Universal Design for Learning and Best First Instruction

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is “a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all students based on scientific insights into how humans learn” (CAST, 2019).  The concept of Universal Design for Learning was adapted from the field of engineering where architects designed buildings to improve accessibility for all.  When barriers to access were removed, all people benefitted, not just the handicapped.  For example, creating easements on sidewalks not only made entries more accessible to those with handicaps, but also benefited individuals on bicycles, mothers with strollers, and the elderly who had trouble stepping down.  

Universal Design for learning is based on three principles or ‘pathways’ derived from neurological science about how the brain processes information.  These three pathways are Representation (the What of learning), Engagement (the Why of learning), and Action and Expression (the How of learning) (CAST, n.d.).  UDL emphasizes that learning is improved and optimized when teachers can provide multiple means of Representation, Engagement, and Action/Expression.  

The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) has developed guidelines for implementing UDL principles in the classroom.  The UDL Guidelines consist of strategies and options for providing multiple means of representation of information, choices for student engagement, and plenty of options for Action and Expression to demonstrate student learning (CAST, n.d.).   Examples of how UDL principles can be applied in the classroom are (a) Representation - customizing how information is presented and displayed and offering alternatives for auditory and visual instruction; (b) Engagement – optimizing individual choice and autonomy and emphasizing cultural relevance, value, and authenticity; and (c) Action and Expression – varying the method for student response and navigation, using multiple media for communication, and providing access to tools and assistive technology (CAST, n.d.).  


Implementing UDL principles is aligned with Best First Instruction (BFI) which “aims to give all students the best opportunity to learn standards-based, grade-level content and skills the first time they receive instruction” (CDE, n.d.).  UDL principles also promote culturally responsive teaching, social justice, and equity in the classroom.  When students have improved access to core instruction and barriers to learning are removed, learning is improved and optimized for all students.


Author: Dori Barnett, Ed.D.


References and Resources:

Center for Applied Special Technology https://www.cast.org/impact/universal-design-for-learning-udl 

Colorado Department of Education https://www.cde.state.co.us/standardsandinstruction/bfi 

UDL Guidelines https://udlguidelines.cast.org/?utm_source=castsite&lutm_medium=web&utm_campaign=none&utm_content=aboutudl 

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