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Universal Design for Learning

What is Universal Design for Learning?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL), is a research-based set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. "Beginning with a focus on knowing the learner, UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone – not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customised and adjusted for individual needs." UDL is the foundation of an inclusive curriculum. 

Universal Design refers to the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design.

National Center on Universal Design for Learning

UDL principles

The UDL principles highlight areas where:

  • barriers to learning can be minimised
  • flexible options for learning can be identified and increased.

Each principle has a related set of guidelines and checkpoints to help teachers create a more inclusive learning environment. 

More information on the three principles of UDL »  

Teacher, Kate Friedwald (Wairakei School) explains her approach to including all students in her classroom. Students have choices in their learning to allow them to meet their specific learning needs. A variety of differentiated activities are provided so students can personalise their learning.

Key resource

Universal Design for Learning

This guide provides strategies, examples, and resources to support New Zealand teachers with understanding and using the UDL principles to support planning for all learners.

Applying UDL principles in your classroom

UDL supports the design of the least restictive learning environments for students. Barriers are minimised. Learning supports and flexibility are built in to the environment from the outset.

Student using headphones

Take time to know all your learners. Find out about their interests, goals, ways they prefer to learn, and what they are able to do. Use that information to: 

  • plan a classroom curriculum to meet students' needs rather than expecting students to fit to the curricula 
  • plan learning and teaching activities that all students can participate in – this may mean utilising digital technologies such as text-to-speech
  • identify and remove barriers to assessment, for example, provide assessment materials in a variety of ways and multiple options for students to demonstrate their learning 
  • plan the design of the physical environment to create different spaces that allow students choice to work in a variety of ways that suits their learning needs
  • create virtual environments that offer students different ways to share their thinking.

Teacher, Kate Friedwald explains how careful and consistent presentation of visual information and classroom organisation supported by technology is designed to foster independent learning in Felix, a student with dyslexia. Felix and his mother, Julia, discuss the benefits of Kate's approach.

Begin your planning by focusing on students with unique learning needs.

UDL supports a shift away from time-consuming singular solutions for individual students to a curriculum focused on providing students with choice and autonomy – a personalised approach. Students must have access to learning in the way that works best for them. A one-size-fits-all approach to teaching does not work. Every child – not just the students with disabilities – is different. 

When you begin planning by focusing on including students with unique learning needs, more students benefit. Ideas recommended for students with specific needs can increase success for all students.

Kate Friedwald explains her approach to including and meeting the needs of all students. She considers students' specific needs and provides various learning activities and tools that enable each student to fully participate in learning.

This animated introduction to UDL describes how to identify and minimise barriers to learning and increase the flexibility and effectiveness of the learning environment for all.

Universal Design for Learning

This guide for New Zealand teachers and school leaders provides strategies, examples, and resources to support planning for all learners.

e-Learning and UDL

Digital technologies provide flexible options to support teaching and learning across each the three UDL principles:

  • Engagement – multiple and flexible options for engaging and sustaining motivation
  • Representation – multiple and flexible options for presenting content
  • Action and expression – multiple and flexible options for supporting the creation and demonstration of knowledge and understanding

UDL guidelines

Using digital technologies can enable more inclusive and personalised learning pathways through the curriculum. In this video, year 5 student Teva, Kieren – his teacher, and Tania – his mother explain how using a netbook, Google docs, and blogging has improved learning outcomes, increased engagement, and facilitated ongoing learning conversations. Using these tools means Teva can move past the mechanics of forming letters and view writing as a creative act. 

Consider your students and identify different ways in which you can use digital technologies to provide opportunities for:

  • engaging learners
  • removing barriers to learning
  • increasing choices in the ways students can access and revisit information
  • increasing choices in the ways students can create and present their learning
  • increasing options for student collaboration.

The e-Learning Planning framework (eLPF)  can be used by individual teachers, syndicates, or a whole staff as a self-review tool to gather evidence about practice. Use this tool to identify "where you are" and to inform an inquiry into your next steps.

Junior school teacher, Denise Stanisich talks about her teacher inquiry focusing on raising student achievement in fluency and phrasing. She explains how she used various iPad apps in this process. The tools enabled student collaboration and reflection. Denise comments, "I feel using the different apps on the iPad has given children a lot more room for creativity to share with other children in the class."

More stories on teacher inquiries »

Assistive Technologies, sometimes referred to as "specialised equipment" or "assistive equipment", help students with disabilities do things they cannot otherwise do, or do things better. Assistive technologies can include technology devices such as computer hardware and software, as well as hearing, vision, and mobility devices and equipment, and specialised furniture.

Consider how standard devices can support all students, including those with special education needs. For example, rather than having one student with special learning needs using an iPad with specific applications on it to support their learning, consider how all students can access and use iPads as part of the learning programme to support learning and collaboration.

Daniel, a student with ADHD, and his teacher, Kate Friedwald, explain how he uses apps on his iPad to support his reading and comprehension. He can now structure his own learning because he can see and hear what it is he needs to be doing.

Success for all

In this video, Lynne Silcock discusses how UDL principles and technologies together can support success for all.

