Universal Design for Learning: Making Education More Equitable

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This article is Part One of four in a series about Universal Design for Learning.

Universal Design for Learning (a.k.a. Universal Design or UDL) is an approach to creating learning environments, such as Canvas, with accessibility in mind. It is both flexible and accommodating in that it focuses on changing the methods of presenting learning content rather than making the student change their approach to learning. Thus, the learner is at the center of Universal Design.

The 3 Principles of Universal Design

Universal Design has three core principles: Engagement, Representation, and Action & Expression. These principles embody the core areas of learning that can be impacted when barriers get in the way. By barriers, we aren’t referring to disabilities or other non-normative situations, but rather the technologies and approaches that get in the way of learning for these students. 

1. Multiple means of Engagement: Stimulate interest and motivation by empowering students to participate.

2. Multiple means of Representation: Present information and content in ways that resonate with students for effective learning.

3. Multiple means of Action & Expression: Allow students to demonstrate their knowledge in ways that utilize their strengths.

How Universal Design Applies to Canvas

Implementing best practices for Universal Design in Canvas involves maximizing the features of Canvas for accessibility. Many of the tools to make courses accessible for all students are built into Canvas’ features. From video lectures to assignment submissions, every aspect of a Canvas course should be considered.

By building Canvas courses with Universal Design in mind, instructors will be able to:

1. Use technology effectively: With online learning in Canvas, students need to be able to use and access technologies regardless of differences in ability. Universal Design empowers educators to use technology in ways that allow all students to participate in their courses equally. Goals like student engagement and community building, along with course outcomes, are better achieved through Universal Design.

2. Design courses efficiently: Employing Universal Design is beneficial for instructors as well as students. It provides a standardized way to design your courses so that they are optimized for accessibility. By following the methods in this guide, you will learn the best practices and be able to repeat them in future courses.

3. Develop advanced skills: Universal Design is not just a checklist or recipe book for how to set up your course. It’s a new way of thinking, and in learning it, you will become more familiar with the Canvas features and functions. This means you can better customize your course, giving it personality in addition to functionality.

Learn More

Get started with the basics of designing your courses to meet the needs of all students! Sign up for our next Introduction to Accessibility in Canvas workshop on April 29th from 12-1 pm. 

For a detailed overview of the principles and practices of UDL, visit the UDL Guidelines on the CAST website (Links to an external site.).

Photo by Guillermo Ferla on Unsplash