Universal Design for Learning
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Universal Design for Learning


Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an inclusive approach to learning that recognizes students' unique strengths, abilities, and learning preferences and guides the design of educational materials, methods, and assessments to meet those diverse learner needs. One of the goals of UDL is to help students become "expert learners" by empowering them to reach their full potential, regardless of their background or ability. While not a replacement for all disability accommodations, UDL may help reduce the need for individual accommodations by taking a proactive approach to inclusive course design and instruction.

UDL was inspired by the Universal Design movement in architecture and product development, which called for "the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design." Researchers at the Center for Applied Technology (CAST) applied this foundational principle to learning by incorporating neuroscience research and progressive education theories to create a set of guidelines for designing and implementing inclusive learning environments. In a nutshell, UDL is based on specific neural networks that govern what, how, and why we learn. These three networks (affective, recognition, and strategic) help define the conceptual framework of UDL and map to fundamental inclusive learning considerations.


Three-column infographic showing the three UDL Principles. Each column includes an illustration of a brain with a specific neural network outlined. Column one reads, Provide multiple means of Engagement, Affective Networks. The Why of learning. Column two reads, Provide multiple means of Representation, Recognition Networks. The What of learning. Column three reads, Provide multiple means of Action & Expression, Strategic Networks. The How of learning.

Brain Network

Neural Network Function

Inclusive Learning Considerations

UDL Principle

Affective The "why" of learning: How learners get engaged and stay motivated, how they are challenged, excited, or interested Need to stimulate interest and motivation for learning Provide Multiple Means of Engagement
Recognition The "what" of learning: How learners gather facts and categorize what they see, hear, and read Need to present information and content in different ways Provide Multiple Means of Representation
Strategic The "how" of learning: How learners organize and express ideas in learning activities like writing an essay or solving a math problem Need to differentiate the ways learners can express what they know Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression


CITL's UDL Team is a dedicated group of experts who are well-versed in UDL principles, educational technology, and accessibility standards. They stay up-to-date with the latest research and best practices and are committed to promoting UDL principles to create a more inclusive and accessible learning experience for all students.


    UDL-Focused Course- and Program-Level Design Consultation: We collaborate with instructors and eLearning professionals to help make course content, methods, and assessments more inclusive.

    UDL Training and Professional Development: Discover practical strategies that enhance engagement, improve accessibility, and foster inclusion.

    Course Quality Assurance Reviewers and Training: We provide quality assurance training, as well as thorough course content and design reviews with expert guidance on accessibility, copyright, pedagogy, and media.


    • Marc Thompson, Assistant Director of Teaching & Learning Experiences and UDL Team Director
    • Lori Lane, UDL Specialist
    • Maude Yacapsin, UDL Specialist
    • Andrew Jiang, Copyright Specialist
    • Melanie Grove, eLearning Quality Assurance Coordinator
    • Rayna Bell, Quality Assurance Reviewer
    • Robin Duling, Quality Assurance Reviewer
    • Jonas Yela, Quality Assurance Reviewer


    • CAST's About Universal Design for Learning provides an excellent overview of the UDL framework.
    • CAST’s UDL Guidelines provide an organized and concrete set of suggestions for implementing UDL.
    • CAST’s UDL in Higher Ed provides guidelines for developing curricula, materials, and learning environments that take into account the variability of learners in higher ed environments.
    • The DO-IT Center offers articles and books on UDL in Higher education, checklists and worksheets for applying UDL to your course, and videos on how to make your course more accessible.


      To learn more about Universal Design for Learning and how you can work with the CITL UDL Team, please contact us at CITL-UDLTeam@illinois.edu.

      For a Quality Assurance review, please fill out a Course Review Request.