"For most people, technology makes things easier, but for a person with a disability it makes things possible. What we want to do in a classroom is not to assess students for what their disability is, but assess their abilities and talents."

For more information and school stories on Assisitive Technologies »

Key resources

Digital technologies

This guide for New Zealand teachers provides strategies, examples, and resources demonstrating how digital technologies can be used to support engagement, participation, and learning.

Assistive Technology

This guide for New Zealand teachers provides strategies, examples, and resources demonstrating how digital technologies can be used to support increased options and choices.

These videos are examples of teachers applying UDL principles to create more inclusive classrooms. 

A 1:1 netbook programme makes a difference for all learners

A 1:1 netbook programme makes a difference for all learners

Implementing 1-1 netbooks has enabled personalised learning to meet the needs of all students in the senior classes at Parkvale school and provided opportunities for success.

1:1 Netbooks – Allowing excellence in the classroom

1:1 Netbooks – Allowing excellence in the classroom

Tyler, a year 6 student with dyspraxia, uses a netbook to help him write creatively instead of being inhibited by the speed of his handwriting or his ability to form letters. 

Netbooks - an "onramp" to success in literacy

Netbooks – an "onramp" to success in literacy

Using a netbook, Google docs, and blogging has increased engagement and improved learning outcomes for student Kieren. 

An inclusive classroom supporting a learner with ADHD

Supporting a learner with ADHD

Teacher, Kate Friedwald explains how information and feedback presented visually and orally in her digital classroom are designed to meet the learning needs of a student with ADHD. 

An inclusive classroom supporting a learner with dyslexia

Supporting a learner with dyslexia

Teacher, Kate Friedwald explains how careful and consistent presentation of visual information and classroom organisation supported by technology is designed to foster independent learning in a student with dyslexia. 

An inclusive classroom supporting a learner with Aspergers syndrome

Supporting a learner with Aspergers syndrome

Teacher, Kate Friedwald and parent, Denise Fuller, explain how Mitchell, a student with Aspergers syndrome, uses Facetime on an iPad to support his learning needs and develop friendships.

Enabling student ownership of learning by providing a differentiated programme for a learner with ADHD

Enabling student ownership of learning by providing a differentiated programme for a learner with ADHD

Daniel, who has ADHD and his teacher talk about how having a must-do/can-do list and an ipad enable him to have ownership and control over his learning.

Using an iPad to support independent writing for a student with ADHD

Using an iPad to support independent writing for a student with ADHD

Daniel, a student with ADHD, and his teacher explain how he uses apps on his ipad to support his reading and comprehension. 

Needs based groups in an inclusive classroom

Needs based groups in an inclusive classroom

Kate Friedwald a teacher at Wairakei School and Daniel, a student with ADHD, talk about how needs-based rather than ability-based grouping has helped him to be a successful learner.

Planning for differentiated learning at Wairakei School

Planning for differentiated learning

Wairakei School teacher, Kate Friewald describes how she uses Google Docs to support differentiated learning in her classroom. 

Aspergers syndrome – Making friends using facetime

Making friends using facetime

Denise Fuller, describes the difference using Facetime to connect with others has made to the confidence, self-esteem, and overall happiness of her son who has Asperger's syndrome. 

Dyslexia – Using an iPad to support learning

Using an iPad to support learning

Felix, a year 5 student with dyslexia explains how he uses iPad apps like IWordQ to make the process of reading and writing easier. 

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Key resource

Universal Design for Learning

This guide provides New Zealand teachers with strategies, examples, and resources to use UDL principles when planning for all learners.

Inclusive education: Guides for schools
This website provides New Zealand educators with practical strategies, suggestions, and resources to support learners with diverse needs. 

Katie Novak: Universal Design for Learning, an introduction
Dr Katie Novak is a reading curriculum coordinator and an independent UDL consultant. In this keynote speech at ULearn14, Katie outlines the background to UDL and demonstrates how UDL enables teachers to make the curriculum accessible to all students.

UDL on Maryland Learning Links
Maryland State Department of Education website provides information about using UDL principles to inform teaching strategies and practise.

National Center on Universal Design for Learning

UDLinks ios app  and UDLinks android app
These apps support teachers and parents to search for content specific online teaching resources aligned with Universal Design for Learning.

UDL guidelines
Information about UDL presented using UDL principles.

UDL guidelines

UDL guidelines
A one page PDF colour-coded summary describing UDL.

The UDL wheel

UDL Tech toolkit wiki
Recommended apps, tools, and strategies.

Ed Tech Solutions: Teaching every student
A blog by Karen Janowski.

Universal Design for Learning for educators on Scoop it  
A portal of current links to UDL posts curated by Chrissie Butler.

Square Peg  
A book by L. Todd Rose.

Effective Inclusive Schools
A book by Tom Hehir on Amazon website.

Universal Design for Learning in the Classroom
A book, edited by Hall, Meyer and Rose, on the Book Depository website.

Inclusive practices for students with special needs in schools (March 2015)
This report examines how well students with special education needs are included in New Zealand schools.

More research and readings »

Universal Design for Learning
Join the UDL group in the Virtual Learning Network to find information and participate in discussions about UDL in the classroom.

Online community discussions


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