#EdChat: The Importance of Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Deep learning happens when students engage authentically. The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach helps facilitate that. Here are three reasons why using tools that center UDL principles should be on your back-to-school checklist.

By iThrive Games
July 29, 2020

At iThrive, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a key design element in all of our curricular units. Whether we're creating content for high school English Learning Arts or civics courses, we collaborate with UDL experts at EdTogether and use the principles of UDL to design the delivery methods, activities, and assessments that comprise each learning experience. In designing our units, we consider the diversity and variability inherent to the teens involved and work to prepare the learning environment to be rich with options for how teens take in the experience and how they express their new knowledge and skills.

Each teen develops differently and engages with concepts from different access points. The best learning happens when students engage authentically from the entry point of their own curiosity, interests, strengths, and ideas. That's a key reason we use game-based approaches. Games provide immersive experiences that offer visuals, sound, and movement to ensure students can engage in learning in multiple, embodied ways. 

Using a game is a great initial step toward universally designed learning experiences. As you make choices about which game-based learning units to use with high school students, consider these three reasons to ensure that UDL principles were used during the design of all the curricular elements. 

  1. UDL is a student-centered approach. A UDL orientation prioritizes students' authentic engagement and places a high value on their agency and use of unique strengths. This is an approach that resonates with people of all ages, of course, but is especially critical for teens. We know teen students learn best when their experiences and identities are validated and respected in the classroom. 
  2. UDL promotes flexibility and innovation. Approaching learning with a UDL frame makes us ask, "What's the real goal here?" If the end goal of a particular task is not reading comprehension, per se, but instead understanding a specific concept, why would we offer reading as the only method of engagement? UDL sparks us to think more creatively about presenting multiple ways to present and engage with content so that students can use a range of faculties and strengths to grow skills and knowledge.
  3. Designing for the margins uplifts everyone. A key benefit of UDL approaches is that making learning more inclusive isn't only good for learners who need extra support. Research shows that designing for learners with the highest level of need improves learning processes for all students. 

Whether you use our game-based curricular units or those from another educational organization or design your own, make sure UDL is part of the design to ensure that the unit takes into consideration the rich diversity of strengths and learning needs of your students.