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FORUM: Snapshots of Universal Design for Learning

Teachers are passionate about meeting the diverse needs of all their learners, sometimes this can be overwhelming, so it's encouraging to see that there are digital tools, teaching ideas examples and support material to help us in the classroom.

Are there smart ways to ensure that students have their learning potential maximized and barriers to learning minimised - where lessons are designed and delivered to cater for diverse learning preferences and challenges while still remaining sane?


There sure are! One way is to use a framework like Universal Design for Learning which enables teachers to create:

“…instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone – not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customised and adjusted for individual needs."


UDL in an overview


While there’s too much to unpack from the updated resources from Enabling e-Learning and latest guides from Inclusive Education, there are some fantastic places to start to explore the principles of the UDL framework to support engagement, self regulation, multiple forms of processing, communicating, expression and representing information as well as providing an innovative environment to help meet diverse learner needs. For example, UDL in the classroom (TKI) has an excellent breakdown to start with on:

  • Know your learners

  • Plan to include all learners

  • Identify and minimise barriers to learning

There are also some wonderful short clips from schools that demonstrate a variety of technologies and methodologies that can inspire an idea for change. For example, one of the following school stories might inspire you to trial a new something new with one of your learners, with a similar challenge for learning - dyslexia, dyspraxia, Aspergers, ADHD. For more stories go to Universal Design for Learning.


1:1 Netbooks – Allowing excellence in the classroom1:1 Netbooks – Allowing excellence in the classroom

Tyler, a year 6 student with dyspraxia, uses a netbook to help him write creatively instead of being inhibited by the speed of his handwriting or his ability to form letters.

An inclusive classroom supporting a learner with Aspergers syndromeSupporting a learner with Aspergers syndrome

Teacher, Kate Friedwald and parent, Denise Fuller, explain how Mitchell, a student with Aspergers syndrome, uses Facetime on an iPad to support his learning needs and develop friendships.

An inclusive classroom supporting a learner with dyslexiaSupporting a learner with dyslexia

Teacher, Kate Friedwald explains how careful and consistent presentation of visual information and classroom organisation supported by technology is designed to foster independent learning in a student with dyslexia.


Using an iPad to support independent writing for a student with ADHD

Using an iPad to support independent writing for a student with ADHD

Daniel, a student with ADHD, and his teacher explain how he uses apps on his ipad to support his reading and comprehension.

Dyslexia – Using an iPad to support learningUsing an iPad to support learning

Felix, a year 5 student with dyslexia explains how he uses iPad apps like IWordQ to make the process of reading and writing easier.

Enabling student ownership of learning by providing a differentiated programme for a learner with ADHD

Enabling student ownership of learning by providing a differentiated programme for a learner with ADHD

Daniel, who has ADHD and his teacher talk about how having a must-do/can-do list and an ipad enable him to have ownership and control over his learning.


Sometimes it could be worth asking, if the way we’ve done things is still not meeting the needs of learner/s, what will we change? One new idea, resource or teaching methodology/delivery might well be worth considering or trialling in a cycle of professional inquiry.


What story has inspired you? Might well be one of your own :-)


  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 27 Jul 2017 1:16pm ()

    Just have to share this fantastic resource: Inclusive Ed Video library (thanks Chrissie Butler for sharing). One comment in the following video caught my eye and reminded me of when I was a teacher.

    One day a senior member of staff entered my class, we chatted, she went to leave and then 'called out' one of the students for wearing his cap in class. We all got the message, including me - no hats inside. To be fair, it was one of those 'unwritten rules' of the school but I couldn't get my head round it - up to that point the student had been totally engrossed in their learning. 

    Wrong socks, hats in class... are we lowering our standards if we ignore these distractions? What does inclusion look like for you?

    Barriers to my learning from Ministry of Education on Vimeo.

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 23 Aug 2018 2:25pm ()

    Planning for learner centred design  - Using UDL and inclusive pedagogies


    More and more schools are freeing up their curriculum, ‘unleashing the passion’ and putting an emphasis on the things that really matter - equity and excellence in education, where every child can reach their potential.

    One way to do this is to design learning tasks and opportunities that that are learner centred that focuses on all students including: cultures, identities, languages, and abilities, not just those with additional learning needs. We call this an inclusive pedagogy. See a model for learner centred design:


    Learning model

    Lynch, D. & Smith, R. (2006). The learning management design process, in R Smith & D Lynch (eds), The rise of the learning manager: changing teacher education. Pearson Education Australia, Frenchs Forest, NSW, pp. 53-67. 

    Learning design is the practice of planning, sequencing, and managing learning activities, usually using ICT-based tools to support both design and delivery. Learning pedagogy and design-theory meet to define a people-based, flexible learning environment. Taken from Enabling e-Learning, Learning Design (TKI)

    In this video from Enabling e-Learning, Steve Collis explains how the design process can connect with students to redefine the way we organise our learning environments. When thinking about learning environments, the design process starts with empathy for the people you are designing for. 

    Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is much the same. It provides a global framework that helps teachers to plan for the diverse and variable needs of their students including making decisions about the goals, culture/s of learning, the environment (resources) and teaching methodologies and assessment practices. Using a UDL thinking cycle can help you when planning learning opportunities, tasks or events.

    UDL approach to learning

    What's your context? You might be a school who plans for authentic learning, curriculum integration with a focus on learner agency, you might be adopting/adapting project-based learning and/or student inquiry models in your school; if so:

    • What inclusive pedagogies are part of your planning? Ie: What headings or statements are in your planning documentation?
    • What conversations or frameworks guide this process? Ie: What kinds of learning conversations with learners, teachers parents, whānau take place?
    • Is this process collaborative? Ie: Do you plan alone or with others, including students?

    If you have any stories, examples or planning templates to share, please feel free to share these below. Equally any questions around UDL and learning design are welcome too. Sharing might just inspire or help others on the same journey as you.

    Also related:

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