Leveraging a UDL Mindset to Guide Alternate Delivery Course Development

Universal Design for Learning “is a framework that guides the design of learning goals, methods, materials, and assessments, as well as the policies surrounding these curricular elements, with the diversity of learners in mind.” (CAST, 2017) The framework consists of three principles that address learner variability through intentional design of the learning experience: multiple means of representation, multiple means of action/expression and multiple means of engagement.

Each UDL principle is divided into multiple checkpoints, found here: http://udlguidelines.cast.org/. UDL is primarily a framework that guides reflective practice on the part of the teacher and helps students develop increasing accountability as expert learners.

From a Universal Design for Learning perspective, success in using technology in education depends on how technology is used and with what intentions rather than if it is used. Technology can help teachers to design learning for barrier mitigation. However, technology can also present barriers to learning. Learning goals come first; technology use in the classroom is in service of these. Technology and UDL are complementary but not codependent. UDL principles can be used to inform technology choices (Black & Moore, 2019).

Finding time and efficiencies in your course often starts with a plan for presenting content to your students differently and building in ways for students to engage with your course purposefully and meaningfully.

Multiple Means of Representation

Activate or supply background knowledge

  • Allow space for students to introduce themselves using a self-selected medium.
  • Use the LMS tools to create student-owned or student-directed spaces for continuous connection, reflection, peer support, and sharing their experiences and connections.

Highlight critical features, big ideas, and relationships

  • Provide an outline of the course from beginning to end – consider using both a written and graphic representation of the flow of your course.
  • Consider how you arrange the online space. Draw attention to the most salient features using clear folder and file identification.

Guide information processing and visualization

  • Consider opening your full course from the start and include support for students to craft their own path through the material
  • Consider using data from your LMS to identify best time and format of communications and adjust the delivery plan for the learners in front of you.

Language and Symbols

  • The use of tools such as adaptive learning or flashcard programs provide space to practice new terminology or engage in remedial work if needed.
  • Digital resources allow for embedded vocabulary help make the flow of learning seamless.


  • Digital presentation of materials allows easy transfer of resources between modalities. 
  • Accessible documentation means that learners can activate third party technology to translate material into their preferred format or language.
  • Enhance collaboration options.

Maximize transfer and generalization

  • Build in multiple exemplars of concepts and use common material that would be found in the applied setting,
  • Connect new concepts to learners’ past experiences
  • Use problem or scenario-focused learnind and WIL experiences wherever possible.

Multiple Means of Engagement

Optimize individual choice and autonomy

  • Allow learners to make choices where possible. This may include using polling to allow students to choose what to focus time on; where the assessment is flexible, allow students to suggest formats.
  • Build in time for learners to share their goals for the course.

Foster collaboration and community

  • Provide multiple interactivities in the course.
  • Allow for synchronous and asynchronous activities.
  • Provide time for students to connect with you.
  • Provide opportunity for small group break out sessions.
  • Involve students in leading these interactivities.

Minimize threats and distractions

  • Vary the ways students must engage socially.
  • Allow students the option between asking questions verbally or through the chat.
  • For presentations, allow them to do a voice over of images or appear on screen. Can they submit a recording?

Facilitate personal coping skills and strategies

  • Provide clear instructions for how students can access help. Is there a discussion channel dedicated to peer support? Should they email you directly through the LMS for support? Where can students access technical support?
  • Create a supportive learning space. Offer opportunities for students to transition from their busy lives into the online classroom space (i.e. question prompts that orient them to the topic).