Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a comprehensive curriculum design, development, and delivery framework aimed at fostering inclusive and accessible learning environments. Its primary objective is to ensure equity in teaching and learning processes while nurturing expert learners. By promoting the development of masterful learners-purposeful, motivated, resourceful, knowledgeable, strategic, and goal-directed-the UDL approach encourages a proactive stance towards addressing common and systemic learning barriers. The Canadian Higher Education UDL Collective, consisting of post-secondary educators from across Canada, actively engages in learning and sharing insights related to UDL. Through UDL implementation, learning becomes more accessible, inclusive, and manageable for all students, thereby also saving faculty time and effort in the process.
Topics of Discussion
What is Universal Design for Learning?
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a curriculum design, development, and delivery framework used to create equitable, inclusive and accessible learning environments. The goal of UDL is to support creating masterful learners who are purposeful, motivated, resourceful, knowledgeable, strategic, and goal-directed.
UDL guidelines are based on three primary brain networks:
Each network is identified by a principle to guide design, development, and delivery in practice:
Each network contains three checkpoints (nine in total) that emphasize learner diversity that could either present barriers to, or opportunities for, learning. The checkpoints are as follows:
The "why" of Learning.
Multiple Means of Engagement
The "what" of Learning.
Multiple Means of Representation
The "how" of Learning.
Multiple Means of Action and Expression
The graphic organizer below offers a visual representation of the UDL Guidelines used at Mohawk College.
You can also access the UDL Guidelines as text: UDL Guidelines in Word or UDL Guidelines in PDF. Use the tabs on this page to explore UDL at Mohawk College, including information for educators, implementation ideas, and useful resources.
UDL for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
UDL gives educators a comprehensive framework to centre equity-deserving students in our learning spaces. Because of its capacity to support all learners, Mohawk College has built UDL into its Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Action Plan.
The UDL Standard for Mohawk College is an effective resource to support your UDL implementation as it provides context specific UDL considerations for curriculum design, development, and delivery. You can learn more about Mohawk College's UDL Standard by Access the UDL Standard as a Word document or Access the UDL Standard as a PDF document.
Universal Design for Learning Information for Educators
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a curriculum design, development, and delivery framework used to create inclusive and accessible learning environments. The goal of UDL is to ensure inclusion in teaching and learning processes, while encouraging the development of expert learners.
The three central principles of UDL are:
Extensive research identifies UDL as an effective practice and comprehensive framework to support inclusion, equity and access throughout the curriculum development process and in any learning modality. UDL implementation is not in addition to the curriculum design, development and delivery work educators do. Instead, UDL is the framework by which educators can design, develop and deliver curriculum to make learning more tractable, equitable and inclusive for all students.
Benefits of Universal Design for Learning
UDL has benefits for both learners and educators. UDL has the capacity to make teaching and learning more inclusive and accessible for everyone. Educators who implement UDL often find:
Universal Design for Learning and You
Many educators at Mohawk College have already implemented UDL elements in their courses. The list below, and following graphic, offers UDL examples employed by Mohawk College educators:
Examples of Multiple Means of Engagement
Examples of Multiple Means of Representation
Examples of Multiple Means of Action and Expression
Benefits of Universal Design for Learning
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is meant to be a proactive approach to common and systemic learning barriers. Implementation makes learning more accessible, inclusive, and tractable for all students, while saving faculty time and effort.
Using the tabs on this page you will find a number of context specific UDL implementation ideas and initiatives.
UDL Course Assessment
To determine the UDL elements already in a course, or to determine where UDL can be added and obtain targeted resources, the UDL Course Assessment is a great place to start. To access the UDL Course Assessment, please use the link above or the image below.
UDL Course Statement
By including a UDL statement on course sites and learning plans, learners will be made aware of what UDL elements have been included in the course, as well as the options that exist for them to gain course content and show what they know.
If you have implemented UDL in a course copy, paste and modify the UDL Statement below. Once the statement has been customized to a specific course it can be included on the course site, learning plan, as well as anywhere else you feel students will see it.
