Universal Design for Learning

There are several different models of Universal Design that are currently used in Higher Education. In CTSI, we promote the use of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a framework that allows for multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement. UDL promotes inclusive practices that work to increase accessibility by reducing barriers (physical and cognitive) and build sustaining and evolving learning environments for all learners. Explore some of our resources and programming to adapt UDL practices in your teaching:

The TATP’s Course Design Guide was created for graduate student Course Instructors and offers UDL suggestions that will be useful to faculty when designing and building a U of T course. A faculty-facing version of this guide is coming soon.

TATP’s Fostering Accessible Learning provides UDL principles for teaching assistants and Course Instructors.

Build Your Course: Accessibility in Quercus provides guidelines, resources and web accessible tools for U of T faculty and staff.

Any questions can be directed to CTSI at ctsi.teaching@utoronto.ca.

Visit CTSI Workshops for more information and to register.

If you would like to speak to a CTSI staff member about using Universal Design for Learning in your course, please contact via our Consultation Request form.

If you have any questions about the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the University of Toronto, please contact U of T’s AODA office.

We acknowledge there are a number of models concerning universal design and accessibility. The University of Toronto has focused its attention and resource development on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), in line with the 2018 recommendations of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The OHRC recommends that UDL be implemented “across all education systems, while continuing to provide accommodation based on individual needs.” For those interested in learning more about other models of universal design, we include brief descriptions below the UDL information.)

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

UDL guidelines are a framework to assist in the design and delivery of course content. “UDL aims to change the design of the environment rather than to change the learner. When environments are intentionally designed to reduce barriers, all learners can engage in rigorous, meaningful learning.” (from CAST)
At the University of Toronto, which has a diverse student population, we continuously strive to respond to the range of needs and challenges of those students. The National Center on Universal Design for Learning offers a detailed exploration of the three key principles of UDL as well as many different resources and tools.

Multiple Means of Engagement: The Why of Learning

  • Provide options for self-regulation
    • Promote expectations and beliefs that optimize motivation
    • Facilitate personal coping skills and strategies
    • Develop self-assessment and reflection
  • Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence
    • Heighten salience of goals and objectives
    • Vary demands and resources to optimize challenge
    • Foster collaboration and community
    • Increase mastery-oriented feedback
  • Provide options for recruiting interest
    • Optimize individual choice and autonomy
    • Optimize relevance, value, and authenticity
    • Minimize threats and distractions

Multiple Means of Representation: The What of Learning

  • Provide options for comprehension
    • Activate or supply background knowledge
    • Highlight patterns, critical features, big ideas, and relationships
    • Guide information processing, visualization, and manipulation + Maximize transfer and generalization
  • Provide options for language, mathematical expressions, and symbols
    • Clarify vocabulary and symbols
    • Clarify syntax and structure
    • Support decoding of text, mathematical notation, and symbols
    • Promote understanding across languages
    • Illustrate through multiple media
  • Provide options for perception
    • Offer ways of customizing the display of information
    • Offer alternatives for auditory information
    • Offer alternatives for visual information

Multiple Means of Action and Expression: The How of Learning

  • Provide options for executive functions
    • Guide appropriate goal-setting
    • Support planning and strategy development
    • Enhance capacity for monitoring progress
  • Provide options for expression and communication
    • Use multiple media for communication
    • Use multiple tools for construction and composition
    • Build fluencies with graduated levels of support for practice and performance
  • Provide options for physical action
    • Vary the methods for response and navigation
    • Optimize access to tools and assistive technologies

For a comprehensive exploration of the UDL guidelines, visit the CAST website. Explore the Graphic Organizer to get an understanding of the key features of the UDL guidelines and how they connect to the three large brain networks that comprise the vast majority of the human brain and play a central role in learning, and how they relate to specific strategies that help students become expert learners. Don’t forget to check out the CAST blog – UDL Chat.

Visit other centres and institutions that conduct evidence-based research, promote specific practices, and engage in UDL-related conversations:

Explore training opportunities and resources on UDL:

Read about some key research findings related to UDL:

  • Bracken, S., and Novak, K., eds. (2019). Transforming Higher Education through Universal Design for Learning: An International Perspective. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Hall, T.E., Meyer, A., and Rose, D.H. (2012). Universal Design for Learning in the Classroom: Practical Applications (What Works for Special-Needs Learners). The Guilford Press.
  • Katz, J. (2012). Teaching to Diversity: The Three-block Model of Universal Design for Learning. Winnipeg: Portage & Main Press.
  • Kieran, L., & Anderson, C. (2019). Connecting Universal Design for Learning With Culturally Responsive Teaching. Education and urban Society, 51(9), 1202-1216.
  • Meyer, A., rose, D.H., and Gordon, D. (2014). Universal Design for Learning: Theory & Practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing.
  • Murawski, W.W., and Scott, K.L. (2019). What Really Works with Universal Design for Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  • Novak, K. (2016). UDL Now!: A Teacher’s Guide to Applying Universal Design for Learning in Today’s Classrooms. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing.
  • Rappolt-Schlichtmann, G., Daley, S.G., and Rose, L.T., eds. (2012). A Research Reader in Universal Design for Learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Schreiber, J. (2017). Universal Design for Learning: A Student-Centered Curriculum Perspective. Curriculum and Teaching, 32(2), 89-98.
  • Tobin, T.J. and Behling, K.T. (2018). Reach everyone, teach everyone: Universal Design for Learning in higher education. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.
  • Van Munster, M.A., Lieberman, L.J., and Grenier, M.A. (2019). Universal Design for Learning and Differentiated Instruction in Physical Education. Physical Activity Quarterly, 36(3), 359-377.


UDL principles and guidelines are based on Universal Design theories that emerged over the last few decades. To learn more about Universal Design and other UD models, explore the following topics:

Universal Design (UD) Principles

Universal Instructional Design (UID)

Universal Design of Instruction (UDI)