On Universal Design and Differentiated Instruction

Posted: November 11, 2008 in differentiatedinstruction, digital culture, edushifts, multiple intelligences, tools

The idea of universal design is a new one to me.  I’ve starting doing some preliminary research on what universal design is and how the concept can be used in education to help students learn.  Since this topic is so new to me, I don’t feel that I can, as of yet, intelligently discuss how mobile devices can be incorporated into lessons that have been designed using the universal design model.  As I result, I am going to begin with some reflections on what I have discovered to this point about universal design.

I started by watching a couple of videos published by CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology).  What I learned from these videos is that universal design is all about designing lessons that incorporate a variety of activities that allow students to learn new concepts by interacting with the learning materials in various ways.  It appears to me that Universal Design differs from differentiated instruction in one important way – while differentiated instructions appears to me to be focused on including various approaches in helping students learn different concepts, Universal Design is more about designing a diverse learning environment to ensure that students engage in learning materials in different ways.  In addition, while differentiated instruction seems to me to be more about instruction only, Universal Design appears to be a combination of the design of the instruction, but also about the design of the spaces in which students learn.  If I’ve understood this correctly, then differentiated instruction is one aspect of Universal Design but Universal Design includes other considerations as well.  However, it may very well may be the case that I have not understood differentiated instruction well enough and that they are different terms describing the same thing.

I will have to conduct more research in order to fully understand the nature of these two terms a little bit better but what appears to be standard is the idea that teachers need to provide variety to students so that students can achieve learning goals in ways that make sense to them.  In this way of thinking, teachers conduct diagnostic assessments to judge where the students are at and design lessons that allow students to access the content of learning in different ways.  Students are able to demonstrate their learning by being given choice in the type of activities and culminating tasks that they can complete to demonstrate their understanding.  Mobile devices fit into the equation as they are tools that provide alternative means for students to access content, to organize thoughts and to publish content to a wider audience.  Multimedia tools allow students different ways to access content and different ways to interact with that content.

Stay tuned as after I learn more about differentiated instruction and universal design, I will being to consider in more depth how mobile devices fit in the universal design/differentiated instruction model(s)

  1. dougpete says:

    I think that you’ve come up with a pretty good description, Rob. Nicely put.

  2. Rodd Lucier says:

    I think of UDL as those many strategies and tools that are employed to meet specific learning needs, that can be used to improve the learning opportunities for all students. The use of visual organizers and visual timetables are two good classroom examples.

    My favourite examples from outside of education are 1] the curb-cuts that make it easy for wheelchairs to cross the street, being of benefit to cyclists, skateboarders and folks with tentative gaits; and 2] the big blue buttons at the mall that open doors for handicapped folks, but are a big help to shoppers laden down with bags; or to smaller children who can’t open the heavy doors.

  3. Quentin DSouza says:

    Great information Rob.

    I guess my own confusion is that you usually differentiate with planning. Even though it is at the point of instruction.

    Take a look at:

  4. […] back to a previous blog post where I was musing on the difference between Differentiated Instruction and Uni…, we can see that today’s cell phones are adding more functionality and are designed with the […]

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