Universal Design for Learning
This course has been designed using Universal Design for Learning guidelines. The following elements have been incorporated into this course to support greater inclusion and access:
MyCanvas Course Master Template
The Centre for Teaching & Learning has designed a Course Master Template with UDL elements for MyCanvas. The template can be used by Mohawk College educators as a starting point for new course builds or when redeveloping a course. The CTL Course Master Template (UDL) is evidenced-based, has incorporated student feedback, and includes a wide range of UDL elements. In addition, the template is fully customizable and is supportive of all delivery modalities.
The CTL Course Master Template (UDL) document outlines the purpose and key features of the template.
Additional Time for Quizzes/Tests/Exams
Including additional time on quizzes/tests/exams allows all learners to read questions more carefully, evaluate their answers thoroughly, complete the assessment with less anxiety related to time, and can provide a better reflection of their content knowledge. Wherever possible, applying UDL guidelines to course quizzes/tests/exams can provide a supportive evaluation environment for all students.
Additional time for testing is one of the most common disability related accommodations at Mohawk College, as it supports a wide-range of disability types and needs. While students registered with Accessible Learning Services may continue to book tests in the Testing Centre for other disability related testing accommodations, proactively including additional time to quizzes/tests/exams can reduce time and effort of arranging additional time accommodations for both educators and students.
Sometimes the content being assessed must be done so in a specific amount of time (for example because of a clearly defined and articulated industry standard or demonstrating knowledge within a specified time is an explicit learning outcome of a course). However, when this is not the case or when a specific disability related accommodation is required, educators may wish to proactively extend quiz/test/exam times to ensure all students have the time they need to fully show what they know without the additional barrier of limited time. Proactively including additional time does not have to mean for all quizzes, tests, and exams. Faculty can determine which of these assessments would be best suited to including additional time as a UDL element.
As the most common additional time accommodations are typically 50% to 100%. To ensure as many students are supported as possible, and to limit additional effort, the recommendation is to add 100% additional time to quizzes/tests/exams when possible. Ideally, when suitable, unlimited time can be offered. Once the appropriate additional time has been determined, it is essential that learners be informed that that additional time has already been added to their quizzes/tests/exams. The Implementation section below offers a statement educators can modify and include anywhere quiz/test/exam information is included in a course.
Additional Time for Online Course Quizzes/Tests/Exams
The quizzes/tests/exams in this course have been designed using Universal Design for Learning guidelines and (give the percentage) additional time has already been added to each quiz/test/exam in support of all students.
UDL works to provide students with options to obtain course content in the way that is the most supportive and beneficial to their learning. Additionally, there are learners who require or would benefit from alternate formats. However, gaining alternate formats for course content can be a time-consuming barrier for students, as well as educators. Proactively providing course content in multiple formats, is supportive of all learners and can save educators time.
There are a number of practical ways to provide content options within a course. Ideally, all course content would be proactively provided in at least two formats. Options for providing multiple formats may include:
If you would like to include links to additional formats or caption your videos contact our Digital Support technicians.
To support equity, inclusion and access, it is important that course content is accessible to all learners. To learn more about how to make documents and presentations accessible, review the variety of resources available on the Creating Accessible Documents and Alternate Formats webpage.
Open Educational Resources
Open Educational Resources (OERs) are another easy way to provide a wide variety of content options with minimal effort; OERs have up to nine different formats (for example PDF, HTMLBook, etc.) for students to choose from.
To learn more about OERs and find suitable course materials you can search Ontario's Open Library website. If OERs are new to you, you may also wish to review the Learning Portal About OER webpage. If you have questions regarding the use of OERs you can review the Mohawk College Library Open Education webpage, or connect with the Mohawk College Library.
LinkedIn Learning has a variety of learning material options for learners to choose from (for example, transcripts of videos or captioning) while providing multimedia resources suitable for higher education courses.
