Reaching All Learners through Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Concurrent Session 3

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

In this session, we will discuss how our campus has implemented professional development solutions to: (a) distribute knowledge about instructional accessibility, (b) increase faculty engagement in discussions about Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and (c) facilitate online course design congruent with the UDL principles of engagement, representation, and expression.


For forty years Roy has coordinated adult, professional training with regards to leadership development and academic technology. His training strategies have encompassed thirty-one Asian and Latin American countries in his position as a field coordinator for Campus Crusade for Christ, Intl. from 1975-1999. Since 2000, he has been providing e-learning leadership services at the University of Memphis, most recently as Director of Distance Learning. Roy's career focus is to assist the development of a world-class array of training strategies and tools that help educators maximize technology for engaged learning. Such learning would vitally serve adults seeking to improve their quality of life and career through higher education. Hailing from Johnson City, TN, Roy earned his History B.S. (East Tennessee State University, 1974) and a Biblical Studies M.A. (International School of Theology, San Bernardino, CA, 1987). As Director of Distance Learning, Roy provides leadership for the following programs: - UofM Online Degree Programs - UM3D Instructional Impact Services - Off-campus Satellite Centers - Professional and Continuing Education - Public Service Funding.
Leonia Houston is an Instructional Designer for the University of Memphis, experienced online instructor and eLearning specialist with over eight (8) years experience working in higher education. She received a Bachelor of Accounting ('07) and Master of Science in Instructional Design ('08) from Mississippi State University. She has been involved in technology professional development and service to faculty and preservice educators at the University of Memphis since 2009, and has served on several campus advisory committees centered around faculty development, student success and technology innovations. She is member of several organizations dedicated to research on the implementation of technology in education and has presented at a number of local, regional and national conferences around the country.

Extended Abstract

        The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework reduces barriers by addressing the needs of a broader spectrum of learners. Through the development of goals, materials, and assessments that put students in the driver’s seat, we have found that implementation of the UDL framework may change the scope of learning and instructional accessibility in the online learning environment. In this session, we will discuss how our campus has implemented technology and professional development solutions to: (a) distribute knowledge about instructional accessibility, (b) increase faculty engagement in discussions about UDL, and (c) improve opportunities to design online instruction that is universally-designed and aligned to the UDL principles of engagement, representation, and expression. Congruent with these principles, we will also discuss how faculty on our campus are leveraging the varied abilities of their students to increase engagement and motivation, encourage the expression of knowledge in multiple formats, and provide more student-centered activities and assessments in the online environment.

        Results of assessments from the past 2 years of implementation will be shared during this session, including faculty surveys of instructional accessibility and UDL, as well as pre- and post-intervention evaluations of accessibility and course design interventions. These results, while primarily related to the online learning environment, may also be replicated in hybrid or blended instruction and across a variety of domains and subject areas. We will also discuss ways in which UDL implementation may increase learning effectiveness, student engagement, and student satisfaction with online learning. Likewise, prior evidence from such interventions suggest faculty participants in UDL professional development may be more likely to consider course design changes that lead to increased flexibility and increased engagement. As the population of diverse learners, including students with disabilities, continues to increase among 4-year institutions, these observations are timely and bolster the need for continued consideration of UDL in higher education and technology-rich learning environments. However, while there has been an increase of research on universal design (UD) and accessibility in higher education in recent years, relatively few of these studies have focused on the implementation of all three principles of UDL (representation, engagement, and expression) and opportunities to address the engagement of diverse learners online.

        In this session, we will also discuss how other institutions might benefit from UDL implementation as an approach for increasing learning effectiveness, student engagement, and learner satisfaction with the online environment. Such approaches to UDL implementation, both implicitly in faculty development and explicitly in course design initiatives, may also help to address online quality standards including: (a) the incorporation of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, (b) course design that promotes student engagement, (c) considerations for student-centered instruction during the course development process, and (d) provision of instructional materials that are accessible to students with learning differences and disabilities. These interventions have also resulted in new professional development opportunities at our institution and others across the country, including a UDL in Higher Education conference that will be hosted by a statewide consortium of institutions in the fall. Likewise, feedback received from interactions with university administration, staff, and faculty, as well as prior collaboration with audiences across the country, suggest this practice would be equally beneficial for OLC Accelerate participants, specifically higher education distance learning staff and individuals providing instructional design solutions and instructional interventions for online programs.

        In order to effectively engage participants in this topic, we will: (a) discuss lessons learned from the development new accessibility standards for course materials based on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 and the UDL framework; (b) share results from research on UDL, as well as the implementation of new guidelines for faculty who teach in online environments; (c) discuss goals to facilitate accessible course design through the strategic implementation of UDL and course redesign initiatives; and (d) engage participants in conceptualizing opportunities to implement instructional accessibility standards and UDL on their own campuses.