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Universal Design for Learning Supports

Key Terminology

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Vocabulary General Definition As Applies to UDL
Access (1)  a way of getting near, at, or to something or someone; (2) a way of being able to use or get something; (3) permission or the right to enter, get near, or make use of something or to have contact with someone  To have the tools necessary to become an engaged and active participant.  Tools can be physical (assistive technology) or instructional.  Every child can learn and every child has the right to appropriate learning in the way that works best for them.
Action - The bringing about of an alteration by force or through a natural agency
Expression - The act of making your thoughts, feelings, etc., known by speech, writing, or some other method; the act of expressing something; a word or phrase
A curriculum that is universally designed provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways that students are engaged.   Providing multiple options for action and expression is a principle of UDL and a key component of the Strategic Network.
Affective Relating to, arising from, or influencing feelings or emotions; expressing emotion The "why" of learning. How learners get engaged, stay motivated, and are challenged.
Networks in the brain that enable us to engage with learning; networks specialized to evaluate patterns and impact emotional significance to them. Stimulate an interest and motivation for learning.
Architecture (1) the art or science of designing and creating buildings; (2) a method or style of building; the way in which the parts of a computer are organized; (3) a unifying or coherent form or structure Universal design in architecture is an analogy used to describe UDL principles.  Universal design has its roots in architecture and urban planning. Ramps, automatic doors, and curb cuts were created to provide access to people with physical disabilities but, in actuality, provides ease of access for everyone.
UDL embraces the concept of improved access for everyone and applies it to curriculum materials and teaching methods. 
Blueprint (1) a photographic print that shows how something (such as a building) will be made; (2) a detailed plan of how to do something 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.
CAST Located a short distance north of Boston, CAST is a nonprofit education research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals through Universal Design for Learning.  Center for Applied Special Technology
A nonprofit research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, through Universal Design for Learning.  CAST pledges to work tirelessly to understand the full extent of human learner variability and to find transformative approaches that make education more effective for all.
Engagement (1) an agreement to be married; the act of becoming engaged or the state of being engaged to be married; (2)  a promise to meet or be present at a particular place and time; (3) the act or state of being involved with something; involvement; (4)  a fight between military forces; (5) the act of hiring someone to do work or to perform a service; (6) the act or result of moving a mechanism or part of a machine so that it fits into another part Students are different in the ways that they will become interested or motivated to learn; therefore, it is crucial to provide multiple options for engagement – a principle of UDL and a key component of the Affective Network.
Framework (1)  the basic structure of something; (2)  a set of ideas or facts that provide support for something; (3)  a supporting structure; a structural frame Universal design for learning (UDL) is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn. The UDL framework can assist anyone who plans lessons/units of study or develops curricula to reduce barriers, optimize levels of challenge and support, to meet the needs of all learners from the start. It can also help educators identify the barriers found in existing curricula. 
The UDL framework is articulated through the UDL Guidelines. 
GPS A radio system that uses signals from satellites to tell you where you are and to give you directions to other places; GPS is an abbreviation of "Global Positioning System" An analogy used to describe UDL.  The GPS offers different options to reach your destination.  It also provides opportunities – or options – to "recalculate" your path before you reach your final destination.
Guidelines A rule or instruction that shows or tells how something should be done — usually plural The nine UDL Guidelines are organized according to the three main principles of UDL that address representation, expression, and engagement. They are not meant to be a "prescription" but a set of strategies that can be employed to overcome the barriers inherent in most existing curricula.  
(Illusory) Average Learner Illusory - based on something that is not true or real;  based on an illusion
Average - a level that is typical of a group, class, or series; a middle point between extremes
Learner – (1) a person who learns; (2) a person who is trying to gain knowledge or skill in something by studying, practicing, or being taught
 Cognitive neuroscience has shown us that there really isn't an average student – all students have a variety of strengths and weaknesses. That's why an "average learner" is an illusory student – they simply do not exist. Learners are all highly variable, with a range of strengths and weaknesses.  By understanding this variability, educators can prepare for it in advance.
Inclusive (1) covering or including everything; (2) open to everyone; not limited to certain people; (3) not used before a noun: including the stated limits and everything in between Including all; not limited or defined by ability, learning styles, or singular structure. Providing multiple means – or options – for learning and demonstrating knowledge.
Knowledgeable Having information, understanding, or skill that comes from experience or education; having knowledge  

The ultimate goal of UDL.  To become knowledgeable through having information, understanding, or skill that comes from experience or education.

