Skip to main content Skip to footer
Link to feedback form Link to feedback form

Definition of Universal Design

Universal Design was originally applied to designing buildings and products in order to be used by the widest range of people. More recently, UD has been applied to education, learning and technology. Universal Design can minimize barriers and maximize learning for all students. Recognizing that everyone learns differently, Universal Design of Learning is an educational framework based on research that calls for the development of flexible learning environments in the classroom and on the web.


The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA) provides a concise definition:

 ‘‘(24) UNIVERSAL DESIGN FOR LEARNING.—The term ‘universal design for learning’ means a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that—

‘‘(A) provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and

‘‘(B) reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient.’’.


122 STAT. 3088 PUBLIC LAW 110–315—AUG. 14, 2008]


Designing a course has four parts: instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments. Universal Design can be applied to all of these components.  When a course is designed with flexibility and accessibility, there is less work and hassle later in the middle of the semester when asked to provide options to meet the needs of individual students. Universal Design is a way to be proactive instead of reactive.  Three things to keep in mind while creating a course:

 •Provide multiple means of representation to give students various ways of acquiring information and knowledge,

 •Provide multiple means of engagement to tap into students’ interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn

 •Provide multiple means of expression to provide students alternatives for demonstrating what they know.


Here is a link to Colorado State University’s Project ACCESS with a Quick Tips guide from Theory to Practice 

Here is a link from DO-IT to the 7 principals of Universal Design of Instruction and additional definitions:

Here is a link from UDL on Campus with a definition, overview and origins on UDL (use the tabs across the top on site)

Here is a link from the Teaching Effectiveness Program at University of Oregon defining UD in college instruction:


(Return to Universal Design Main Page)