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Universal Design for Learning

What is UDL?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for curriculum design that addresses learner variability by reducing barriers to the learning environment. This framework is based on the principles of Universal Design, which seek to ensure accessibility to all the environments that individuals may encounter. 

Universal Design for Learning (Video 1:11)

Long Story Shortz - Universal Design for Learning (Video 4:59)

Why is UDL Important?

UDL minimizes barriers for all students and supports the natural variability of learners by offering students multiple means to engage with content, represent the content, and act upon/express their knowledge.

The importance of the environment in which learning takes place is also central to UDL, and its desired end result: assisting all students to become expert learners. In emphasizing UDL, Heartland supports the work of the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), the leading nonprofit education research and development organization in UDL, which believes that:

"The goal of education in the 21st century is not simply the mastery of content knowledge or use of new technologies. It is the mastery of the learning process. Education should help turn novice learners into expert learners—individuals who want to learn, who know how to learn strategically, and who, in their own highly individual and flexible ways, are well prepared for a lifetime of learning. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) helps educators meet this goal by providing a framework for understanding how to create curricula that meets the needs of all learners from the start." 

UDL:  Reducing Barriers (Video 3:07)

Why You Should Learn About Universal Design for Learning (Video :44)

Why We Need Universal Design (Video 10:00)

The Myth of Average (Video 18:36)

Principles and Guidelines

Universal Design for Learning articulates the following three principles, as explained by CAST:

    • The “what” of learning.
    • Learners differ in the ways that they perceive and comprehend information that is presented to them.
    • For example, those with sensory disabilities (e.g., blindness or deafness); learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia); language or cultural differences, and so forth may all require different ways of approaching content. Others may simply grasp information quicker or more efficiently through visual or auditory means rather than printed text. Also learning, and transfer of learning, occurs when multiple representations are used, because it allows students to make connections within, as well as between, concepts.
    • In short, there is not one means of representation that will be optimal for all learners; providing options for representation is essential
    • The “how” of learning.
    • Learners differ in the ways that they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know.
    • For example, individuals with significant movement impairments (e.g., cerebral palsy), those who struggle with strategic and organizational abilities (executive function disorders), those who have language barriers, and so forth approach learning tasks very differently. Some may be able to express themselves well in written text but not speech, and vice versa. It should also be recognized that action and expression require a great deal of strategy, practice, and organization, and this is another are in which learners can differ.
    • In reality, there is not one means of action and expression that will be optimal for all learners; providing options for action and expression is essential.


    • The “why” of learning.
    • Affect represents a crucial element to learning, and learners differ markedly in the ways in which they can be engaged or motivated to learn.
    • There are a variety of sources that can influence individual variation in affect including neurology, culture, personal relevance, subjectivity, and background knowledge, along with a variety of other factors presented in these guidelines. Some learners are highly engaged by spontaneity and novelty while other are disengaged, even frightened, by those aspects, preferring strict routine. Some learners might like to work alone, while others prefer to work with their peers.
    • In reality, there is not one means of engagement that will be optimal for all learners in all contexts; providing multiple options for engagement is essential.

Universal Design for Learning Guidelines (PDF)


Faculty Fellows Program

From 2013-2016 Student Access and Accommodation Services funded a Faculty Fellows Program through grant monies received from the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. This program entailed training six faculty members in UDL, who then provided training and promoted UDL to the college. Over the course of the grant, these Fellows

  • gave four conference presentations,
  • 12 Faculty Academy Is,
  • one Faculty Academy II,
  • two Great Teacher Retreats,
  • coordinated an on-campus institute with CAST, the premier UDL organization in the country.

Besides the aforementioned activities, the Faculty Fellows Program also led to the creation of a campus repository for UDL in SharePoint and an Advanced Certification course in Canvas, the College's Learning management system. 

Fellows Program

Due to the demonstrated succcess of the Faculty Fellows Program, the College has continued the UDL Fellowship program and has opened it up to staff as well. Sicne 2018 two other cohorts of faculty and staff fellows has successfully completed the Fellowship and have contributed the following projects:   

  • redesigned Gens 104, Huma 270, English 101, and PTA
  • created UDL Guidelines for Tutor Training documents
  • created an anti-vaping campaign
  • redesigned the New Instructor Orientation
  • faciliated a 5 College Workshop 


SharePoint Resource Page

As part of the Fellows Program, a repository of UDL materials was created in SharePoint for any faculty member or staff at the college to access. To access this work center log in to and navigate to Universal Design for Learning

Advanced Certification Course

In conjunction with the Director of Online Learning and Instructional Technology, the Fellows Program created an Advanced Certification course for any faculty member who would like the additional credential. To sign up for this course, please contact the Director of Online Learning​ and Instructional Technology. 


  • The Center for Applied Special Technology: CAST
  • University of Washington: DO-IT

Faculty Fellows

  • Wayne Bass, Assistant Professor of Humanities and Religous Studies
  • Johnna Darragh, Distinguished Professor of Early Childhood Education
  • Ryan Edel, Associate Adjunct Professor
  • Jill Mohr, Assistant Adjunct Professor
  • James Patton, Associate Adjunct Professor
  • Zach Petrea, Professor of English
  • Stephanie Turner, Assistant Professor of Physical Therapist Assistant

Staff Fellows

  • Jenny Crones, Assistant Director, Tutoring Services
  • Linda Lambert, Associate Director, Business Technology
  • Khrystyna Sanborn, Assistant Director, Adult Education