Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is the practice of creating learning experiences that are appropriate for all students, regardless of disability status or other differences that impact learning. When learning experiences are designed with UDL in mind, they are inherently more accessible. As a result, comprehension improves for all students. UDL recognizes variability of learning that exists in three areas:

  • Engagement; the "Why" of learning (interest, effort, and motivation)
  • Representation; the "What" of learning (language and comprehension)
  • Action & Expression; the "How" of learning (physical action and communication)

the brain and the what, why, and how of learning

UDL v. Accommodations

Students with documented disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations that remove barriers to learning. Accommodations must be requested through the Center for Academic Success, and are only guaranteed for students with disabilities. When an instructor receives an accommodation request, they often need to adjust their course, instructional method, or assessments in order to honor the accommodation.

In contrast, when an instructor employs UDL strategies during the course design process, fewer adjustments are necessary in response to accommodation requests, and all students can benefit.

How does UDL Help Students?

UDL practices remove barriers that hinder learning. Barriers to learning vary in nature and may fall under one of these categories:

  • Physical
  • Cognitive/ Intellectual
  • Language
  • Emotional
  • Institutional
  • Financial

As the diversity of our student population increases, we must create inclusive and equitable experiences for our students. UDL is a powerful tool that can be used to help reach this goal. Inclusive strategies may include captions for videos, flexible due dates, open book/ note assessments, and content presented in multiple modalities (text, video, audio). A list of additional strategies is available below.

CAST (2018). UDL and the learning brain. Wakefield, MA: Author. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/products-services/resources/2018/udl-learning-brain-neuroscience

UDL provides students with multiple means of engagement, representation, and action & expression. Examples of UDL Strategies include but are not limited to the following:

  • Present content in multiple modalities, allowing students to choose how to engage
    • Example: students can choose to watch a video or read an article that convey the same content
  • Provide alternatives for visual and audio content (transcripts/ captions)
  • Provide a glossary for jargon/ terms or opportunities to clarify background knowledge
  • Use Open Educational Resources (OER) when possible
    • Free to students, and available electronically
    • Helpful to students who use assistive technology (screen readers)
  • Allow student choice for assignment participation or assignment type
    • Example: students can type a discussion board response OR record an audio response
    • Example: students can choose to write a paper OR take an exam
  • Permit open books and notes during assessments
  • Provide unlimited time for assessments
  • Allow backtracking during online quizzes and exams (so students may check their answers)
  • Allow flexible due dates or extended assignment availability
Canvas, AU's course management system, was designed with Universal Design in mind.  There are several tools available which allow faculty to observe UDL principles as they build their courses.

Organize course content using the Modules page in Canvas (default home page)

  • Reduces “cognitive load” and allows students to locate content easily
  • Items can be placed in chronological order
  • Hide course menu items that are not being used (Settings > Navigation)

Create Content Pages (HTML) in Canvas

When creating pages or documents, follow these formatting standards:

  • Use Microsoft formatting, including headings
  • When creating links, use link text instead of the URL (Alfred University instead of http://www.alfred.edu)
  • Add alternate text to images
  • Use one font, and make sure that the text is understandable regardless of color


  • If you plan to upload PDFs, please make sure they are readable as text
  • Scanned PDFs render as images, and are not readable by screen reading software
  • PDFs can be converted with Adobe Acrobat DC Professional; contact the ITS Helpdesk for a copy


  • All videos should be linked for streaming, not uploaded (YouTube videos can be embedded in Canvas)
  • All videos should be captioned (automatic with Panopto, AU’s video service)
  • If captioning is not available, a typed word-for-word transcript is an adequate substitution

A course's syllabus sets the tone for the semester, and introduces the students to the course, the learning environment, and related expectations.  As you consider incorporating UDL into your courses, it is important to adjust the syllabus accordingly.

To get started, the EnACT Rubric can be used to evaluate your current syllabus for UDL elements.

  • Are there areas where UDL practices are already in place?
  • Are there areas that could be adjusted to introduce or increase UDL practices?

UDL Syllabus Example

The Center for Applied Special Technologies (CAST) offers a deconstructed example of a syllabus written with UDL principles in mind.  These principles inform adjustments to the course that promote access, inclusivity, and comprehension. The UDL Syllabus includes the following categories of information:

  • Instructor introduction & information
  • Student resources and the procedure for requesting accommodations
  • Course description
  • Learning Objectives
  • Materials list (multiple modalities)
  • Assignments & assessments
  • Student expectations & responsibilities

Additional UDL Resources are available below.

UDL implementation assistance is available from members of the UDL Task Force, which includes staff from the Center for Academic Success, Information Technology Services, and AU's Libraries.

The following services are available:

  • UDL Workshops
  • Individual UDL consultations
  • Course Design assistance for Canvas Courses (for online or in-person courses)
  • Open Educational Resource selection or creation
  • Accessibility-focused Course Reviews using the SUNY OSCQR Rubric

The UDL Task Force can provide workshops for divisions or groups of faculty and staff.  Workshops can be delivered in person or over Zoom, and are available on the following topics:

  • Universal Design for Learning Overview
  • Creating a UDL Syllabus
  • UDL Strategies in Canvas
  • Equitable Assessment & UDL

To schedule a workshop for your division or a group of colleagues, please contact a member of the UDL Task Force (listed at the bottom of the page).

Center for Applied Special Technologies (CAST) - UDL Guidelines
CAST is an organization which seeks to promote learning for all and remove barriers to success.

The OSCQR Rubric can be used to guide the development of UDL-compliant courses. Many standards directly address accessibility and Universal Design.

SUNY OER Services
Open Educational Resources (OER) can remove financial barriers for students, and increase accessibility for students who rely on assistive technology.

SUNY Innovative Assessments for Student Learning
This resource was created by the SUNY FACT 2 Task Group on Assessment. Many of the practices illustrated on this site have been informed by UDL.