Week 8: Assigment 2 – Universal Design

Universal Design for Learning

Introduction to Universal Design for Learning

My topic, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), is going to be focused on UDL for early students. First of all I am going to introduce UDL in general and then I will focus on the learning application for early learners and the literacy skill at the early childhood. According to The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), Universal Design for Learning is defined as:

UDL is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.

UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.

The idea of Universal Design was originally created for arquitectural purposes and in the nineties was adapted to education, Universal Design for Learning. The 7 principles belonging to the UD were adapted to learning as well. You can see the equivalences:

  1. Equitable use – Equitable curriculum
  2. Flexibility in use – Flexible curriculum
  3. Simple & intuitive – Simple & intuitive instruction
  4. Perceptible info – Multiple means of presentation
  5. Tolerance for error – Success-oriented curriculum
  6. Low physical effort – Appropriate level of student effort
  7. Size/space for approach and use – Appropriate environment for learning

CAST suggests there are three primary principles that guide the UDL (click to expand the picture). Those are:


  1. Provide multiple means of representation: Present information and content in different ways
  2. Provide multiple means of action and expression: Differentiate the ways that students can express what they know
  3. Provide multiple means of engagement: Stimulate interest and motivation for learning

Universal Design for Learning for Early Childhood

When I was teaching ESL I had to do it as well with young students, between the ages of 3-6. At these ages, children are very different from each other because of their development stage and sociocultural and family background. However, they all have to get the chance to develop their physical, cognitive and emotional skills. Since they still do not have very effective strategies of learning, you need to adapt your teaching to all of the students, so everybody can take benefit from it. Using a UDL approach at this stage will make a good impact on their educational progress. Students at this age have to gain autonomy so they can succeed in their education. They are still very dependent and all the curriculum has to be designed for them to get confidence and develop their autonomy for their next stage of education.

My main idea is that UDL is very important to be applied effectively to the early childhood since it is the foundation of the education the child will receive the rest of their life.

Curriculum has to be flexible enough to cover the needs of all the students rather than modifying it according to their needs. The key to succeed in education and in life in general is when you start from the very beginning. Students will fail in secondary school if they do not have a solid basis starting from their early education. If students show learning differences at early ages they may give up because they do not fit in the teaching method, this is another reason why UDL has to start from the lower levels. When we design the curriculum we have to take into account the following items:

  • Goals and methods: They have to be very diverse and taking into account all the principles of UDL. One goal can be achieved through many different methods and they can all be valid, so in this way all children have the opportunity to learn. The goals have to be challenging for all the students and this means there have to be several difficulty levels for all the students. Needless to say, the methods have to include all the principles stated by the UDL and have to involve all forms of representation for the different learners, and they have to be able to express themselves in a variety of ways, visual, auditory or kinaesthetic.
  • Material: Because we have multiple methods to fulfil a task, we have to use all kinds of materials in order to cover the different learning styles. We need visual, tactile, auditory materials to adapt to our students. Students have to experience with all kinds of materials to gain autonomy. When children are young interact very differently with the context, so we have to provide them a full range of activities to develop that skill.
  • Technology: This part is very important for UDL since it is very flexible and adaptive. Students can become very independent using new technology, plus they like it. There is a lot of software available for young learners and resources online as well. All the technological resources have to be flexible and get the students involved in the task independently. The use of technology in early childhood promotes confidence, motivation and independence.
 Universal Design for Learning applied to Literacy

One vital skill that students are going to need in their life is the literacy. Without this is impossible to any new content, in school or in the daily life. They start developing it since their early ages and master it around the age of 8. It varies depending on the child, but one thing is sure, this is a key skill that allows a person to learn. Since they start developing reading and writing in the early childhood, we need a method flexible enough for all the students. Before students develop those abilities they have a skill called emergent literacy which consists of the skills the child has of reading and writing before they actually learn how to read and write words. Then, we need to develop effectively those emergent skills from the early ages. One reason why students become poor readers is because they do not develop properly the emergent literacy skill.

Applying UDL to develop emergent literacy is highly recommend for those who have difficulties and do not get benefit from the traditional methods, although all students take advantage of the UDL. Students who have troubles with their reading skills and do not develop them correctly will become poor readers when they grow up. The components from the emergent literacy that should be promoted in the early childhood are the oral language, the phonological awareness, and the print perception. Those skills can be practised through many different activities such as storytelling, songs and rhythmic activities.

I will explain two activities as an example of applying UDL to early learners. The first one is storytelling and the second one is using the VoiceThread.

