Educational Models

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Universal Design

The term 'Universal Design' was first used in architecture and product design. In making physical environments or objects accessible for people with disabilities, the accommodations were often useful to a wide range of users. A noted example is the curb cut - breaks in the curbs with ramps from the sidewalk to the street - which are helpful for all pedestrian movement, whether in a wheelchair, pushing a stroller, riding a skateboard, or travelling on foot. Realizing that accessible designs are helpful to many individuals, the Center for Universal Design compiled the Principles of Universal Design, seven principles intended to guide the design process, evaluate existing designs, and educate both designers and consumers.

The concept Universal Design, that products and environments should be built for a diverse range of users and that these users should be able to use, interact and engage with them easily, can be applied to education and instruction and help to make online environments inclusive and accessible.

Universal Design Educational Models

There are a number of Universal Design educational models that faculty and instructional designers can consider. The three approaches provided in the following sections, Universal Instructional Design (UID), Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Universal Design for Instruction (UDI), contain overlapping and complementary principles that can be considered during the various phases of a course â€" Design, Development, Delivery and Evaluation. It is important to acknowledge that the incorporation of Universal Design principles into your course will help to create a learning environment accessible to a wide range of students but may not completely eliminate the need for accommodations for students with specific disabilities (Rao & Tanners, 2011).

Universal Instructional Design (UID)

The concept of Universal Design, that designs and products can be made accessible and benefit a variety of individuals, has been applied to post-secondary educational environments through an approach termed Universal Instructional Design (UID) (Silver, P., Bourke, A., & Strehorn, K.C., 1998). UID meshes the principles developed by the North Carolina State University Center for Universal Design and Chickering & Gamson's (1987) Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education (Fox, J. A. & Johnson, D., 2000). Using this approach, faculty and instructional designers consider the learning needs of all students in higher education environments and build instructional accommodations and effective instructional practices into the overall course design.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) was developed by researchers at the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). Realizing that the "one size fits all" approach of traditional curriculum was the true barrier, CAST began using neuroscience and education research along with the flexibility of technology to design learning environments suited to diversity - an approach they called Universal Design for Learning.

The three principles of UDL - provide multiple means of representation, provide multiple means of action and expression, and provide multiple means of engagement - focus on cognitive function in the brain, specifically three neural networks key in the learning process. By using the UDL principles as a framework for course design and development, each of these networks can be engaged in building understanding.

For more information, watch CAST's UDL at a Glance video.

Universal Design for Instruction (UDI)

The principles of Universal Design for Instruction (UDI) evolved from an examination of Universal Design, higher education instruction, and effective education for those with learning disabilities (Scott, S. S., McGuire, J. M., & Foley, T. E., 2003). The principles are intended to act as guidelines for faculty looking to incorporate inclusive design and instructional practices in support of the diverse range of students enrolled in their courses.

Based on the original principles of Universal Design developed by the North Carolina State University (NCSU) Center for Universal Design and three key literature sources, Chickering & Gamson's (1987) Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, Kameenui & Carnine's (1998) NCITE (National Center to Improve the Tools of Educators) work Effective teaching strategies that accommodate diverse learners, and CAST's (2002) Universal Design for Learning, the principles of UDI were established. These principles have been reviewed by teaching and learning experts as well as the Center for Universal Design at NCSU to ensure that the integrity of the original universal design principles have been maintained while expanding these principles for instruction.

Dublin City University's Disability Service YouTube page has video clips for each of the 9 principles of UDI.

Compare and Contrast Universal Design Educational Models

The following table outlines the main principles of the three Universal Design educational models: Universal Instructional Design (UID), Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Universal Design for Instruction (UDI).

Comparing UID, UDL and UDI Principles 
Universal Instructional Design (UID) Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Universal Design for Instruction (UDI)
  1. Be accessible and fair
  2. Be straightforward and consistent
  3. Provide flexibility in use, participation and presentation
  4. Be explicitly presented and readily perceived
  5. Provide a supportive learning environment
  6. Minimize unnecessary physical effort or requirements
  7. Ensure a learning space that accommodates both students and instructional methods
  1. Multiple means of representation
  2. Multiple means of action and expression
  3. Multiple means of engagement
  1. Equitable use
  2. Flexibility in use
  3. Simple and intuitive
  4. Perceptible information
  5. Tolerance for error
  6. Low physical effort
  7. Size and space for approach and use
  8. A community of learners
  9. Instructional climate

The three lenses are all guiding frameworks for applying Universal Design to educational environments. Each approach is usable by faculty and instructional designers throughout the various stages of the course design process to improve the learning experience for all students.

UID and UDI are both founded on the Universal Design principles established by NCSU Center for Universal Design and best practices for teaching and learning in postsecondary environments. UDI was developed slightly further than UID and includes considerations for teaching students with disabilities as well as the principles of UDL, with its basis in neuroscience. Both approaches are proposed as guides to developing inclusive instructional and course design practices in the post-secondary environment. UDL targets course design and instructional practices from a different angle than UID and UDI - the neuroscience of learning. UDL has been widely seen in the K-12 range to varying extents, and is a more recent Universal Design approach in higher education environments. UDL is also the term used in current U.S. legislation regarding accessibility in learning environments.

Inclusive Design

Similar to Universal Design, Inclusive Design aims to create courses that work for all individuals and the vast range of human diversities that exist. However, while Universal Design focuses on the usability of products and environments for everyone, Inclusive Design is more closely related to digital design and the acceptance and respect of an individual's uniqueness and diversity.

The Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCADU) and its Inclusive Design Research Centre has defined Inclusive Design as: "design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference" (OCADU, n.d.). They look at Inclusive Design as a way to reframe the perception of disability, that disability can be experienced by anyone when personal needs are not met by a product, system or service design. The flexibility of digital systems, such as an online learning environment, lends itself well to Inclusive Design as the digital environment can be adapted to meet an individualized level of needs, rather than a design for the cumulative average. Digital design examples of Inclusive Design include personalizing display preferences and ensuring the design is navigable using a keyboard.

Learning environments are filled with an incredibly diverse range of life experiences, cultures, languages, abilities, ages, genders, ethnicities, etc. Inclusive Design embraces the acceptance of these diversities, through acknowledgement and dismissal of stereotypes and biases, and fostering sensitivity and respect for all persons. Examples of Inclusive Design also include selecting gender-neutral resources, being sensitive to terminology and language patterns, developing curriculum that reflects a multicultural society, and fostering a diverse and accepting atmosphere.


  • Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). (2002). Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from
  • Chickering, A. W. & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education. American Association for Higher Education, March Bulletin, 3-7.
  • Fox, J. A. & Johnson, D. (2000). Curriculum transformation and disability: Workshop facilitator's guide. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota: General College and Disability Services.
  • Kame'enui, E. J. & Carnine, D. W. (1998). Effective teaching strategies that accommodate diverse learners. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • OCAD University. (n.d.) Inclusive design research centre. Retrieved from
  • Rao, K. & Tanners, A. (2011). Curb cuts in cyberspace: Universal instructional design for online courses. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 24(3), 211-229.
  • Scott, S.S., McGuire, J.M., & Foley, T.E. (2003). Universal design for instruction: A framework for anticipating and responding to disability and other diverse learning needs in the college classroom. Equity & Excellence in Education36(1), 40-49.
  • Silver, P., Bourke, A., & Strehorn, K. C. (1998). Universal instructional design in higher education: An approach for inclusion. Equity & Excellence in Education, 31(2), 47-51.