A professor lectures at the front of a higher education classroom.

Universal Design for Learning Implementation In Higher Education: Examples and Resources

Author: Ling Zhang

In the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is defined as a scientifically validated framework that guides inclusive instructional practices for all learners. For one thing, there is an increasing need for implementing UDL in higher education to meet the learning needs of post-secondary students and prepare them for rapidly changing workplaces. Additionally, modeling UDL implementation in teacher preparation programs has the potential to support teacher candidates in transferring effective practices to PK-12 settings. Here are multiple examples of how higher education institutions (HEIs) and researchers from different countries created opportunities for improving faculty’s capacity to implement UDL in higher education classrooms and teacher preparation programs.

1. TINEL project

TINEL Project ran a series of camps designed to support HEI faculty in applying UDL principles to online and blended teaching and learning. Researchers from Sweden, Norway, the United Kingdom, and Finland developed a training model for what they called Universal Design for eLearning or UDeL. Participating in the TINEL project, HEI faculty and staff had access to face-to-face and online camps as well as follow-up webinars where they shared real-life experiences, practices, and reflections with others. Participants in this project shared some examples that benefited their practices:

  • Materials on how to make documents more accessible, including how to check the accessibility of one’s own documents;
  • Videos with step-by-step guidance on how to create captions for instructional videos;
  • Resources and guidance on how new tools can be used, what kind of pedagogical approaches can be implemented, and what kind of disability-related issues can be addressed with the aid of these tools;
  • The UDeL Peer Support Network, which facilitates future discussions and practices around inclusive learning and UDeL.

2. Iterative development of a Universal Design for Learning-based course

A recent study by Anya Evmenova from George Mason University shares an iterative development and testing of an online course, which follows the UDL planning process for in-service educators. The course consists of eight modules, including (1) foundations and principles of UDL; (2) UDL standards and guidelines for research and practice; (3) multiple means of representation; (4) multiple means of action and expression; (5) multiple means of engagement; (6) UDL in higher and online education; (7) UDL and student progress monitoring; (8) designing UDL curriculum. Below are multiple design components that align with UDL principles as well as support UDL application recognized by the participating students:

  • Module lectures were accessed in multiple formats, including narrated videos, instructional slides, audio files, and transcripts of the narration.
  • Students were asked to create UDL Resource Notebooks to gather and analyze UDL resources in their areas of interest. Additionally, students were provided with autonomy over apps (e.g., LiveBinder, Google Sites, Padlet) and formats to submit their notebooks (e.g., text, poster, Flyer, Facebook page, video, Infographic).
  • The instructor provided mastery-oriented text and audio feedback as well as created opportunities for peer feedback.
  • Opportunities for self-reflection were built throughout the course, such as online expectations letters, virtual office hours, semi-weekly reminders, and ungraded self-assessments on the UDL design process.

3. Lived experiences of Universal Design for Learning implementation

Another study conducted by Frédéric Fovet from Royal Roads University provides an analysis of the author’s lived professional experiences of implementing UDL in HEIs in Canada. Some UDL implementation strategies summarized in this study include:

  • Optimize flexibility in resources to meet the needs of students with disabilities, international students, indigenous studies, and first-generation post-secondary students;
  • Consider co-creating content and curriculum with students through activities such as co-teaching, project-based learning, or experiential tasks to allow for learner choices and increase autonomy over what to learn;
  • Integrate Critical Pedagogy into the UDL principle of providing multiple means of engagement to support students in actively participating in discussions around inequitable power dynamics.

In addition, the author identified several pressing needs for ensuring successful UDL implementation across disciplines and learning contexts in higher education, including hands-on learning activities, laboratories, trades education, and studio-based arts instruction. Interested readers can check out the article for detailed descriptions of these needs.

4. Other resources


UDL On Campus provides a wealth of resources developed by CAST that support multiple stakeholders, including instructional designers, faculty, policymakers, and administrators, in better understanding the application of UDL in higher education. Interested readers can find various resources within four domains including 1) UDL in Higher Education, 2) Course Design, 3) Media and Materials, and 4) Accessibility and Policy.

Discipline-Based Course Design Guide

To support UDL implementation in HEIs, researchers from the Taylor Institute for Teaching and learning at the University of Calgary created a guide titled Incorporating Universal Design for Learning in Disciplinary Contexts in Higher Education. This guide illuminates multiple cases of how UDL has been incorporated into learning experiences across disciplines in higher education.

Suggested Readings

Abegglen, S., Aparicio-Ting, F. E., Arcellana-Panlilio, M., Behjat, L., Brown, B., Clancy, T. L., DesJardine, P., Din, C., Dyjur, P., Ferreira, C., Hughson, E. A., Kassan, A., Klinke, C., Kurz, E., Neuhaus, F., Pletnyova, G., Paul, R. M., Peschl, H., Peschl, R., & Squance, R. T. (2021). Incorporating Universal Design for Learning in Disciplinary Contexts in Higher Education. Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning Guide Series.

Eftring, H., Olaussen, E. J., Petrie, H., Saarela, M., Ladonlahti, T., & Torkildsby, A. B. (2021). From face-to-face to online UDeL Camps: Supporting staff at higher education institutions in developing Universal Design for eLearning (UDeL). Studies in Health Technology and Informatics.

Evmenova, A. S. (2021). Walking the UDL walk: Designing an online course about UDL. The Journal of Applied Instructional Design, 10(1).

Fovet, F. (2020). Universal Design for Learning as a tool for inclusion in the higher education classroom: Tips for the next decade of implementation. Education Journal, 9(6), 163-172.