Universal Design

Adapted from The Ohio State University Partnership Grant

Universal design is an approach to designing course instruction, materials, and content to benefit people of all learning styles without adaptation or retrofitting. It provides equal access to learning, not simply equal access to information. It also allows the student to control the method of accessing information while the teacher monitors the learning process and initiates any beneficial methods.

Who Benefits

  • Students who speak English as a second language
  • International students
  • Older students
  • Students with disabilities
  • A teacher whose teaching style is inconsistent with the student's preferred learning style
  • All students


  • Identify essential course content
  • Clearly express essential content and any feedback given to the student
    Integrate natural supports for learning (i.e. using resources already found in the environment such as study buddy)
  • Use a variety of instructional methods when presenting material
  • Allow for multiple methods of demonstrating understanding of essential course content
  • Use technology to increase accessibility
  • Invite students to meet/contact the course instructor with any questions/concerns

Common Teaching Methods



  • Ensures dissemination of specific facts
  • Class size is not an issue


  • Little, if any, student participation
  • Only learn from one source


  • Information to be learned needs to be clearly indicated
  • Course instructor should allot adequate time for content to be presented

Class Discussion


  • Information and ideas drawn from multiple people
  • Student's attention easily maintained


  • Only practical with small classroom
  • Some students will monopolize conversation while others will not engage in discussion


  • Course instructor needs to guide discussion and keep group from going off-track
  • Discussion topics/questions should be prepared before class

Role Playing


  • Can be very impacting
  • Students are able to test concepts and techniques presented in class


  • Students may feel put on the spot
  • Only practical for small classroom


  • Course instructor needs to identify rules, situation and roles

Guest Speaker


  • Provides real-life example
  • Gives students contacts in the field


  • Quality of speaker may be poor


  • Identify and schedule appropriate speakers
  • Provide introduction and background or speaker

Panel of Experts


  • Allows for multiple expert opinions and ideas on topic
  • May capture more students' attention


  • Speakers may be poor quality
  • Competition among experts


  • Identify and schedule experts
  • Provide introduction and background of experts



  • Allows for alternate means of representation
  • Keeps students' attention


  • Students do not have to actively participate
  • Unable to control what students learn from video


  • Required to operate equipment
  • Prepare questions for discussion after video


  • Put course content on-line allowing students to pick up material that might have been missed in lecture
  • Use peer mentoring, group discussions and cooperative learning situations rather than strictly lecture
  • Using guided notes enables students to listen for essential concepts without copying notes off of overhead
  • Update course materials based on current events and student demands
  • Provide comprehensive syllabus with clearly identified course requirements, accommodation statement and due dates
  • Fluctuate instructional methods, provide illustrations, handouts, auditory and visual aids
  • Clarify any feedback or instructions, ask for questions and use multiple examples
  • Relate a new topic to one already learned or a real-life example
  • Secure a note taker, allow the student to tape record lectures or provide him/her with copy of your notes
  • Allow student to demonstrate knowledge of subject through alternate means
  • Permit and encourage use of adaptive technology
  • Develop study guides
  • Give shorter exams more frequently

Essential Qualities

Course content offers various methods of REPRESENTATION

Universally designed course content provides alternative representations of essential concepts.

Faculty should use various methods of representation to allow student to learn information in their preferred means.

Example: Placing course note on web allows students to gain information by lecture and text. Additionally, student with visual impairment could tape record lecture to capture notes in alternate format.

Course content offers various methods of ENGAGEMENT

Universally designed course content maintains varied skill levels, preferences, and interests by allowing for options.

By having flexible teaching strategies and course content, students can choose methods that support their interest and skill level.

Example: When teaching foreign language, students could choose from variety of on-line options that would allow them to participate fluency and comprehension at reading level that appropriate for them. 

Course content offers various methods of EXPRESSION

Universally designed course content allows for alternate methods of expression.

This allows student multiple means of demonstrating mastery of material.

Example: Allowing students to demonstrate knowledge on subject by doing oral presentation or writing paper of taking test. Students with speech impediment may be unable to present information orally while students with fine motor disability may have difficulty taking written exam.