Universal Design for Learning: A Practical Guide
Since UDL is a new framework that is being slowly implemented across different types of school, learners, and districts, some myths are emerging as educators grapple with what might be considered good UDL practice and what might not.
Myth 1: UDL is just good teaching
To address this myth, we need to have a sense of what good teaching is in the first place. While an academic definition is probably vast and complicated, most of us can agree that good teaching means that the instructor is passionate about their subject area, they take time to model what to learn and how to learn well, they establish good personal relationships with their students, they empathize communicate well, and creating the conditions under which student acquire, retain and generalize their knowledge.
UDL is a design framework which means good teaching is imbedded in a process of design thinking focused on creating expert learners. Good teaching can and does exist on its own to produce positive, memorable educational outcomes. However, the UDL framework suggest new ways of investigating learning experiences, to identify gaps and problems, to provide multiple pathways (engagement, representation, action & expression) to the same learning outcomes, and to test and revise design solutions to learning problems.
UDL complements good teaching with good design thinking.
Myth 2: UDL means that all curriculum has to be overhauled and redesigned
According to most UDL implementation practice, UDL is best implemented in baby steps. UDL CAN mean an overhaul and a total redesign, but it doesn’t have to mean that.
Choose a single activity and start by offering two alternatives for expression. Start one class with assessing engagement. Ask for student feedback on your lecture. At the same time, ask them if they have preferences for activities other than lectures. Once you get comfortable with small steps, move onto a bigger step. Experiment with one cell of the framework. Try using visual and auditory materials for learning. Try asking students give a summary of the major points in the class. UDL can be as big or small as you’d like; that is the essence of design thinking. Think about a small change, design it, test it, get feedback, change it and try again. Before you know it, your small steps add up to real change and you will have officially become a Universal Design Thinker.
Myth 3: UDL only benefits the student
Perhaps the most wonderful aspect of UDL is that it DOES benefit students, but instructors time and again say that UDL gave them a way of enjoying teaching again. It takes the pressure off of grading hundreds of repetitive assignments, it gives keys to increasing engagement, and gives students autonomy over their learning. It frames up the classroom as a community, shifts the power dynamics, supports feedback, and by and large, makes expression of learning more creative and interesting.