Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a teaching approach intended to make learning environments more accessible for all students, who have a wide range of physical, cognitive, emotional, and psychological abilities. UDL encourages educators to create a learning environment where information is presented in a variety of ways. This encourages students to remain engaged and gives them multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning.
The three principles of UDL suggest that educators:
- Provide different means of representation. Based on the premise that learners access information differently, this principle encourages multiple, flexible ways to present information. For example, sometimes students cannot process information without a visual element. Using slides to supplement your lecture provides an alternate means of representing course content.
- Provide options for student expression. Learners demonstrate their understanding in different ways. Consider providing different ways to allow students to express their knowledge or demonstrate their skills. For example, give students choices for responding to specific assessment prompts, or give them opportunities to either write an essay or prepare a project. You may also incorporate flexible deadlines. Ask yourself: “What does this deadline mean for learning in this class?” Sometimes deadlines are firm for important reasons, but at other times they can be adjusted without harming the learning objectives.
- Vary student engagement. Students vary in the types of learning activities that keep them engaged. Consider ways to allow students to quietly connect with content and process problems, actively engage in group work, and silently listen and observe during class. Incorporating these different modalities can effectively address different student needs.
- When graphics are used, include a detailed explanation of the meaning of charts or graphics in a descriptive text-only slide included immediately after the graphic slide. Note that the meaning of the graphic is needed, not a description.
- When presenting, describe slides and graphics briefly. For example: “This slide covers these three key points” or “This graph illustrates these key points.”
- Indicate what you are referencing. For example, state: “This map shows..." or "These results indicate...” rather than “This shows…” People with vision impairments may not know what “this” is.
- Speak directly into the microphone, when available, and encourage participants to use the microphone as well.
- Speak clearly and at a moderate pace. This promotes understanding in the class and gives sign language interpreters time to translate.
- When taking questions, repeat them for the entire group before answering.
- For presentations that include video, ensure that the video has been captioned.
Students with screen readers
You may need course handouts that follow these guidelines:
- Use 18-point font text, including body text, footers, page numbers, references, disclaimers, and labels on charts and graphs. Larger fonts may be used for headings. Individual users may request fonts larger than 18-point as an accommodation.
- Use a bold serif font (such as Times New Roman) for body text and a bold, simple sans serif font (such as Arial) for headings and other information that is set apart from body text. Use heavy/thick lines in charts and graphs.
- Use initial caps and lowercase for titles and text.
Slide presentation practices
- Use high-contrast templates and avoid busy backgrounds.
- Provide alternate text for images. Write and explain a description of any images you use on slides.
- Keep the background of slides simple and ensure a high contrast between background and font.
- Make sure graphs and charts can be understood. If these will be available to students, provide a version that is understandable in black and white.
- Use sans serif fonts such as Arial, Verdana, or Calibri.
- Use appropriate font size. For audiences of 40–99 people, use a font size of at least 28 pt. Use a 36 pt. font size for audiences of more than 100 people.
- All videos should be captioned, described, and transcribed.
- Explain jargon and acronyms.
- Indicate and discuss the key concepts of the slides and verbally expand on the visual elements.
For more information, see Universal Design in Higher Education and Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation.