Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for designing learning environments that accommodate students’ needs, rather than expecting students to fit into the environment.

Barriers to learning are most often undetectable to anyone not experiencing them. They can be physical, social, cultural, linguistic, cognitive or temporal.  When a barrier is experienced, the learner will make adjustments to the way that they learn to overcome it. This takes time, and can lead to frustration and become overwhelming.

UDL principles

The principles of the UDL framework stress the need for adaptive learning approaches that are flexible enough to tailor to all learners.

These have been developed by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) and articulated in their guidelines under three main principles: 

  1. Multiple methods of representation by giving learners a variety of ways to access information e.g. audio, text and image based.
  2. Multiple means of student action and expression which provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they have learned e.g. optional variations for assessment.
  3. Multiple modes of student engagement that tap into learners’ interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn.

UDL & Block design

Block design is a student-centred approach to learning design based on active learning principles. In other words, students learn best when they are actively in control of how, when, why and what they learn. The Block principles align with UDL principles to support student learning. Below are some Block design that support UDL. 

Any and all of these strategies increase the usability and accessibility of learning to students. Any of these ideas will help students learn. If you’d like help deciding on and implementing some of the strategies, get in touch with the Connected Learning team or drop into the HIVE.

You can also refer to CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2.

  • Provide options for students in the tools used for information gathering or producing, or the sequence or timing of completing subcomponents of tasks, or selecting the level of perceived challenge.
  • Vary activities and resources so they are contextualised to students’ lives and prior learning, and are socially relevant and appropriate for different racial, cultural, ethnic, and gender groups.
  • Provide options for both spoken and written responses, as well as possible anonymous contributions.
  • Use cues and prompts to draw attention to critical features in text, graphics, diagrams, formulas, etc.
  • Remove unnecessary distractions unless they are essential to the learning objective.
  • Provide multiple examples of novel solutions to authentic problems.
  • Emphasise process, effort, and improvement in meeting standards as alternatives to external evaluation and competition.
  • Offer clarification of notation through lists of key terms.

Accessible learning at VU

Victoria University, like all education providers, is governed by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA), which makes it against the law to discriminate against a person because of disability when providing goods, services or facilities, or access to public premises.

Our VU Accessibility Action Plan specifies a large range of initiatives across the University undertaken by our many accessibility partners. You can read the Accessibility Action Plan to get an overview of these many projects. 

In 2020, Connected Learning implemented Blackboard Ally in our Learning Management System (LMS) to track the accessibility of resource on the LMS, to assist all staff to improve the accessibility of their learning resources and to provide a means for students to access resources in alternative formats. 

We call learning accessible when all the resources that we use for learning – readings, presentations, worksheets, digital interactives, web pages – contain no hidden barriers to students who might be trying to access them in different contexts or by different means, such as students using screen readers because they have low vision.

At VU, students can access alternative formats for most resources. That means that documents (PDF, Word, PowerPoint or HTML document) can be downloaded as:

  • Tagged PDF
  • HTML
  • MP3
  • OCRed PDF
  • ePUB
  • BeeLine Reader
  • braille.

Some of these formats are popular because of the flexibility they provide for when and where learning can happen – such as the audio MP3 file. Other formats provide greater accessibility to students who use assisted technologies such as screen readers or even tablets. Text-based formats (Tagged PDFs, HTML, OCRed PDF and BeeLine Reader) give students the ability to change text size, search text, and modify background lighting or text contrast to ease eye strain.

For more information about each of these formats and a guide to choosing the right one for you, please see Blackboard Ally Alternative formats  

Unit Convenors and Instructors at VU have access to a Web Accessibility Indicator (WAI) tool in each of their VU Collaborate spaces.

The WAI tool appears as a colourful meter or gauge that shows the accessibility rating of each resource in the space. It provides handy just-in-time instruction on how to fix any accessibility issues relevant to that resource, ensuring that students can access that resource as alternative formats.