How can educators design instruction that engages and challenges all students?
Page 3: UDL Principles
As you have learned, educators should anticipate differences in how their students learn and identify potential barriers within the instructional components. Even when they do so, educators may encounter challenges when designing instructional experiences for variable learners. The UDL framework is built on three principles that guide educators to plan more than one way (i.e., multiple means) to engage students, to represent content, and to promote student expression. By applying these three principles, educators design flexible instructional experiences that incorporate options for learners. Let’s explore these principles in greater depth.
The first principle is about the “why” of learning—students’ motivation and attitude toward learning. When designing with this principle in mind, educators proactively plan more than one way to incorporate students’ interests, to encourage their efforts, and to promote self-regulation while learning. Examples of providing multiple means of engagement include:
- Inviting students to choose their own topic for an assignment or project
- Incorporating authentic activities that reflect real-world situations
- Generating multiple examples to connect new content to students’ backgrounds and experiences
- Creating opportunities for peer interaction and collaboration
- Providing feedback that emphasizes effort and progress
The second principle is about the “what” of learning—the content that is presented to learners. When designing with this principle in mind, educators make sure to use more than one way to present information, to clarify and promote a shared understanding of the language and symbols used in the content, and to foster students’ comprehension. Examples of providing multiple means of representation include:
- Presenting alternatives to text-based information (e.g., images, videos, interactive media, simulations)
- Displaying video captions
- Hyperlinking definitions to new vocabulary in a text
- Offering text-to-speech software when decoding is not the focus of instruction
- Providing graphic organizers to guide information processing
The third principle is about the “how” of learning—the ways students take part in and express their learning. When designing with this principle in mind, educators plan more than one way for students to physically interact with learning experiences, to communicate their thinking and understanding, and to use executive functions. Examples of providing multiple means of action and expression include:
- Providing alternatives to physical navigation or response methods using technology tools (e.g., keyboards, touch screens)
- Supplying a variety of task-specific tools (e.g., physical or virtual manipulatives, calculators)
- Offering students varied media options for composition (e.g., text, speech, comics, music, visual art, digital art, video)
- Creating checklists or planning templates for projects
For Your Information
As you have learned, the UDL framework is informed by scientific research about the brain. The three principles each align with a set of networks in the brain that play an important role in learning.
The affective networks process information and regulate emotions, which influences why we are motivated and engaged in learning. These networks are the basis for the first principle, provide multiple means of engagement.
The recognition networks receive incoming sensory information, including what we see and hear. These networks are the basis for the second principle, provide multiple means of representation.
The strategic networks organize information and direct how we respond. These networks are the basis of the third principle, provide multiple means of action and expression.
The following handout provides more information about the brain’s role in learning.
The UDL Guidelines
The UDL principles remind educators of the big picture of addressing learner variability by using multiple means. CAST has also developed a set of Guidelines aligned with each principle. These Guidelines address nine common dimensions of learner variability. For example, educators should expect their learners to vary in how they become interested in learning, how they sustain effort and persistence, and how they self-regulate. As such, educators provide options for each of these dimensions to address the first UDL principle, provide multiple means of engagement. Each Guideline begins with the phrase “provide options for” because expecting all students to learn in just one way can lead to barriers to learning.
The UDL Guidelines are available in an interactive format on CAST’s website. Here, you can dig deeper into each Guideline to find more specific strategies and suggestions for providing options in instruction. Note: The UDL Guidelines 3.0 are expected to release in 2024. This upcoming revision will address systemic barriers that create inequitable learning opportunities and result in inequitable outcomes. View the UDL Guidelines.
Shauntā Singer provides more information on the purpose of the UDL Guidelines and how teachers can apply the Guidelines to develop their instruction. Next, Susan Shapiro shares a story about how a teacher used the Guidelines as a lens to identify barriers and revise her instruction.
Shauntā Singer, PhD
Research & Development/
Professional Learning Research Scientist
Susan Shapiro, MEd
UDL Implementation Specialist/
Did You Know?
There is no such thing as a “learning style.” Decades ago, it was commonly believed that every individual had one primary “learning style” and could be classified as a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner. Educators were taught to match their instruction to each student’s identified modality of learning.
Recent research has debunked this theory. There is no evidence that catering to a single “learning style” for each student will result in better or faster learning. On the contrary, we know that all students vary as individual learners and that learning is contextual—the best way to learn will depend on where, how, and what a person is learning. Instead of limiting each student to one means of learning, educators who use UDL address learner variability by ensuring all students have access to multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression.
The following pages will explore more examples of how the UDL framework can be used as a lens for designing each of the components of instruction—goals, assessments, methods, and materials.