Universal Design - Best Practices for Online Learning

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The materials on this site have been created to help course developers and course design teams apply Universal Design principles in the Design, Development, Delivery and Evaluation of online courses. This self-directed learning resource presents a curated list of best practices distilled from research into the various educational models of Universal Design applied in the teaching and learning environment. This compilation of practical tips is not an exhaustive list, but is an excellent summary of current thought, with links to further reading.

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In the Design phase, a course blueprint or map of the entire course is created while considering all the components of instruction. It can be helpful to work backwards and think about what learners should be able to do by the end of course, how they will practice what they are learning, and how it will be demonstrated for assessment purposes.

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The Development or production phase is informed by the course blueprint developed in the Design phase. Instructional materials and resources, such as instructor notes, activities, assessments, and media are created along with the online learning environment in which they will be presented. Decisions on which materials will be created by the course developer are made during this phase.

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In the Delivery phase, the instructor executes the instructional plan, actively instructing the course, monitoring progress and discussions, assessing work, and communicating with learners. During this phase the learning environment is further analyzed to observe learner use and interaction and to check the accessibility and efficacy of the design.

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Without critical evaluation, courses risk becoming stagnant and dated, imposing barriers to learners looking to engage and utilize online education. Evaluation should occur both in a final review process and during each offering of a course, with evaluations conducted by the learners as well as members of the design team.

Navigating the Material

Course Design Phases

The material on this site has been organized according to the phases of an online course – Design, Development, Delivery, and Evaluation. The sections are not a rigid framework, but are intended to provide just-in-time information, relevant to new course developments, existing offerings undergoing redevelopment and courses in a revision or maintenance phase.

Best Practices and Universal Design Principles

Within each phase, best practices are organized by key course elements, such as Assessments, Activities, and Communication. Best practices are tagged with an "Immediate" and/or "Planned" icon. These icons highlight the practices that can be applied straightaway and those that require forethought.


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Additionally, each best practice is linked back to the various Universal Design educational models (i.e., Universal Instructional Design [UID], Universal Design for Learning [UDL], and Universal Design for Instruction [UDI]) and associated literature.

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For those who would like to delve deeper into Universal Design theory and practice, there is a written synopsis of the key Universal Design educational models and an annotated bibliography of resources that informed the development of this site. Each entry is tagged, so the research can easily be linked back to the specific best practices.