UDL: Universal Design for Learning

March 7, 2022

What is UDL?

Universal Design (UD) is a concept originally used in the field of architecture to describe the design of a physical environment accessible to all users, both with and without disabilities (Rao & Tanners, 2011). Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can be applied to instruction as a model to address the challenges of providing accessible learning environments (Rao, Edelen-Smith, & Wailehua, 2015) for a variety of learners (CAST, 2011). In order to design a curriculum to meet the diverse needs of learners and reduce barriers for students with disabilities in online learning environments, UDL is guided by three principles: providing multiple means of representation, multiple means of action and expression, and multiple means of engagement (National Center on Universal Design for Learning, 2014).

Application of UDL in Online Education

When designing your online courses, consider UDL as a foundation for establishing a learning environment that not only supports your students with disabilities, but also fosters an environment where all students can thrive. Your added efforts in online course creation can have a significant impact on the success of your students in your class.

Instructor application of UDL principles to develop online courses creates learning environments that can accommodate a diverse student population (Rao & Tanner, 2011); this is especially important to distance education when all disabilities become invisible. UDL, when applied in online courses, increases the likelihood of meeting compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Additionally, UDL supports the implementation of appropriate strategies and accommodations, and reduces the barriers that students with disabilities could experience in online learning environments.

How can I apply UDL at Clemson?

Clemson has two Canvas sites available for faculty and staff to enroll in to learn more about UDL – try them today!

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  • Implementing UDL in Canvas: After completing this course, participants will be able to design engaging, effective, and accessible courses using the features of Canvas. (Hosted by OTEI)


Green and Black UDOIT Logo: Universal Design Online (content) Inspection Tool

  • UDOIT for Canvas User Guide: The UDOIT tool scans your Canvas course, generates a report of accessibility issues that could impede your students’ ability to learn, and provides resources for addressing these issues. This course will help you learn how to use it effectively.


Canvas also has a built-in accessibility checker! See the Canvas guides for how to use it in your courses.


CAST (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author.

National Center on Universal Design for Learning. (2014). UDL Guidelines—Version 2.0. Retrieved from

Rao, K., Edelen-Smith, P., Wailehua, C. (2015). Universal design for online courses: Applying principles to pedagogy. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance, and e-Learning, 30(1).

Rao,K., Tanners, A. (2011). Curb Cuts in Cyberspace: Universal Instructional Design for Online Courses. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 24 (3).

Upcoming Live Training

  • Group Projects & Canvas Series: Groups

Join us for part 2 of our 4-part Quick Hits: Group Projects & Canvas Series. A walk-through demonstration will be provided on how to add students to groups within Canvas. Groups are collaborative and can be used to facilitate long-term assignments. Discover the benefits of using Canvas groups by asking questions following our presentation. Facilitated by Clemson Online’s Learning Technology Specialist, Axel Ruiz.

Register in Tiger Training or simply join us on Thursday, March 10th, from 3:30 pm – 4 pm by copying and pasting this Zoom link in your browser.

  • Workshop Wednesday: Course Accessibility

If you’re interested in improving course accessibility, whether teaching online or F2F, this workshop will offer two resources that can help: a short checklist for accessibility standards in Canvas, and COFFEE: Accessibility, an online faculty development course. Participants will learn about elements in the accessibility checklist and get an overview of COFFEE: Accessibility. Facilitated by Digital Learning Strategist Sharyn Emery, PhD, who is also the COFFEE facilitator.

Register in Tiger Training or simply join us on Wednesday, March 16th, from 1:30 pm – 2:15 pm by copying and pasting this Zoom link in your browser.

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  • Stay in the know about upcoming training, teaching tips, and tech tips by following our social media accounts!

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