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An international peer-reviewed journal

Online Learning: Designing for All Users

Cindy Poore-Pariseau

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 5, Issue 4, August 2010, pp. 147 - 156

Article Contents


Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design is a term coined in the 1970s by architect Ron Mace to describe a design that allows for use by a wide audience without the need for accommodations or adaptations (CAST, 2008). For example, when streets have curb cuts, the benefits extend beyond those who use wheelchairs, which is the population for which the original design was intended. Curb cuts are beneficial to many populations including those who ride bikes, push strollers, or are otherwise unable to negotiate tall curbs.  Universal design was then extended beyond architecture, moved into the classroom, and utilized as a way to design instruction in a more inclusive manner.

Table 2 shows some examples from a Web-Based Education Commission report (2000, p. 30) of how UDL can be implemented in a way that is not only beneficial for people with disabilities, but also for people with a variety of learning styles and learning preferences.

Table 2. Examples of How UDL Can Be Implemented

Table 2

For more specific information on UDL, see http://www.cast.org/research/udl/index.html.

While implementing the ideals of UDL opens education up to a larger audience (in the brick and mortar classroom as well as online classrooms), it will meet the needs of only about 70% of those with disabilities (Santovec, 2005).  An example of the other 30% includes the following scenario: UDL may call for a transcript of an audio podcast, which is a great asset for some students who are deaf or who do not learn well aurally; however, if the primary language of a particular student who is deaf is American Sign Language (meaning that, for these individuals, the written English language is a foreign language), the transcript is not a viable solution (for that particular student). This detail is important and tells users that although UDL can go a long way in assisting disabled students to be successful in online environments, some accommodations will still need to be made.

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