Universal Design for Learning: Strategies for Blended and Online Learning

Section 2.6: Applying UDL to Online Learning

Let’s think specifically about how UDL principles can create a better experience in online learning.

From an engagement standpoint, UDL has three priorities:

  1. Recruiting interest
  2. Sustaining effort and persistence
  3. Supporting self-regulation

 Here are some ideas for your design:

  1.  In online environments, the temptation to teach to the screen instead of through the screen can feel even more challenging. Change the frame to see yourself as a culture-creator – creating connections and a safe learning home.
  2. Provide a forum for regular feedback, decision-making, synchronous meeting times, and frequent opportunities for students to make choices, steer their learning, and collaborate with others.
  3. Give students a clear schedule of your availability and help them feel welcome and included by asking questions, being open to tangential thinking, and providing opportunities to play.
  4. Provide choices in assignments – some students like longer, in-depth assignments while others prefer shorter, more frequent assignments. Regardless, take the opportunity to help students connect course content to the real world through linked tasks that deepen understanding and broaden the conceptual frame.

From a representation standpoint, UDL has three priorities

  1. Providing options for perceiving and learning new information
  2. Provide choice for the language and symbols students use to represent their ideas
  3. Support learning through multiple means for comprehension

Here are some ideas for your design:

  1. The best first move is asking students what kind of devices students have at home – phone, laptop, desktop, etc. Once you have a sense of what students have access to, you can start planning ways that students can represent information beyond reading and writing tests.
  2. Pre-teach vocabulary, show students how to map concepts, and how ideas in the course link to each other and beyond, to other courses, concepts, and current and historical events.
  3. Provide access to multi-media presentations, animations, and social media sites that can help students see, hear, feel, reflect, and construct meaning.
  4. Provide a visual mapping of course expectations and assignments. Checklists and calendars that are colour-coded are a boon for organizing the course content and deadlines.

From an action & expression standpoint, UDL has three priorities:

  1. Provide options for physical action
  2. Support students in creating alternatives for expression and communication
  3. Support students in goal-setting, planning, and managing and monitoring workload

Here are some ideas for your design:

  1. In an online course, there are many choices that you can provide around how students want to demonstrate their learning and it is critical to solicit feedback from students on these preferences.
  2. You can ask students how they would prefer to receive feedback as well – audio and video feedback allow students to feel more connected to you and to each other. Hearing voices not only helps students feel connected but directs attention in the way a spotlight can light up the sky (Posey, 2019).
  3. You can provide samples and examples that also have a spotlighting effect and give students a sense of how to refine their understanding and how to engage in deep, multi-modal thinking about the course content.


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A Comprehensive Guide to Applying Universal Design for Learning Copyright © 2022 by Dr. Seanna Takacs; Junsong Zhang; Helen Lee; Lynn Truong; and David Smulders is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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