Friday, July 19, 2013

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Guidelines and Expert Learners

According to the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), "the UDL Guidelines, an articulation of the UDL framework, can assist anyone who plans lessons/units of study or develops curricula (goals, methods, materials, and assessments) to reduce barriers, as well as optimize levels of challenge and support, to meet the needs of all learners from the start. They can also help educators identify the barriers found in existing curricula." (Source:

The guidelines are organized according to the there main principles of the UDL framework and tie to different brain networks:
  • Principle I: Provide Multiple Means of Representation (the "what" of learning)
  • Principle II: Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression (the "how" of learning)
  • Principle III: Provide Multiple Means of Engagement (the "why" of learning)
Each of the three principles is then broken down further in to the actual guidelines and then the guidelines are broken down one more time in to checkpoints.  Below is an image of the overview of these guidelines.  More about this can be found on the CAST UDL Guidelines page.

The guidelines are actually a pretty overwhelming place to start and although CAST has a lesson planner where you fill in information related to each UDL guideline, I can't really see a teacher being able to plan by thinking about the details of every guideline.  I think it is important to remember that a guideline is mean to be a "general rule, principle or piece of advice".  There is some great information in these guidelines that can help us, as teachers, to continually increase opportunities for access to more effective and efficient learning (and appropriate objective-related challenge in learning) for all students. 

I'm writing this overview post of the UDL guidelines because it ties in to the next few posts that I want to do highlighting background and some practical applications linked to each of the principles.  I'm also writing this explanation because it provides background for what I believe is the most important component of UDL - the facilitated development of "expert learners". 

According to CAST, expert learners are (I) resourceful and knowledgeable, (II) strategic and goal directed and (III) purposeful and motivated.  Each of these areas links to one of the three principles of UDL.  The goal of UDL is actually to reach the bottom row of the guidelines.  This video explains it well:  

Thinking in terms of the top two rows as how to "get to" the final row somehow makes the guidelines more "doable" as the goal becomes more focused and one can start to see how to take things one step at a time.  It isn't a matter of planning a lesson with every single guideline and checkpoint in mind, but rather it is about thinking about what strategies, structures and supports we can put in place for students to move towards being those "independent, self-directed, self-actuated learners".  
This is what a lot of movements in education are about right now.  Something like UDL just gives some structure to it at the same time as making explicit some steps we can take to increase access to learning  to an increasingly diverse population of students. 

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