To learn more about LinkedIn Learning at Mohawk College, including how to access materials and gain support if you need it, review the LinkedIn Learning website.
Course Navigation Instructions
Providing learners with explicit information at the start of a course is an ideal way to set course expectations, help students quickly find key information, and offer directions regarding how to proceed through the course.
The following outline suggests headings and content ideas that may guide the development of course navigation instructions.
This section could include:
This section could include:
This section could include explanations of:
The information above is meant to provide options to develop course navigation instructions and can be altered to meet the specific needs of a course.
Interim Due Dates
Executive functioning skills, including time management and organization, can impact students' ability to plan assignments and complete large assignments. Learners in the first or second semester of their program can often benefit from explicit support to plan and organize their assignments. In addition, providing executive functioning support can reduce issues exacerbated by late assignments for both educators and learners.
To assist learners to produce the most accurate reflection of their knowledge and to ensure educators can accurately assess the learning outcome(s), consider providing interim due dates on assignment outlines and/or course learning plan. For example if an assignment is to be completed in three weeks, educators can outline what elements should be completed in the first week, what should be completed in the second week, and what needs to be done to finish the assignment and submit it in the third week.
If educators are able, ungraded feedback can be given for each interim date. Additionally, resources and supports can be offered for each portion of the assignment, such as a link to the Library for research support in the first week or the Writing Centre for editing help in the final week.
Language and Symbol Options
Many learners can find new, subject specific language and symbols challenging. To support all learners' equitable participation and inclusion in a course, a glossary or legend or common terms, acronyms and/or symbols is very helpful. In addition, offering a glossary or legend of commonly used terms, acronyms, and/or symbols provides an accurate, time saving resource for learners and makes delivering content more efficient. In addition, this type of reference document can serve as a study aid and/or support more effective note taking.
There are a few ways to create a glossary or legend for language, symbols, acronyms, etc. for your course:
Note Taking Support
Clear and concise notes support learners to prepare for lessons and learning activities, study more efficiently, and complete assessments more effectively. However, many students struggle with effective note taking and do not end up with the course resources that will serve them best. In addition, note taking accommodations are among of the most common for students with disabilities, and it can be challenging to implement accommodations for this need, for both learners and educators.
There are a number of ways educators can proactively support all students to have complete and comprehensive course notes, including:
Posting Lesson Notes
By posting lesson/course notes to the online course site in advance of class, learners can proactively review lesson content and prepare for class. Providing notes in advance also removes the individualized accommodation barriers for students with disabilities, as well as educators.
Lesson notes can include:
As indicated on the Content Options section, greatest inclusion is achieved when content is provided in at least two formats. These formats could
include copying and pasting the notes into the HTML editor and proving a link to a Word or PDF document. If educators require support to include links to downloadable Word documents, contact our Digital Support Technicians.
Posting Lesson Presentations
Similar to posting lesson notes, lesson presentations can support students with note taking and preparing for class.
To support inclusion and the accessibility needs of all learners, posting the lesson notes in two formats is ideal. For example, include the PowerPoint presentation and a link to a PDF version or creating a video of the lesson and providing the original presentation as well.
Crowdsourcing Lecture Notes
Crowdsourcing of lecture notes was an idea originally developed by Dr. David Rose from Harvard. It was designed within the framework of UDL to support the note taking needs of learners and to minimize note taking efforts of educators. Crowdsourcing lecture notes has the capacity to:
Crowdsourcing lecture notes involves having learners, who are attending lessons and taking notes anyway, to share them. This is most easily done by students posting their notes to a designated space on the online course site. Once posted, any learner in the course can access the notes and use them to study, correct their notes, catch up on missed classes, etc.
There are a variety of ways that educators can provide space for crowdsourced lecture notes in the online course environment:
Once you have determined the best way to include crowdsourcing lecture notes as a UDL initiative in your course, inform learners and encourage them to post their notes. Some educators have found it helpful to offer an incentive for students to share notes by offering a reference letter or encouraging students to apply for the "Student Services - Note Taker - Crowdsourcing" co-curricular record credit when they have completed 15 hours or more of note taking in a course.
