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What is Universal Design for Learning?

March 18, 2022

What is Universal Design for Learning?

Are you a current student, educator or lifelong learner? Depending on how much time you spend in academic circles, you may or may not have heard about the concept of Universal Design for Learning. You may also be wondering how you can personally apply some of the core concepts and principles of this framework to your own academic growth. Read on to learn where the concept originated, why it matters and how you can personally apply the principles to optimize your study habits and improve your test scores for that upcoming proctored exam or midterm. 

The Origin of a Movement 

Quite simply, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is all about accessible learning opportunities and formats. The concept originated in the United States and was coined by CAST, a research and development organization that was previously branded as the Center for Applied Special Technology. Recognizing diverse learning styles, CAST defines UDL as an essential "framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn." Instead of using the same old teaching methods that only work for a handful of students, the UDL framework encourages educators to explore various modes of engagement in the classroom so that no student is left behind. The inclusive approach of UDL can be applied to curriculum development, classroom management, educational policies and even your own study habits. 

Core Defining Principles 

Engagement: UDL recognizes that all learners engage with course content in diverse ways. That means there is no one method that will work for everyone. Inclusive educators can incorporate various modes of engagement into their lesson plans so that more students are supported. You can also experiment with different modes of engagement as a learner and incorporate a variety of techniques into your study routine. 

Representation: Do you ever consider the various ways information is presented to you? For example, a class that is entirely required readings will leave behind auditory learners, whereas a class that focuses exclusively on memorization and testing knowledge will exclude kinesthetic learners who prefer to experiment and create. UDL encourages curriculum developers and educators to experiment more with various forms of representation, exploring creative uses of visualization, language, clarification and decoding. 

Action and Expression: Another core principle of UDL is providing various options for how students can express their understanding of course content. Some people excel at writing while others excel at verbal communication or visual metaphors. An accessible course curriculum should provide multiple avenues and options to help students succeed. Because action and expression are typically about demonstrating understanding, learners do not often have autonomy over the ways in which they will be evaluated. When you are taking an exam, for instance, you are locked into the evaluation methods already in place. But that does not mean you cannot apply alternative evaluations to your study routine. Consider creative ways to quiz yourself and test your understanding so you can feel more confident before your exam. 

Practical Applications 

How can you apply universal design for learning to your own academic career, learning experiences and exam preparation? Find study methods that work best for your unique learning style. Choose classes with subject matter that genuinely interests you and inspires curiosity. If you are studying in a way that is not optimized for you, make changes where possible. If you are comfortable with technology, find digital copies of your required readings and experiment with screen readers, notation software or different summarization techniques instead of relying on print books or paper. Remember that your study habits should reflect your learning style, and you can optimize your experience by applying any number of the above principles and values relating to Universal Design for Learning. 

When you feel ready to succeed, be sure to book your proctored exam with ATS. Located in the heart of downtown, our professional exam proctoring services guarantee a safe and secure environment, so you can focus on achieving the best results possible. 

Written by CJ McGillivray