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Chapter 6: The UDL Guidelines: 
Translating Theory into Practice

The term Universal Design for Learning was first designed and shared by Anne Meyers and David H. Rose in the late 1990's. In 2002 they published Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning. Since then they (and countless others) have continued to refine and define UDL and what it means in the context of today's classrooms and today's learners.

UDL often appears simple - there are only 3 guidelines after all - however, when you dive in it can be overwhelming - there are 31 checkpoints! As such we often see surface explanations of UDL.


You might hear UDL is:

  • Just good teaching (no, it's much more than that)

  • Is the same as differentiated instruction (no, this blog by Katie Novak gives a good analogy)

  • Providing learners with multiple means of engagement, representation and, action and expression (a good start)

  • Ensuring all learning materials are accessible (absolutely essential)

  • All about options and choice (yes, but that's not the whole story)

UDL has many layers all with the intended goal of developing learner expertise, moving from...

  1. The science behind the why, what and how of learning

  2. To UDL's three principles and their related guidelines

  3. To the "layered" view where connections are made across the three principles   

Being on the top step looking down into the depths of UDL can feel like you might be swamped by the volume of changes required. While it's important to know there's more to UDL than meets the eye, we believe slowly wading in is better than a careless dive onto the rocks. 

Apps and Resources

Overhead shot showing a woman’s feet at the top of steps leading into water. Each of the steps is labeled with one of the three UDL layers starting with Access on the first step in, Build on the next,  and Internalize at the bottom. Text reads Go below the surface of UDL.

Pause and Reflect

We've compiled the pause and reflect questions from the book into a Google Doc. 


Feel free to make a copy and work inside the document, or record your thoughts using another form of media. 

Chapter 6 - Pause and Reflect


Regardless of where you are in your understanding, exploration, and application of UDL, consider...the UDL Guidelines as a continuum that starts with external factors in the environment and moves inward to more internal factors that reside in the learner...(Moving)—from extrinsic to intrinsic, from teacher-driven instruction to student-driven learning—(helps) us achieve the ultimate goal of UDL: developing expert learners who are purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, and strategic and goal-directed.

Dive Into UDL (page 128)


Wade In

Brain Networks and Related Guidelines

Let's get to know your brain - for real. There are many myths and misconceptions about the brain and how it functions. One of the most popular  (you have probably heard it many times) is that you only use 10% of your brain. As the video explains, this myth is not supported by science. 

What other brain myths have you heard? This Scientific American article on brain myths lists at least 5. 

To learn more about the scientific basis for UDL, read chapter 3 in Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice (free from CAST, but requires a login).


Shallow Swim

The UDL Guidelines and Principles

With the revised UDL Guidelines, CAST has created a number of graphic organizers that provide choice in how you can approach the guidelines. One of these graphic organizers, provides spaces for you to enter your own reflections and examples. After reading the descriptions in the book, use the blank version of the guidelines to provide at least one example for each guideline from you own classroom or learning experience.   

Screenshot from new UDL Guidelines website.

Deep Dive

UDL and Today's Learners

Dr. Tony Wagner, co-director of Harvard's Change Leadership Group believes there are 7 core skills a child growing up today needs to thrive in the changing world of work.

  1. Critical thinking and problem-solving

  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence

  3. Agility and adaptability

  4. Initiative and entrepreneurialism

  5. Effective oral and written communication

  6. Accessing and analyzing information

  7. Curiosity and imagination

After reading the article (and watching the video if you have time), do you agree with Dr. Wagner's list? What would you add or remove? Next, see if you can list at least three UDL guidelines that support learners in mastering each skill. Which one(s) did you find easier? Which one(s) took more time? 

Overhead shot of laptop, tablet and paper and pen. Text reads: 7 Core competencies according to Dr. Tony Wagner (listed in surrounding text).
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An Engaged Learner is an Empowered Learner: Highly engaged and motivated learners find ways to get around barriers they might encounter, learners with low engagement will stop at even the smallest setbacks. #DiveIntoUDL #EmpoweredLearners

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