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UDL Improving Teaching and Learning For All - Guest Blog by John Galloway

The thinking behind Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is straightforward, that by designing educational resources that remove barriers to learning from the start not only benefits those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) but also it makes them more useful for everyone.


It is a philosophy that started in architecture in the 1960s and continues to this day. The most universally highlighted example is the drop kerb on street corners. This was designed to make crossing roads easier for people in wheelchairs, but it soon became obvious that it helps people pushing buggies, riding bikes and scooters, dragging wheelie bags and those on roller skates, too.

When applied to education there are three, broad, principles to consider:-

  • Multiple means of engagement,
  • Multiple means of representation,
  • Multiple means of action and expression.

This is not a hierarchy. None of these independent of the others. They are interlinked and the boundaries overlap. But to understand the model it helps to take each in turn.

Engagement refers to connecting learners with why something is to be learnt. What is it about this topic that makes it important to know about? How does it fit with the interests and values of the learner? What will be the outcomes? These are questions school staff consider all the time. How do you make something relevant and interesting for children and young people such that they remain focused and want to learn?

Representation is the content of the subject. What is being learnt, and how is it presented? This means providing information in different formats, and making sure they have the tools to understand it. Alongside written texts we might use video, cartoon strips, animations, audio files and so on. Subject specific vocabulary will be made clear, with images to aid understanding and memorization. Connections will be made to other areas of learning.

Action and expression is the process of learning. How pupils are guided through the subject, and how they respond to it, how they ‘show what they know.’ This might be through written work, but for some learners it might be more meaningful for them to give a presentation, or make a video, or podcast, or an animation. The central issue is that they can demonstrate their knowledge and understanding rather than the medium they use.

Technology is a big help for UDL. It makes the use of different media possible, and, through assistive technology (AT) it provides tools to improve accessibility, such as text to speech, or speech to text. A learner who struggles with literacy might be able to dictate their work, or make a short video in response to a question.

UDL and LGfL Resources

UDL is an approach that can be enabled through many of the resources available on the LGfL. In topic specific areas, such as Space Adventures, or Fossils and Dinosaurs, not only are there videos and images, but these are supported with subtitles and transcripts. Other assets include simulations and augmented reality, giving a wide range of ways in which these resources can be approached.

Other programs include those from J2E (note this hyperlink will take you to LGfL sign in to J2launch), which are more open ended and allow learners to be creative in many different ways, even using multiple mediums together. They can use text with speech added in, or embed an animation and add a voice over.

The key to UDL is flexibility and choice. That by offering different routes into a subject, and through it, with a variety of ways of demonstrating what has been picked up along the way, there are more opportunities for learning, regardless of ability or SEND.

That is not to say that UDL means a free for all. The craft of the teacher is to help children and young people to make choices that are effective for them. This not only involves providing materials they can engage with, but also giving them the tools and skills to access, and respond, to these.

Just as we need to teach the language of a subject to scaffold its concepts and content, so we need to teach the technological skills to find, access and create within it. Whether that is in discriminating about content, using assistive technologies, or editing different mediums, to provide opportunities and enable choices, we need to ensure our learners are ready to learn.

The UDL Guidelines are a tool used in the implementation of Universal Design for Learning. These guidelines offer a set of concrete suggestions that can be applied to any discipline or domain to ensure that all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities.

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