Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) offers a solution to educators who wish to avoid student exclusion and marginalisation.

Trinity-INC Professional Learning Module on Inclusive Practices in Teaching and Learning

By frontloading inclusion in the design of their courses / modules, etc., UDL helps educators avoid the work of having to develop individual accommodations down the line, and helps students avoid the burden of having to ask for them.

UDL is about creating and implementing instruction that meets multiple learning needs, preferences and circumstances in order to ensure all students have equitable access to learning. 

The three core principles of UDL are multiple means of engagement; multiple means of representation; and multiple means of action and expression.

              Cartoon giving an example of universal design.  A bunch of children wait to enter their school, one of them is in a wheelchair. Entrance to the school is via steps or a ramp. There is snow on the ground and a man is shovelling the snow off the steps. Child in wheelchair:


A Venn diagram of three parts. The student is in the middle engaging with the educator, content and their peers.

Motivation is one of the major keys to successful learning. Students who come to Trinity have a wide range of reasons for choosing their course of study. Research has shown that when students are motivated and engaged in their studies and feel connected to their learning and their learning environment, student retention and success can be improved. On the other hand, when students feel isolated or detached from their studies, motivation and retention can wane.

These issues are particularly important when considering the variability among learners in your student cohorts, whose perspectives and backgrounds may differ from your own, including students who come into College via international, access, or other pathways.

Minor changes in pedagogical practice or in resource/material preparation as well as in all student-support and other interactions can be particularly beneficial to these students, as well as equipping all students with the core Trinity graduate attributes to succeed in a global environment. Plus-one design thinking within across all College interactions serves to further lower barriers to entry or continuation.

Engagement is done well when the lecturer…

  • Respects student diversity
  • Provides alternative forms and sources of content to sustain attention and interest (lectures, audio, video, digital materials, as well as diverse authors, perspectives, and choices of material)
  • Fosters collaboration in group work / discussions
  • Provides a diverse range of content, including different demographic profiles of authors, a variety of ideas and perspectives, or pictures of conditions on a range of skin tones
  • Uses technology to promote accessibility
  • Aligns assignments with course or programme objectives
  • Includes rubrics and assignment guides or examples
  • Is accessible though office hours, via email etc.


In this cartoon, there are two children, each assembling a model airplane.  Both have thought bubbles: The little girl is looking at the instructions and is thinking through the steps she needs to take (

Learner variability is the norm within a 21st century university. Learners at Trinity come from a range of educational backgrounds, social and cultural strata, as well as physical and cognitive differences. Teaching and engagement strategies that work for you in your own learning or when you were a student, may not work for all of your learners - particularly where they may have no prior experience or exposure to the strategy/ies you use in your own practice. We need to look beyond our own experience to understand the barriers some learners may face when simply seeking to access our teaching content.

The principle of multiple means of representation invites us to reflect on if and how we are giving our learners what they need to access and understand the information we present. It asks us to question, without reducing the complexity or rigour of our content, how do we lower the barriers for getting access to it in the first place? It encourages us to meet the variability among our learners through variability in our teaching and information sharing strategies, through considering and leveraging new modes and supports such as multimedia, active listening, and peer to peer learning.

Representation is done well when the lecturer…

  • Provides content in multiple formats to support information acquisition in different ways (lecture, video, discussions, text-based readings, games)
  • Creates course outcomes that address varying learning preferences
  • Highlights critical or key information (e.g. lecture summaries/graphics)
  • Offers diverse real-world experiences as examples
  • Uses accessible technology, e.g. closed captions
  • Uses conceptual mapping tools
  • Provides prompt and explicit feedback
  • Uses social media (increases communication, collaboration, creativity, and sense of community for students).

Action and Expression

Cartoon depicting Action and Expression  As per the slide:  A crow, a monkey, a penguin, an elephant, a fish (in a bowl), a seal and a dog are in a field with a tree. They face a man sitting behind a desk. Man: “For a fair selection everybody has to take the same exam: Please climb that tree.” Only the monkey (and possibly the dog) is smiling.

Learners differ in the ways they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know. Consider a student who is severely dyslexic, and who excels at story-telling or critical analysis in discussion groups, but who struggles to capture their ideas in writing. Without variety or choice, their success can depend on the format of the assignment, rather than on their knowledge of the topic. At times, being able to demonstrate knowledge through a particular format may be a key learning outcome. Other times, when we want to focus on what the student has learned rather than on their skill in a particular format, offering options or multiple formats for demonstrating knowledge is critical. Finally, culture can impact communication styles, including etiquette, shaping how a student may communicate with you, or interpret communication from you.

Under the principle of multiple means of action and expression, our goal is to support learners to be strategic, goal-oriented and empowered to communicate and demonstrate their knowledge. We seek to give learners with a variety of strengths and skillsets real opportunities to show what they know through different media and communication methods.

Action and expression is done well when the lecturer…

  • Encourages students to demonstrate knowledge and skills in ways other than traditional tests and exams (e.g. podcasts, posters, projects, portfolios, journals).
  • Offers flexible opportunities and choice for demonstrating skills or knowledge;
  • Clarifies assignment expectations (e.g. exemplars or grading rubrics);
  • Uses discussion boards;
  • Provides feedback;
  • Incorporates peer correction before handing in assignments.

Other UDL Resources