How Can I Implement UDL in the Next 20 Minutes?

November 10, 2021

By: Jennifer Albat & Sarah Laux, IDLT

Last week’s mid-week mentor session featured Thomas Tobin, a teaching, learning, and technology specialist with the Center for Teaching, Learning, & Mentoring at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and an expert on Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL was established by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) in Boston. They outline the neuroscience associated with how we learn and remember information and demonstrate skills. They identified three networks in the brain – the affective, recognition, and strategic networks. These pathways of information are represented by a way of learning. UDL consists of multiple ways of keeping people engaged, multiple ways of representing information by allowing learners to choose how they receive information, and multiple ways of taking action or expression by allowing different options for submitting assignments.

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This can be simplified into a strategy devised by Tobin: “plus 1” thinking, meaning you do not have to make everything available to everybody at one time.

One common misconception is that UDL is only for people with disabilities who may need extra time on a test or software to read the questions aloud. While these are accommodations or things we do to ensure students have the same opportunities, Universal Design for Learning creates different pathways for learners so they can choose how to interact with other students, the content, and the professor. It is a way to make a course inclusive for students and their multi-faceted lives. For example, uploading a recorded lecture video with the captioned transcript and slide deck provides students the option to interact with the content in several ways as it fits with their learning preferences or lifestyles. They may prefer to read the transcript while simultaneously listening to the video and taking notes on the slide deck. Students might choose to listen to the lecture on their commute home and read the transcript later.

Providing flexibility in workspaces or assignments is also a great way to implement UDL in your course. Creating the option for individual work, small or large group discussions, or group instruction give students the opportunity to engage with each other, the material, and the professor in a way that aligns with their learning preferences. Allowing for multiple options for assignment submission, such as writing an essay or recording a podcast or video, to show their application of the lesson material, is another great option for making your course UDL-friendly.

You may be overwhelmed, thinking about making ALL interactions and materials in your course available with multiple options. Tobin calls this analysis paralysis. Start with small changes to see what impact they have. Look at pinch points in the course, such as the frequently asked questions, items students typically miss on tests or quizzes, or the material your students always ask for alternate explanations. Creating a study guide that is both audio and text-based or finding supplemental methods, such as podcasts or gamification, to present content are great options for students.

Think about your course and where you could apply UDL in 20 minutes. Identify single stream course elements. This means choosing something in your course where students only have one way to consume it. Do you have a PowerPoint that is text only? A video with no transcript to download? Some learners prefer to read content or possibly have a poor connection where they would not be able to get a video. UDL is not always about moving up the scale of technology. Sometimes it can be a simplistic solution.

There are already some tools available to help you and your students with UDL. For example, Blackboard Ally allows course content to be downloaded in alternative formats. Remind your students this technology is there to help them. Here is an ITS KnowledgeBase article for adding a note in your course about Ally. Also, TechSmith Knowmia allows for captions to be downloaded so you can make a transcript. Visit this ITS KnowledgeBase article for detailed instructions.

For questions for implementing UDL, please contact the ITS-Instructional Design & Learning Technologies team at 618-650-5500 or

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