Individuals bring a variety of interests, needs and skills to learning, and neuroscience demonstrates these differences can be as varied and unique as our DNA.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is as an educational framework that helps guide the development of “flexible learning environments”: environments that can accommodate the different learning styles of individuals. According to the National Center on UDL, Universal Design for Learning is “a set of principles for curriculum development that gives all individuals equal opportunities to learn.” UDL provides a blueprint for instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments, and provides flexible approaches, that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs. Three primary brain networks come into play:
- Recognition Networks (The “What” of learning): How we gather facts and categorize what we see, hear, and read.
- Identifying letters, words, or an author’s style are forms of recognition.
- Strategic Networks (The “How” of learning): Planning and performing tasks. How we organize and express our ideas.
- Writing an essay or solving a math problem are strategic tasks.
- Affective Networks (The “Why” of learning): How learners get engaged and stay motivated. How they are challenged excited, or interested.
UDL helps all children, not just individuals with learning disabilities, and offers multiple approaches for students to assess the same material, and allows students to use different methods to demonstrate knowledge. The word “universal” may confuse people because it may sound as though it’s all about finding one way to teach all kids but, UDL takes the opposite approach. Its goal is to use a vocabulary of teaching methods to remove any barriers to learning and give all students equal opportunities to succeed. It’s about building in flexibility that can be adjusted for every student’s strengths and needs.
UDL presents information in ways that adapt to the learner, instead of asking the learner to adapt to the information. It’s especially good for kids with learning and attention issues, because it gives them more than one way to interact with their material. UDL makes it easier for kids to use their strengths, and to improve their weaknesses. Universal Design for Learning is a framework for teaching and learning that includes proactive planning of curricula. Planning with UDL takes into account the variability of all learners. Now some people may ask, “isn’t UDL just for students with disabilities?”. The answer is no, all students can benefit from the types of supports that UDL provides. UDL encourages teachers to use different test formats, including oral presentations while also looking for different ways to keep students motivated.