What is Universal Design for Learning?

M. Frederic Fovet, Director of the Office for Students with Disabilities at McGill University, will be providing teachers at the ALDI symposium with an interesting and engaging discussion on Universal Design for Learning. For those interested in UDL, here is a brief overview of the framework and why UDL is changing perspectives on curriculum design and classroom practice.

What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL?)

According to CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology) UDL is “a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. 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 customized and adjusted for individual needs.”


Universal Design actually originated in the field of architecture. It was determined that buildings which were accessible to everyone were a superior design to buildings that had to be individually adapted and customized. This design increased access opportunities for all users, and proved to be a much more equitable type of design.

Universal Design in education allows us to provide an environment and curriculum that is accessible to students of many abilities. The UDL framework is also used for the design and implementation of educational products, such as assistive technology.

UDL and brain research

UDL takes into account recent research on the neuroscience of learning, and recognizes that three brain “networks” work together when an individual learns. These three networks are:

  • Recognition networks (the “what” of learning)
  • Strategic networks (The “how” of learning)
  • Affective networks (the “why” of learning)

Recognizing the role that these networks play in learning, three guiding principles of UDL address each network:

  • Multiple means of representation (presenting information in different ways) ensures that recognition networks are addressed
  • Multiple means of action and expression (differentiating the ways in which students can show what they know) ensures that strategic networks are addressed
  • Multiple means of engagement (stimulating interest and motivation for learning) ensures that affective networks are addressed


For more information on UDL, here are a few comprehensive resources:

American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA)

Centre for Applied Special Technology (CAST)

BC UDL project (SET-BC)

McGill University Office for Students with Disabilities 

National Center on Universal Design for Learning