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Frequently Asked Questions

Table of Contents

What’s the goal of UDL?

UDL is a framework to guide the design of learning environments that are accessible and challenging for all. Ultimately, the goal of UDL is to support learners to become “expert learners” who are, each in their own way, purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, and strategic and goal driven. 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.

Why were the UDL Guidelines developed?

The overarching framework of UDL motivated many stakeholders in the field to begin rethinking the design of their environments and curricula through a UDL lens. However, CAST often received feedback that applying UDL to practice felt overwhelming. Many stakeholders shared with us that the three principles of UDL were a useful start in designing for variability; yet, these stakeholders also felt as though the principles were too vague and that more specific guidance was needed. In 2009, we developed the first version of the UDL Guidelines in response to this important feedback. We hoped that these guidelines would provide concrete support to educators who were eager to apply the UDL framework to practice. Since that time, we have revised the Guidelines to incorporate feedback from the field as well as expanding research in the areas of UDL, education, cognitive science, psychology, and neuroscience. The FAQ “Why are there multiple versions of the Guidelines?” provides more information on the evolution of the UDL Guidelines.

How are the Guidelines related to the UDL framework?

The UDL framework offers an overarching approach to designing meaningful learning opportunities that address learner variability and suggests purposeful, proactive attention to the design of goals, assessments, methods, and materials. CAST’s UDL Guidelines are a tool to support educators, curriculum developers, researchers, parents, and more to apply the UDL framework to practice.

Who are the Guidelines for?

CAST’s UDL Guidelines are a tool to support teaching and learning. They can be used by professional educators, curriculum developers, researchers, parents, and anyone else who wants to apply the UDL framework to practice in a learning environment. We also believe the Guidelines can be valuable to learners themselves: they can act as a tool to support individuals in deepening their understanding of their own learning processes.

How are the Guidelines organized?

The UDL Guidelines are organized both horizontally and vertically.

Vertically, the Guidelines are organized according to the three principles of UDL: engagement, representation, and action and expression. The principles are broken down into Guidelines, and each of these Guidelines have corresponding “checkpoints” that provide more detailed suggestions.

Horizontally, the Guidelines are organized into three rows. The “access” row includes the guidelines that suggest ways to increase access to the learning goal by recruiting interest and by offering options for perception and physical action.

The “build” row includes the guidelines that suggest ways to develop effort and persistence, language and symbols, and expression and communication.

Finally, the “internalize” row includes the guidelines that suggest ways to empower learners through self-regulation, comprehension, and executive function.

Taken together, the Guidelines lead to the ultimate goal of UDL: to develop “expert learners” who are, each in their own way, resourceful and knowledgeable, strategic and goal-directed, purposeful and motivated. For more detailed information about how the UDL Guidelines are organized, see About the Graphic Organizer.

How do the Guidelines align to the learning brain?

The UDL Principles and accompanying Guidelines were conceived with the brain in mind. Like each person’s fingerprints, every brain is remarkably unique in its anatomy, chemistry, and physiology. While there are thousands of networks specialized for different functions, some of the differences we can observe are systematic and predictable. We can proactively anticipate and plan for these differences. UDL emphasizes three large brain networks that comprise the vast majority of the human brain and play a central role in learning. These networks include: the affective network (how learners monitor the internal and external environment to set priorities, to motivate, and to engage learning and behavior), the recognition network (how learners sense and perceive information in the environment and transform it into usable knowledge), and the strategic network (how learners plan, organize, and initiate purposeful actions in the environment). Each of these networks tend to be spatially distinguishable in the brain: the affective network is generally buried in the center of the brain; the recognition network is located in the back/posterior regions, and the strategic (motor) network is positioned in the anterior/front of the brain. While it should be noted that all the networks work together, CAST focuses on this simplified model of the brain to highlight what is relevant for the learning brain and to try to understand and plan for learner variability.

How can the Guidelines be used?