Learner (1)  person who learns; (2) a person who is trying to gain knowledge or skill in something by studying, practicing, or being taught One who is purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, and strategic and goal-oriented.
Motivated To give (someone) a reason for doing something The ability to actively engage with learning.
Multiple Means Multiple – more than one;  many, numerous
Means – (1) a way of doing something or of achieving a desired result
Options and flexibility. 
Students are different in the ways that they express their knowledge; therefore, it is crucial to allow them to express verbally, physically, with written text, etc.
Students are different in the ways that they will become interested or motivated to learn; therefore, it is crucial to provide multiple ways to engage learners.
Students are different in the ways that they perceive and understand information; therefore, it is crucial to provide different ways of presenting content.
Networks (1) a system of lines, wires, etc., that are connected to each other; (2)  are connected to each other; (3) a group of people or organizations that are closely connected and that work with each other; (4) a group of radio or television stations that usually broadcast the same programs The three basic principles of UDL are built upon the knowledge that our learning brains are composed of three different networks: recognition, strategic, and affective.
Options (1) the opportunity or ability to choose something or to choose between two or more things; (2) something that can be chosen; a choice or possibility; (3) a right to buy or sell something for a specified price during a specified period of time; (4) an extra part or feature that you can pay to have in addition to the regular features that come with something you are buying; (5) British: a class that is not required in a particular course of study (elective) Providing choices and flexibility in the manner or in the way a task or item is approached.
Providing flexibility in the selection, method, or way a user may respond to a task or item.
UDL is about understanding your students and taking into account their varied differences so that they all have opportunities to learn. It asks you to be flexible and to give your students multiple ways to learn and show what they have learned.
Principles (1)  A moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions; (2) a basic truth or theory; an idea that forms the basis of something; (3) a law or fact of nature that explains how something works or why something happens The principles of UDL are designed to explain how learning happens.  Its research is grounded in modern neuroscience and explains that our learning brains are composed of three different networks, recognition, strategic, and affective. The UDL Guidelines align these three networks with the three principles (recognition to representation, strategic to action and expression, and affective to engagement). This empirical base in neuroscience provides a solid foundation for understanding how the learning brain intersects with effective instruction. 
Recognition (1)  the act of accepting that something is true or important or that it exists; (2)  the act of accepting someone or something as having legal or official authority; (3) the act of knowing who or what someone or something is because of previous knowledge or experience (4) special attention or notice especially by the public for someone's work or actions; (5) computers: the ability of a computer to understand and process human speech or writing The "what" of learning. How we gather facts and categorize what we see, hear, and read.
Networks in the brain that enable us to identify and understand information, ideas, and concepts; networks specialized to sense and assign meaning to patterns we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell.  
Representation (1) a person or group that speaks or acts for or in support of another person or group; (2) something (such as a picture or symbol) that stands for something else; (3) a painting, sculpture, etc., that is created to look like a particular thing or person; (4) the act of presenting or describing a person or thing in a particular way; (5) a statement made to influence the opinions or actions of others; (6) chiefly British: a formal and official complaint about something Learners differ in the ways that they perceive and comprehend information.  For example, those with sensory disabilities (e.g., blindness or deafness); learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia); language or cultural differences, and so forth may all require different ways of approaching content. Others may simply grasp information quicker or more efficiently through visual or auditory means rather than printed text.  For all students, learning, and transfer of learning, occurs when multiple representations are used, because they allow students to make connections within, as well as between, concepts.  Providing multiple options for representation is a principle of UDL and a key component of the Recognition Network.
Strategic (1) of or relating to a general plan that is created to achieve a goal in war, politics, etc., usually over a long period of time; (2) useful or important in achieving a plan or strategy The "how" of learning.  Planning and performing tasks; organizing and expressing ideas.
Networks in the brain that enable us to plan, execute, and self-monitor actions and skills; networks specialized to generate and oversee mental and motor patterns. For strategic, goal-directed learners, differentiate the ways that students can express what they know. 
Strategies (1) a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time; (2) the skill of making or carrying out plans to achieve a goal UDL strategies are instructional methods and tools used by teachers to ensure that ALL students have an equal opportunity to learn.
Variability (1)  able or likely to change or be changed; (2) alterable; (3) inconstant; fickle; (4) having much variation or diversity All students/people have a wide range of strengths and weaknesses.  Through UDL we remember that this range applies to learning as well – there is no such thing as an "average" learner.


Retrieved from

About Universal Design for Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved from CAST

Firchow, N. (2010, February). Universal Design for Learning — improved access for all. Retrieved from Great Schools

Learner Variability and Universal Design for Learning. (2016, January). Retrieved from CAST

Meyer, A., Rose, D. H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST, Inc.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL). (2016, January). Retrieved from Maryland Learning Links