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Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Why do we need UDL?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)1 is a social justice conceptual framework that aims to address diverse learning needs and ensure equal access to learning opportunities.2 UDL aims to remove learning barriers in curriculum design and emphasizes flexibility that attempts to accommodate all learners to access content and demonstrate their learning.3 Its goal is to develop expert learners who are motivated, resourceful, knowledgeable, and goal-directed.4 Based on more than 800 peer-reviewed articles from the fields of neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and learning science, UDL guides educational practices and promotes accessible and inclusive learning spaces through multiple means of representation, multiple means of action and expression, and multiple means of engagement. When a course is designed with inclusive design and pedagogy as outlined by the UDL framework, it is designed with equity in mind and likely meets the diverse learning needs of students from the beginning, thus reducing accommodation requests.

A video from the Association for Higher Education Access & Disability (AHEAD) on Universal Design for Learning. What is it? How can it help meet the needs of diverse student populations?

What is UDL?

In the United States, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is incorporated into K-12, higher education, educational technology, and workforce development policies. UDL is defined in the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) as a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that:

  • provides flexibility in the ways: information is presented, students are engaged, and students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills
  • reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient.5

Universal Design for Learning Guidelines 

The UDL Guidelines are used in the implementation of Universal Design for Learning. These guidelines offer a set of concrete suggestions that can be applied to any discipline or domain to ensure that all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities. 

UDL Implementation at Virginia Tech

UDL Innovation Group (UDL Fellows)

The UDL Innovation Group is supported by the Provost’s Office, and brings together faculty, administrators, and other personnel that are interested in exploring emergent technologies and practices that impact student learning and teaching. Currently, there are 12 faculty fellows from five colleges and the library in the group, led by Jance Hall and supported by Pearl Xie and Mark Nichols. The UDL Faculty Fellows receive comprehensive training, gain essential skills, and obtain tools to effectively apply UDL principles and accessible pedagogy within their courses and programs. In addition, they will serve as internal advisors, offering guidance and support to faculty members within each college. This model will expand existing UDL resources on campus through discipline-specific knowledge and outreach. 

UDL Fellows

Janice Hall (UDL Innovation Group Chair), Pamplin College of Business
Pearl Xie, TLOS Director of Universal Design for Learning & Accessible Services
Mark Nichols, TLOS Sr. Dir Universal Design & Accessible Technologies
Nicole Pitterson, College of Engineering
Yang (Cindy) Yi, College of Engineering
Ruichuan Zhang, College of Engineering
Amy Allen, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
Donna Fortune, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
Diane Zahm, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
Kelli Karcher, College of Science
Kim Loeffert, College of Architecture, Arts, and Design
Kayla McNabb, University Libraries

TLOS UDL Effectiveness Program

Research shows that Universal Design for Learning professional development opportunities are effective in providing instructors with a roadmap for inclusive design to support diverse learning needs, across multiple environments and disciplines, within higher education. Yet, research is lacking regarding UDL implementation in postsecondary STEM education. The TLOS UDL Effectiveness Program, including the UDL Day professional learning event and other UDL-related training courses, led by Pearl Xie, was created to help fill this research gap. We are using a mixed methods research approach with focus groups and pre- and post-event surveys. We aim to improve our understanding of whether professional learning programs focused on UDL principles and best practices result in increased support for students with diverse learning needs, especially by providing appropriate special accommodations for students with disabilities in STEM education. UDL implementation on campus can be improved through further research and practices informed by this educational research.

UDL Community of Practice (CoP) - Forming now for 2024

We adopted Wenger’s definition of communities of practice for the purpose of forming a faculty professional learning group to support inclusive design, pedagogy, and technology, guided by the UDL framework.6  We define the UDL community of practice as a group of practitioners with shared interests, interactions, and learnings from one another to figure out best practices to solve problems in learning spaces. A true community of practice works together to create artifacts that add to the organization’s understanding and work around a specific topic. Members are expected to devote time and attention to the group, which includes the exchange of ideas, experiences, and interests. 

Interested in joining the UDL CoP?

Join the UDL listserv/distribution list to receive updates. We look forward to continuing the conversation and engaging with you within our UDL CoP in 2024.

Getting Started with UDL

UDL Resources


  1. CAST. 2018. Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from
  2. O'Keefe, L., Rafferty, J., Gunder, A., & Vignare, K. (2020). Delivering High-Quality Instruction Online in Response to COVID-19: Faculty Playbook. Online Learning Consortium.;
    Xie, J. & Ferguson, Y. (2022): STEM faculty’s perspectives on adopting culturally responsive pedagogy, Teaching in Higher Education, DOI:10.1080/13562517.2022.2129960
  3. National Center on Universal Design for Learning. (2013). What is UDL? Retrieved from
  4. CAST.
  5. Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA), PL 110- 315, 122 Stat. 3078
  6. Wenger, E. 1998. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.