Safeguarding Blog Curriculum Blog

What is 'Universal Design for Learning' or 'UDL'?

We have previously looked at Universal Design for learning in a curriculum blog back in 2022.

We thought revisiting the concept and focusing on some current classroom practices built on this learning concept was timely, especially as more and more schools are embracing the UDL principles, engaging with our EdTech Hubs programme, and demonstrating some outstanding examples of Pedtech in action.

But if this is your first foray into this concept - let's recap/establish what Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is.


                                                                                        Look at this image.

Let's consider it in terms of the user experience. 

To get to the lower path, a desire path has been created. 

The manufactured pathway's original design did not consider the end user. The design did not consider the different needs of users or what some users wished for the path. Consideration for this initial pathway design did not think about what the needs of the pedestrian were (to get to the lit pathway as quickly as possible),  how the design would impact the pedestrian (take them away from the lit and therefore safer path) and why it would fail (it hadn't thought of the end-user). The user has created their own path to get directly and safely to the lower path (end user design)

We can apply this same concept in end-user design to the idea of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an approach to teaching and learning that gives all learners equal opportunity to succeed and removes those barriers to learning and accessibility. 

Using the word ‘Universal,’ it may sound that UDL is about finding one way to teach all learners in the same way. However, the goal of UDL is to use a range of teaching methods to remove any barriers to learning. It’s about building flexibility that can be adjusted for every person’s strengths and needs. That’s why embracing UDL has the potential to benefit all learners.

The three strands of UDL, as outlined by come from the concept in neuroscience that the brain has three broad networks: one for recognition (the what of learning), one for skills and strategies (the how of learning), and one for caring and prioritising, (the why of learning).

In terms of UDL and pedagogy, these can be explained as:

  • Representation gives learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge - the WHAT of learning
  • Expression to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know - the HOW of learning
  • Engagement to tap into learners' interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn - the WHY of learning




Universal learning approaches are beginning to be embedded in some classroom practices. However -

       Is it widespread? 

       Is it being utilised effectively? 

       Is it embedded? 

Woodlands Academy Trust in the borough of Bexley has embraced UDL as a strategy across the whole Trust landscape to engage and empower their learners to deliver pedagogical experiences that match and support all learners. 

Daniel Davies explains their journey and how UDL supports the school ethos and tagline. 

Knowing the tools, the devices, and the choices available for the individual learner is key to embedding the UDL principles into the classroom. 

Josh Bentham at Peareswood Primary School, part of the Woodlands Trust, recently explained that as a year one teacher, he knows that pupils enter year one having had many experiences using different devices and tools in the EYFS, but is aware it is still crucial that time is spent in the autumn term in familiarising with the device, how to use the tools and what their potential is. 

At a recent visit to the school, we saw a year two class engaging in a story-planning literacy activity using their iPads. Some pupils were using a voice note to record their story text to recall their intention, some pupils were retelling the story elements using emojis, and some pupils were happy to complete the task by typing their text directly into the storyboard template. Pupils could work at their own pace and engage in similar activities but making their own choices. All at the age of 6 and 7 years old! If a pupil wanted to write their story using pen and paper, that was also an option. Technology is used as a tool.

Enhancing a class topic of transport through technology enhanced the learning experience and ignited a wider imagination than was thought possible, even for an active year one class.


The Leo Academy Trust has also examined how UDL can support its learners. Cheryl Shirley, Director of Computing and Digital Skills, explains here the critical role of choice, choice for learners to open up opportunities to access learning in different ways to suit individual learning styles.  

At a recent visit to one of the Leo Academy Trust schools, Cheam Common, we observed active independent choice in a year six literacy lesson. Pupils were deciphering a challenging text. We could see pupils using immersive readers to focus on smaller parts of the text, pupils using text-to-speech tools to gain greater depth in understanding intonation, pupils using a search engine to unpick the definition of an unknown individual word, pupils incorporating different colour backgrounds to aid readability and understanding. All this is independent and based on personal choice from an understanding of the learning intention of the lesson and expectations.

Matt Clements, a year six teacher at Cheam Fields Primary Academy, part of the Leo Trust, and Cheryl explain here how giving pupils choices removes the barrier to learning as this enables learners to adapt their learning while still being challenged at their own personal level and make progress.


If you would like to find out more or start your Edtech/UDL journey:

    • Look at the LGfL UDL resources located here; these guidelines offer concrete suggestions that can be applied to any discipline or domain to ensure all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities. 
    • Watch this comprehensive UDL keynote presentation from the 2023 CENMAC Assertive Technology conference. Bob Usher from LGfL discusses that we are all gatekeepers and that the decisions we as teachers make ultimately influence a child's progress, aspirations, and engagement.


  • Keep an eye out for some further UDL training opportunities that are being made available to schools soon via our training portal
  • Engage with the LGfL EdTech Hubs programme and PedTech resources to support your implementation and effective use of technology for enhancing your teaching and learning.  
  • Use the LGfL Digital Transformation Toolkit to assess all elements of digital transformation and identify the key criteria to effectively support the successful implementation of digital technologies in all aspects of your school community.
  • Attend one of the Edtech Hubs Digital Discovery days at Leo Academy

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