Occasionally educators may get a request or accommodation letter for audio recording lectures. However, supporting this request of fulfilling this accommodation can have challenges. Given learning activities, group discussions, personal sharing, etc. it can be difficult to gain an ideal recording of the lecture content. If these are challenges in your course, you may wish to provide audio recording options to all students in support of improved note taking and access to course content after the lesson is over.
When audio recording lectures will be supportive of note taking efforts, there are options that educators can employ to improve the ability of learners to get audio content that is easy to listen and study from. Educators can:
Online Course Layout
An explicit and well-organized online course layout allows learners to access course content quickly and easily, with less confusion and frustration. While there is not one ideal course layout that is perfect for every course or everyone, there are some general UDL considerations to apply to online course organization to make it easier for learners to access online curriculum and assessments.
When designing the online course layout, consider:
While there is not one course layout that is ideal for all courses, the following format is one that a number of educators have found beneficial (subheadings are identified in bold text).
This folder may contain:
Ideally, the folders in course content will be identified as they are on the learning plan.
Subheadings in course content may include:
The above format can be modified to meet the needs of individual courses. Some courses may include a separate folder for assignments, readings, lab content, and placement information to support easy access to key resources.
Additional folders could include:
All assignment information and grading rubrics can be included in one folder to provide students an alternate way to access this key information.
All readings, videos or lectures, identified as they are in the content section and learning plan, are included in one folder to give additional access to this content.
Additional course specific tutorials, or more general options such as those for plagiarism or the online course, can be included in this section to provide students with additional resources to be successful in their studies.
An easy way to obtain this online course layout is to import the CTL Course Master Template (UDL) into your course. You can learn more about the template by reviewing the CTL Course Master Template (UDL) document.
Online Student Accessibility and Preference Instructions
Learners benefit from options that allow them to change their online learning environment to meet their individual learning needs and/or preferences. Identifying the accessibility and preference options that exist in the online course environment empowers all students to have control and responsibility over aspects of their learning. Learners need to be informed of how their learning preferences can be met in the online course space.
In order to offer online accessibility and learning environment preference instructions, reviewing the accessibility features specific to MyCanvas is a great place to start. The following links offer resources to support creating adaptable and accessible content:
Once reviewed, adding the accessibility and learning options to the online course will support learners to adjust the content to meet their needs.
Post the following links and/or video to your online course page and draw students' attention to these accessibility and preference options:
Rubrics and UDL
Well-constructed rubrics allow all learners to better understand the outcomes of the assessment, how they will be graded and plan their time accordingly to complete the work to the best of their ability. In addition, when assignment expectations are clearly defined on a rubric, grading can be more efficient and concise.
UDL does not have an ideal rubric type, that is to say, the ideal rubric for UDL is one that accurately supports the measurement of learner knowledge of the course learning outcome(s) without constricting the options of how a learner can show what they know. A rubric designed with UDL in mind:
Educators sometimes feel that they need to have a different rubric for each way a student can submit an assessment, but this is not the case. If the rubric is based on evaluating the learning outcome(s) the assessment is for, and worded appropriately for a variety of submission options, one rubric will be able to support a larger variety of assessment submission options. For example, if your assessment allows learners to choose if they would like to write an essay, create a video presentation, or develop a detailed infographic, including spelling and grammar in the rubric will not support all possible submission options. Instead, using a phrase like "clearly articulate" would encompass all of the submission options offered making one rubric sufficient and useable for all submissions.
More information regarding how to create rubrics can be found on the Centre for Teaching & Learning's Grading and Assessment webpage.
Providing options regarding how assessments are submitted allows learners to leverage their strengths to demonstrate their knowledge in the best way they can, while supporting educators to more accurately assess what a student knows. Removing barriers that are not related to the learning outcome(s) and allowing options regarding how a student can meet the learning outcome(s) supports a more inclusive and equitable learning environment.
