are enabled when materials are displayed to a group. See Bryn Mawr College’s Accessibility Policy for Classroom Instruction, Accessibility for College Events Policy and Web Accessibility Policy for guidelines for ensuring that in-person and online meetings and learning materials are accessible. Like the other aspects of UDL, attention to accessibility helps to ensure that everyone can fully engage with and benefit from a learning experience and demonstrate their learning.