Presuming Competence By Design • A Tutorial for Systems, Environment, Curricular, and Materials Design in Learning Systems

Welcome to the World of UDL


“ … barriers to learning are not,
in fact, inherent in the capacities of learners, but instead arise
in learners’ interactions
with inflexible educational materials and methods.”

Rose & Meyer, 2002

What is UDL?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is about more than accessibility or the notion of making environments accessible for learners with disabilities.  It gets at the heart of design – whether it’s design of a building, design of learning materials, design of a classroom environment, or design of a system.  UDL is about the decisions we make in the design and development of learning systems, materials, and environments and whether those decisions unnecessarily constrain learners.

Is this for me?

This online tutorial has been designed for a variety of audiences. Click to see how this tutorial is beneficial for:


K-12 Educators

Higher Education Instructors

Administrators (any environment)

Instructional Designers / Performance Technologists

Facilitating Learning By Design

Universal Design is a way of thinking about the individuals who inhabit the spaces and places we build.  It is a way of thinking about the inherent diversity of any given group of learners and applying a set of principles that will maximize access to learning – for all ages, modalities, life styles and life structures.

Barriers to learning may result from the inflexibility of the materials and methods, or the learning environment or system, be it in a classroom or online or a self-paced environment, or the inflexibility of the educational system itself, to include policies and procedures.

Universal Design is also a way of thinking about design – rather than being an add-on or afterthought, it is a starting point in the design process.  Using a set of principles for design, it takes diversity of the learner population into account from the start and builds features into the learning materials, environment, and system that allow a broad set of learners to access the learning (both the content and the instructional strategies) and accomplish learning goals.  These features have to be consciously built, or designed, into the materials, strategies, environment and system – they will not occur by chance, and they can become clunky, burdensome, and overbearing as add-ons.

What Can I Get from This Tutorial?

In this tutorial in Universal Design for Learning (UDL), we’re going to look at the concept of Universal Design (UD), its history and fundamental principles, examples of UD and UDL in application (both in education and in other areas of life), and explore some case studies.  This tutorial will feature multiple types of representation – text, pictures, narrated animations, and pictures – one of the fundamental aspects of Universal Design for Learning.  It has also been purposefully designed so that you can go directly to the part(s) of the tutorial you want (flexibility of design) and can be easily adapted for you to use for in-house training.


By the end of this tutorial, you should be able to:

  • Identify curricular, environmental and systems barriers that may be unnecessarily limiting learners / performers in your school or organization
  • Modify the materials you use in your instruction to make them universally accessible
  • Modify your lesson plans or syllabus to incorporate greater flexibility into your classroom or course
  • Design (or adapt existing) learning evaluations that are flexible
  • Design or modify environmental features to minimize learning barriers
  • Design or modify systems features (such as policies, procedures or technical infrastructures) to minimize learning or performance barriers
  • Access and apply a wide array of resources, including practical guides and tips, that will support you in improving your universal design practices


© 2007 National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities, University of Northern Colorado

Developed by Stephanie L. Moore, Ph.D.