The Forgotten Ones: Exploring the LXD Model to Address the Barriers UDL Creates for Neurodivergent Learners

Concurrent Session 8
Streamed Session

Watch This Session

Brief Abstract

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has been recognized for enhancing learner engagement, inclusion, and increasing access for learners of varying needs. While UDL increases access to resources for neurodivergent learners, there is little evidence it removes academic challenges. Learning Experience Design (LXD) may offer more effective options for achieving neuroinclusivity. 


Megan Kohler is a Learning Designer with the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute at Penn State. She has presented at international conferences, such as Open Ed 2010 in Barcelona, Spain, the International Conference on Arts and Humanities in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the Online Learning Consortium in Orlando, Florida. Megan relies on her training and experience as a professional actor to create a fun and engaging experience within her presentations and design work. Among her professional accomplishments, she is recognized for her work as the lead instructional designer and project manager on Penn State’s highly-rated Epidemics MOOC. She conceptualized the MOOCs by Design Webinar series and served as the pedagogical lead for the Penn State Digital Badges Initiative. She continues to explore interesting opportunities focused on improving the online learning experience for higher education.
Tracy Balduzzi is the Associate Director for Strategic Initiatives at Syracuse University and an adjunct lecturer at Utica College where she teaches courses on leadership development and project management approaches to research.

Extended Abstract

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has been recognized for enhancing learner engagement, inclusion, and increasing access for learners of varying needs. In 2018, EDUCAUSE conducted a survey of higher education institutions and found that UDL and web accessibility were ranked as the second key issue for teaching and learning in higher education for students with disabilities (Saha-Gupta, Song, Todd, 2019). Significant resources have been invested in designing effective and purposeful accommodation to ensure every student has equal access to educational resources. Accommodations have been implemented to support visually impaired, hard of hearing, and other individuals representing those who are ‘differently abled’. Yet, the neurodivergent community has been largely overlooked with many of these approaches. While UDL increases access to resources for neurodivergent learners, there is little evidence it removes academic challenges (Bock, Gesser, Neurnberg, 2018). Learning Experience Design (LXD) may offer more effective options for achieving neuroinclusivity and enhancing learning for all students.  

Neurodivergent learners have unique skills and abilities that set them apart from neurotypical learners. If supported effectively, neurodivergent learners tend to excel, especially in the STEAM fields, and their unique skills can lead to significant contributions in these areas. Yet, neurodiverse learners are often considered ‘high risk’ regarding completion of a degree. A major factor for the high-risk classification of neurodivergent learners is due to their unique learning needs not being met. Providing adequate accommodations is not straightforward because many neurodivergent learners do not have an official diagnosis. In fact, there are many cases in which people haven’t recognized they are neurodivergent until adulthood (Polyzoi, et. al, 2018; Happe & Frith, 2020). Additionally, it’s important to understand there is no ‘one size fits all’ for supporting neurodivergent learners, “even people with the same disability have differing needs regarding their education “whether in the methodology, strategies or resources to be used” (Bock, Gesser, Nuernberg, 2018, p. 141).  As educators, it is necessary to take steps to ensure their time in academia truly does accommodate every learner. 

Educators have made substantial improvements using UDL to promote access to learners, now we need to create a dynamic in which all learners, including neurotypical ones, are supported throughout the educational journey. By offering high quality learning experiences, we can break down barriers by offering a context in which neurodiverse students’ unique learning needs are more effectively supported and valued.  

Experiences play a critical role in shaping our lives, roles in society, and ultimately how we see the world around us. For groups of people who may be less socially accepted, such as neurodivergent, learning experiences hold the potential to create environments where they can feel supported and accepted. As educators we have both the opportunity and responsibility to create dynamics in which all students are supported and encouraged to become their best self. Through learning experiences, neurodivergent learners can thrive by relying on their unique talents and abilities to demonstrate just how capable they truly are.  

However, there are few comprehensive models and best practices that exist for the support of designing quality learning experiences. Often, the term learning experience is used in a generalized sense with little context of what defines or is necessary to construct an effective learning experience. Current models used for learning experience design tend to rely heavily on user experience principles, which places the emphasis on interaction with technology, at the forefront of the process, rather than on learning.  

The LXD model was conceptualized to give equal consideration and value to all three aspects; learning, experience, and design. This model aims to provide experiences which are inclusive to all learners, especially those who are neurodivergent. While this model is still in its infancy, there is significant research indicating each component has value in supporting student learning.  

Attendees will use padlet and google docs to generate cumulative knowledge resources, review and discuss case studies focused on identifying barriers created by UDL, and engage in a design thinking session to apply the LXD model.  


Bock, G. L., Gesser, M., & Nuernberg, A. H. (2018). Universal design for learning: Scientific production in the period. Universal design for learning, 24(1), 139 - 154. 

Griful-Freixenet, J., Struyven, K., Verstichele, M., & Andries, C. (2017). Higher education students with disabilities speaking out: perceived barriers and opportunities of the Universal Design for Learning framework. Disability & Society, 32(10), 1627-1649. doi:10.1080/09687599.2017.1365695 

Happe, F., & Frith, U. (2020). Annual research review: Looking back to look forward - changes in the concept of autism and implications for future research. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 61(3), 218-232. doi:10.1111/jcpp.13176 

Polyzoi, M., Ahnemark, E., Medin, E., & Ginsberg, Y. (2018). Estimated prevalence and incidence of diagnosed ADHD and health care utilization in adults in Sweden – a longitudinal population-based register study. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 14, 1149-1161. doi:10.2147/NDT.S155838 

Saha-Gupta, N., Song, H., & Todd, R. L. (2019). Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as facilitating access to higher education. Journal of Education and Social Development, 3(2), 5-9. doi:10.5281/zenodo.3370001