The UDL Guidelines are not meant to be a “prescription,” but a set of concrete suggestions that can be applied to instructional design to reduce barriers and maximize learning opportunities according to specific learning goals. As educators, many of us already incorporate aspects of the Guidelines into our practice; however, there may still be barriers in our learning experiences that we haven’t noticed or haven’t yet encountered. The UDL Guidelines offer a systematic structure for addressing these barriers and for intentionally planning for learner variability. To address the needs of all of our learners, we need to be purposeful, proactive, and reflective in our design by constantly referring to the Guidelines as we plan our learning experiences. The Guidelines are not meant to be applied to just one aspect of the curriculum or to just one group of students. Instead, the Guidelines are a tool to support the development of a shared language in the design of goals, assessments, methods, and materials that lead to accessible and challenging learning experiences for all.

Why are there multiple versions of the Guidelines?

The evolution of CAST’s UDL Guidelines has been and continues to be a dynamic, collaborative, and developmental process. We shared the first version of the Guidelines—Guidelines 1.0—in 2009. Since that time, we have collected and specifically solicited feedback from the field. This feedback along with the expanding research in the areas of UDL, education, cognitive science, psychology, and neuroscience has led us to develop different representations of the Guidelines. We don’t consider any of these representations the “correct” version; instead, each of these representations has a particular goal and traces our learning not only as an organization but as a field more broadly.

There is no set order in which to use the Guidelines. They are intended to be mixed and matched according to specific learning goals. However, we have experimented with different arrangements of the UDL Guidelines graphic organizer over time in order to support stakeholders’ understanding of UDL.

First, we shifted the way the three UDL Principles are presented. Initial versions of the Guidelines begin with “Provide Multiple Means of Representation.” However, in more recent versions, we begin with “Provide Multiple Means of Engagement.” This shift is meant to highlight the essential role that engagement plays in learning and was motivated by the literature as well as educators’ input.

Second, there has been a shift in how we present the horizontal rows of the Guidelines in the graphic organizer. As noted above, there is no set order in which to apply the Guidelines; the way we apply UDL is driven by our instructional goals and barriers present in the curriculum. Yet, we recognize that many people use this document as one way to begin their learning about UDL, and we have found that considering ways to reduce barriers and increase access can be a useful entry point. Therefore, in this most recent representation of the UDL Guidelines graphic organizer, the “access” row of the Guidelines is presented first. We hope that this representation will support educators who are new to UDL to explore this critical step. At the same time, we hope that this representation will inspire educators to continue their learning and apply UDL for aims beyond access in order to reach the ultimate goal of UDL—to support all learners in developing into expert learners.

If you prefer previous organizations of the guidelines, not to worry! The Downloads page offers a history of all of the different versions developed since 2009.

Do you have to do all of the Guidelines at once for fidelity?

You certainly do not need to use every Guideline in a single learning opportunity. In fact, some Guidelines may not be relevant to certain learning goals. The first step in applying the UDL framework to practice is to define a specific, challenging learning goal. This clarity will allow you to strategically mix and match Guidelines and Checkpoints that reduce barriers and support all learners in reaching the learning goal.

Focusing on the learning goal allows educators to scaffold and support construct irrelevant barriers so that students can access and engage with the construct relevant learning goals. In other words, UDL helps educators keep desirable challenges in a learning experience and remove unnecessary barriers. 

What tools and resources support the application of each Guideline?

Many tools and resources can be used in support of a learning goal and can align to various UDL Guidelines and Checkpoints. These tools and resources may integrate the latest digital technology or can be low- or no-tech options as well. However, the resources and tools themselves are not what makes a lesson or learning experience “UDL.” Instead, UDL is a framework to think about how different tools and resources can be leveraged to reduce barriers and support all learners to engage in challenging ways of thinking. We hope the Guidelines will support educators to develop and internalize a UDL-mindset to proactively incorporate tools and resources in the service of clear and rigorous learning goals.

How can I give feedback on the Guidelines?

We welcome your feedback! Your perspectives are critical to the future development of the UDL Guidelines as we work to make this tool more reflective of expanding research and insights from the field. Please contact CAST to share your questions, research, resources, and ideas.