Introductory Series on
Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

The Foundations of UDL

Photo courtesy: ©Sabbir Sohan

Universal design for learning (UDL) is a teaching approach that works to accommodate the needs and abilities of all learners and eliminates unnecessary hurdles in the learning process with the end goal of creating an environment where all learners can become empowered learners. By developing a flexible learning environment in which information is presented in multiple ways, students engage in learning in a variety of ways, and students are provided options when demonstrating their learning, students come to know themselves as learners. 

UDL is similar to universal instructional design and universal design for instruction. All three advocate for accessible and inclusive instructional approaches that meet the needs and abilities of all learners; however, UDL is grounded in how the human brain learns and what attitudes, actions, and assessment designs support or interfere with learning.    

Why Use UDL

Incorporating the UDL principles and core elements establishes a pathway toward an inclusive learning environment.

Designing a course to accommodate a wider variety of needs may eliminate potential learning barriers or unnecessary learning obstacles. If a course and the learning environment can be designed at the onset to do this, then why not?

Providing students with multiple means of perceiving, comprehending, and expressing their learning allows students to engage with the material in a way that most benefits them, and also encourages students to engage with material to improve in areas in which their skills are not as strong.  

The Foundations for UDL

UDL can be a vast step from traditional education for many. That step requires educators to have a very firm foundation in core teaching practices. Those practices include lesson plan development, scaffolding, and responding to student needs.

Lesson plan development includes the development of a goal that is used to drive what materials and methods are used as well as how the students are assessed. Lessons that are planned with this care allow the teacher to creatively meet the needs of the learners.

Scaffolding is a process where the teacher breaks down the topic or skill into segments or steps. The teacher can help learners move more confidently toward understanding by talking about and showing those segments or steps.

Responding to the needs of learners means the teacher is watchful, mindful, and responsive to any academic or behavioral need the student might have. The teacher might recognize a student who is not joyful when learning but the other students are. The teacher takes note of this and at an appropriate time, asks the child if anything is wrong or if the child is confused about the learning. Or, the teacher might see that a child is not writing in his notebook. The teacher privately asks the child why he’s not writing. The teacher finds out that the child cannot see the chalkboard, so now the teacher can move the child’s seating position so he is closer to the chalkboard.

Course Description

This course is designed to teach the foundation educators must have prior to applying UDL in their classrooms.

Learning Outcomes

To establish the base necessary to understand and implement UDL, participants will:

Learn lesson design using the components of goals, methods, materials and assessments;
Design or modify lessons using the components of goals, methods, materials, and assessments;
Understand the reason for and act of scaffolding topics and skills;
Apply their knowledge about scaffolding to topics or skills;
Understand the need to be responsive to the needs of learners;
Identify practical strategies for being responsive regardless of student need or the number of students.
Apply their knowledge from this course and demonstrate how UDL helps teachers support all learners through the lens of equity and inclusion

Course Overview

This 8-week course will cover the foundation necessary to effectively learn about and apply UDL. The foundations will include areas including: goal writing and lesson design, scaffolding, the impact of emotion on learning, and recognizing student need. Each session will enquire about participants’ background knowledge and will add to that knowledge. Participants will be asked to share current examples of classroom strategies and materials to ensure the examples and learning resources suggested enhance participant understanding. Most importantly, this course will be designed using UDL which means it will not be a lecture-only course. Time will be provided for student input and discussion. In addition, a variety of opportunities for participation will be provided. Participants will be required to complete assignments between some classes and will be asked to share their work using a medium that is comfortable for them (speaking to the group, sharing written work, etc.).

Content focus: Though UDL can be used to design any learning environment across all ages, this course will use K-12 environments across the world as examples. 



The course will be co-taught by Dr. Loui Lord Nelson and Leah Bitat, M.A.

Dr. Nelson has been helping educators learn about and apply UDL for 15 years. She completed her post-doctoral work at CAST (the creators of UDL), has written three books about UDL, has designed games to teach about UDL, leads two podcasts about UDL, and has worked with schools, districts, and Ministries of Education around the world, including in low- and middle-income countries. Dr. Nelson is passionate about helping educators learn about UDL and apply it in their own environments.

Leah Bitat has used UDL in her 20 years of practice as an educator in classrooms for students at risk of school failure, and as an international trainer for teachers of students with diverse learning needs.  Leah studied at Harvard University with Dr. David Rose, a creator of UDL and CAST.  Leah has spent the past 12 years in North Africa, leading educational development programs as the Field Director and Country Representative of World Learning, Algeria.  Leah is also the Director of Pedagogy and Professional Development at the Aures School in Algiers – a trilingual, inclusive k-12 school.

Course Materials

All materials will be provided in electronic format including PowerPoints and reading material. Class recording will be available within 24 hours of each course session. A private WhatsApp group will be created for registered participants. A link to join the group will be sent with registration confirmation. This group will serve to connect with classmates and trainers for discussion and questions.