While it is not always possible to provide options to learners about how they submit every assignment in the course, offering even one submission option will improve learner engagement and allow for multiple means of action and expression.
When creating the assessment rubric it is important to ensure it is based on the learning outcome(s) the assessment is designed to measure, as opposed to the submission method. For more information on creating rubrics with UDL in mind, review the Grading and Assessment webpage.
Universal Design for Learning Resources
The resources found on this page are great sources of information regarding Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in higher education. To review a curated selection of post-secondary UDL resources, feel free to access the UDL Foundations PowerPoint or UDL Foundations PDF document.
New resources will be added to this webpage as they are obtained.
The UDL Standard for Mohawk College provides direction for UDL considerations when designing, developing and/or delivering curriculum. Use the links below to review the Standard:
UDL Course Assessment
Take the UDL Course Assessment to determine the UDL elements currently in your course(s) and gain targeted resources to support further UDL implementation. To access the UDL Course Assessment, click the link above or the image below.
UDL Course Template
The Centre for Teaching & Learning has designed a Course Master Template with UDL elements for MyCanvas. The template can be used by Mohawk College educators as a starting point for new course builds or when redeveloping a course. The CTL Course Master Template (UDL) is evidenced-based and has incorporated student feedback. In addition, the template includes a wide range of UDL elements with targeted resources to support educators to implement each.
The CTL Course Master Template (UDL) document outlines the purpose and key features of the template.
The following websites offer a wealth of information on UDL implementation in higher education.
The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) has a number of comprehensive research articles regarding UDL in post-secondary education in Ontario on their Publications webpage. New articles are added to this webpage as they are peer reviewed and published.
The following videos provide foundational UDL information, as well as Mohawk College examples of UDL directly from educators.
From UDL on Campus
Todd Rose at TEDx Sonoma County
Mohawk College Faculty UDL Examples
Mohawk College Student Voice
The following books share research and effective UDL implementation strategies.
UDL Navigators in Higher Education: A Field Guide
Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice
Engage the Brain: How to Design for Learning that Taps into the Power of Emotion
Antiracism and Universal Design for Learning: Building Expressways to Success
UDL University: Designing for Variability Across the Postsecondary Curriculum
These Twitter feeds will keep you up to date on UDL news, events and implementation efforts:
While UDL and the accessibility requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) are distinct from each other, if you are developing alternate content options for students, you will want to take accessibility into consideration. For more information on creating accessible documents, review the variety of resources found on the Creating Accessible Documents and Alternate Formats webpage.
Canadian Higher Education UDL Collective
Who We Are
The Canadian Higher Education UDL Collective is a group of post-secondary educators from across Canada who are looking to learn and share all things Universal Design for Learning (UDL).
The Canadian Higher Education UDL Collective is aiming to:
Increase the number of faculty trained on UDL and the number of programs/courses that are designed using Universal Design for Learning.
Train Continuing Education instructors on UDL in course design and delivery.
Number of employees trained on UDL and programs created using UDL.
Timeline: Fall 2021
Continue to build UDL principles into all programs and courses by offering customized professional development sessions for faculty.
Students report more inclusive learning environments.
Timeline: Spring 2022
How to Learn with Us
We have a wealth of resources provided by our members. You can access these resources by joining the Canadian Higher Education UDL Collective (see the instructions at the bottom of this page). Once you are a group member, you will be able to access a collaborative resource document and view upcoming UDL in higher education professional development opportunities.
We also have regular meetings to share, problem solve and support each other through our UDL journeys. Meeting times and topics are communicated through our group listserv and we hope you will join us!
How to Share with Us
Do you have a fantastic UDL resource with a higher education application? Please join the Canadian Higher Education UDL Collective (again, see the instructions at the bottom of this page) to gain access to the collaborative UDL resource document. You can then add your great resource for us to include. Once received, the resource will be added to the Collective's resource bank.
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