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In this module, you have learned about the three steps of Backward Design and their application to the design and development of an online language course.  If you would like to read more about Backward Design, you may wish to read Understanding By Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.

As you conduct your analysis in anticipation of creating your first online course, you will most certainly find that all learners are different and have different needs in the classroom.  For this Dig Deeper section, we will go one step further into the design of instruction and introduce you to Universal Design for Learning.  The following is simply an introduction to the topic and you are encouraged to read more about Universal Design for Learning from CAST.

What is Universal Design for Learning?

Universal Design refers to the design of products such that they are useful to as many people as possible.  Universal Design is oftentimes associated with the design of aesthetically pleasing architectural products which are accessible to all users.  The classic example of a universally-designed feature with which many of us are familiar is the curb cut.  Although its intent is to help a person in a wheelchair access a curb, it makes a curb more accessible and usable to all.  For example, the bumps of a curb cut help someone who is blind to locate the end of a curb before reaching the street.  A curb cut also helps families with children in strollers. 

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approaches the design of instruction in a similar way to the design of a curb cut.  Much like curb cuts make curbs more accessible to and usable by everyone, designing instruction for all learners from the start makes for a better learning experience for all. 

There are three guiding principles in UDL:

- Provide multiple means of engagement
- Provide multiple means of representation
- Provide multiple means of action and expression

Provide Multiple Means of Engagement:

Provide Multiple Means of Engagement addresses the affective domain of the learning process.  This principle seeks to address how to help learners become more motivated, self-regulated learners in the classroom.  The three guidelines associated with this principle are to Provide options for self-regulation; Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence; and Provide options for recruiting interest.  For more information, see Universal Design for Learning – Provide Multiple Means of Engagement (please note: you may be required to register for an account).

Provide Multiple Means of Representation:

Provide Multiple Means of Representation was proposed a means of accounting for the differentiation between each learner.  By providing multiple means by which learners may perceive new information, all learners will be able to access important information in any of a variety of forms.  The three guidelines associated with this principle are to Provide options for comprehension; Provide options for language, mathematical expressions, and symbols; and Provide options for perception.  For more information, see Universal Design for Learning – Provide Multiple Means of Representation (please note: you may be required to register for an account).

Provide Multiple Means of Representation:

Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression: Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression refers to allowing learners to demonstrate their knowledge or ability in more than way.  This principle emphasizes that instructors should develop rigorous assessments; however, instructors are encouraged to consider whether it is possible for learners to demonstrate their knowledge in more than one way.  It is important for instructors to be aware of the construct they wish to assess so that they can be sure other barriers do not prevent learners from demonstrating their knowledge and ability.  The three guidelines associated with this principle are to Provide options for executive functions; Provide options for expression and communication; and Provide options for physical action.  For more information, see Universal Design for Learning – Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression (please note: you may be required to register for an account).

Universal Design for Learning and Online Language Instruction:

How can UDL fit into your own instructional practice?  A model for preparing a universally designed lesson plan suggests beginning first with your instructional goals.  From there, determine the means of assessment, keeping in mind the principle of Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression.  Third, think of instructional strategies, considering how you can Provide Multiple Means of Representation and Multiple Means of Engagement.  Finally, choose materials that are accessible to and usable by all learners.  For more information and suggestions for making use of Universal Design for Learning principles in your online language course, see the UDL Guidelines page or download the complete UDL Guidelines.

For more information & resources:

Instructional Design Models: Backward Design

Educational Innovation at UW-Madison: The "Backward Design" Framework