Design for everyone

Madeline Grdina

User Experience Office Leader

Last month, Tracey Birdwell wrote about active learning in the classroom; this month, Madeline Grdina would like to draw attention to another educational approach based on the learning sciences: Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

UDL takes design principles and applies them to education. While you can create an entire course with UDL in mind, you can also focus on just your syllabus, a specific assignment, or other components of your course. And if you've been thinking about different ways to engage your students, you might already be practicing it.

So what is it?

UDL is about designing or creating an environment or resource "so that it may be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible" (What is universal design?). It has three principles:

  • Provide multiple means of engagement, like discussion and journaling.
  • Provide multiple means of representation, like videos and transcripts.
  • Provide multiple means of action & expression, like in-class activities and group projects.

People often conflate UDL with accessibility, and it's true that UDL principles benefit those who require an accommodation to help with their learning. But more importantly, UDL benefits everyone. For example, a student with a hearing impairment may rely on transcripts to follow a video. But a student who's forgotten their headphones may need those transcripts as well.

UDL isn't about making accommodations, simplifying course content, or even finding a one-size-fits-all solution. It's about creating an inclusive environment for a variety of people. Simply put, universal design is good design.

The good news is that you can take simple, concrete steps to practice UDL. Check out the following resources for tips.

For deeper dives

Finally, if you'd like to learn more about user experience beyond the classroom, check out these more general resources:

Learn more about the accessibility resources at IU, or enroll in a self-directed course that will walk you through the process of creating accessible documents.