Storytelling is an effective activity to develop those skills and can be made using different materials. Students do not need to read, but they become aware of the print, the phonological aspect and the oral language. The story format can be a big book or poster so the words are big enough for the class to see them. It can be used with a recorded audio so they have music effects and they get more involved in the story. A web-based story is an alternative since there are many online options which are very attractive for young students. They can do it individually in a computer or using a projector so the whole class can be involved. It is important that students can respond to the story, so it is a bidirectional interaction. They can do it in various ways, answering questions, playing online games, drawing, singing, etc. Teachers are encouraged to be creative and flexible so all students can develop their abilities through varied activities. If we take into account the 3 principles of UDL applied to storytelling we have:

  • Representation: Material has to be presented in different forms, it has to include many pictures to facilitate the comprehension, the audio can come from different sources, the teacher, audio, songs, different voices. It can be shown with posters, big storybook, online site, in a computer, projector. Puppets can be used to tell the story.
  • Action and expression: Students should have the opportunity to express their understanding of concepts and content of the story in many different ways. They can do it orally, drawing, with the computer through different activities, they may do it with physical actions or gestures.
  • Engagement: In order to engage students, the activities have to be flexible, interesting, creative and require some feedback from them so they do not feel just passive, but they can interact actively in their learning process.

The second activity I want to comment is the VoiceThread, which is a Web-based digital-storytelling application that allows users to share their stories through audio, images, videos or text. Users can comment the stories as well. By using it, students can develop their receptive and productive language, their comprehension abilities and improve their family connections with the school and the learning process. This tool follows the three principles of UDL and it is very flexible and creative for the students.

  • Representation:  They receive the information in all different formats and levels according to their needs and abilities. They can adapt what they read to their current level. They have videos, pictures, storytelling, audios…
  • Action and expression: Students can use their language and skills in many different ways such as acting out, singing, recording, talking, drawing, they are actively representing stories, dramatic plays, drawings, routines. Children can express themselves using the language, their body, recordings, movements, they have many opportunities.
  • Engagement: Students become really involved in the task and learning because they are enjoying. They are using new technology as well, which is attractive. As families can follow what they do with VoiceThread, they are very motivated.


UDL has become an important topic to ensure students receive a proper education according to their needs, however we do not have to forget it has to be applied to young learners because these ages are crucial so they get engaged in learning. The key for proving inclusion for all children is to have a universal designed curriculum.


Blum, Gillis, Luthin & Parette (2012). Using VoiceThread to Create Meaningful Receptive and Expressive Learning Activities for Young Children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 40 (4), 203-2011.

Brand, Susan Trostle; Dalton, Elizabeth M. (2012). Universal design for learning: cognitive theory into practice for facilitating comprehension in early literacy. Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round, 2012 (1), 1.

CAST: Center for Applied Special Technology. (2012). CAST Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved July 3, 2013, from http://www.cast.org/

Conn-Powers, M. C., Alice F.; Traub, Elizabeth K.; & Hutter-Pishgahi, Lois (2006). The universal design of early education: Moving forward for all children. Beyond the Journal: Young Children on the Web, 2006.

Darragh, Johnna (2007). Universal Design for Early Childhood Education: Ensuring Access and Equity for All. Early Childhood Education Journal, 35 (2), 167-171.

GWired. (2005). Four Ways to Incorporate Universal Design for Learning into Your Assignment Instructions. Retrieved July 4, 2013, from http://gwired.gwu.edu/dss/Newsletters/Fall05UDL/

King-Sears, M. (2009). Universal Design for Learning: Technology and Pedagogy. Learning Disability Quarterly, 32 (4), 199-201.

Miller, Melinda (2012). Right from the Start: Universal Design for Preschool. TEACHING Exceptional Children. 45 (1), 10-17.

Reeves, Stacy (2013). Universal Design for Learning and Emergent-literacy Development: Instructional Practices for Young Learners. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 79 (2), 70.

Rose, D. & Meyer A. (2002). Teaching every student in the digital age: Universal design for learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum.

UDL Center. (2012). National Center on Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved July 3, 2013, from http://www.udlcenter.org/

VoiceThread. (2013). VoiceThread. Retrieved July 4, 2013, from http://voicethread.com/

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (2013, March 29). Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved July 3, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Design_for_Learning

Yuen, Steve. (2008, January 14). Learning Technologies: VoiceThread. Retrieved July 4, 2013, from http://scyuen.wordpress.com/2008/01/14/voicethread/

74 thoughts on “Week 8: Assigment 2 – Universal Design

  1. I agree that young children can benefit from Universal Design. At that young age, they have a need for movement and high engagement, so I can see them benefiting from songs, dances, manipulating concrete objects, and games. I also like the Voice Thread and other resources you included for our use. I am very interested in this topic and almost did my essay on it too. I hope to get time now to check out some more of these resources in more detail.

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