Universal design for learning (UDL) is a framework to design learning that enables all learners to succeed. It has seen a resurgence in discussions around the value of UDL in learning at all levels (K-16 and beyond). This resurgence has resulted in rapid development in training and education, including certifications rooted in this framework. UDL supports the consideration of all learners from the onset using a strategic, direct application approach, often explored through the lens of three core principles: multiple means of engagement, action and expression, and representation.
What Is Mindset?
Mindset is the intentional focus of an established perspective that is integrated into practice. By defining mindset in the context of universal design for learning, we can prototype a framing of a UDL mindset.
What Is a UDL Mindset?
A UDL mindset is a firm inclination to mindfully design instructional experiences that benefit all learners, regardless of how they best acquire knowledge and demonstrate understanding. It is also the pursuit of innovation that continues to build on the existing knowledge of UDL integration for the purpose of expanding its value, impact and potential for advancing learning on all levels, for all learners.
Having an intentional focus on implementing UDL in your design for workplace learning assumes that you have already adopted the view that UDL principles are important. The integrated practice of implementing UDL means that you have been embedding UDL principles into your design. To have an established perspective on the importance and benefits of UDL demonstrates that you are no longer in an investigative state. You have adopted the UDL framework and have an established understanding of its value, whether or not you have implemented UDL in practice.
Implementing a UDL Mindset in the Workplace
As the workplace becomes increasingly focused on supporting diverse learners, designing with a UDL mindset serves as the catalyst to shift thinking across an organization. While shifting a group’s mindset may appear relatively seamless, there are important considerations for how to effectively implement a UDL mindset for workplace inclusion. While there is no prescriptive formula, the outline below provides beginning steps for shifting to a UDL mindset.
When challenges occur in deploying a UDL mindset in workplace learning, further examination of structural elements within the organization may help you identify where you need to focus efforts to create a sense of urgency and bring others on board.
Through an examination of leadership structures, explore how current structures support UDL efforts across the organization:
- Is there visibility or central leadership of UDL training and design that you can concretely identify?
- How do leaders ensure that the organization implements UDL values systematically?
Review current value statements to identify ways the organization is supporting UDL implementation:
- How has the organization identified UDL as a value in its mission and value statements?
- Are these values visible to outward-facing stakeholders?
Having created vision statements that provide guidance in forward-thinking for organizational change, explore how adding UDL into those statements could further promote success for all learners:
- How has the organization identified goals for long-term strategic UDL implementation for training?
- Are there documented efforts for the effective evaluation of systematic change and planning?
- How has the organization assessed needs that UDL implementation can support?
Identify how the organization has concretely prioritized UDL as a framework for effective training and eLearning:
- Does the organization prioritize, in documentation, the UDL framework as necessary for supporting a diverse workforce?
- Is UDL specifically and addressed identified as an element in planning?
- Does UDL receive attention outside of daily tasks and as part of ongoing discussions?
Training is central to advancing an organization and is often designed with various frameworks to support a workforce.
- Is the organization’s training integrated with UDL strategies for successful learning?
- Is required training designed with UDL strategies?
- Are learning opportunities available for employees to study the value of a UDL mindset for the workplace?
These questions, and many others, provide a starting point to move from the thinking about UDL to implementing UDL.
Adopting a UDL Mindset in Practice
As with any change, adopting a UDL mindset is a process. One person, group or organization does not simply step into the final stage of adoption. One’s own position in the approach must evolve from acknowledgment to progress to trying and, finally, to mastery. Much like learning any new task, developing a UDL mindset strengthens over time.
Image Credit: UDL Mindset in Practice from Ehrlich & Bartlett, AHEAD presentation, 2020
When you first learned to drive a car, there was a period of time where you had to check your seatbelt, fasten your seatbelt, ensure your foot was on the brake, insert the keys and turn on the car. Over time, however, this process became almost one smooth movement that you do without much thought.
Developing a UDL mindset is similar: After you first accept that UDL is important and you want to implement its principles, you revisit the checklist often. As those practices shift from purposeful implementation to “just the way you do things,” you are developing and strengthening your UDL mindset. Once you take that first step, keep trying, and be leery of people who say there is only one way to implement UDL correctly. There are many ways to implement UDL successfully, and constant evaluation and iteration are imperative.
Embracing and developing a UDL mindset will give learners the opportunity to achieve greater outcomes, increasing the return on your investment in training and development. A workplace learning designer with a UDL mindset approaches the design, delivery, assessment and evaluation of training through the lens that all learners will benefit from multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression.