The Importance of Universal Design for Learning

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2016 Key Issues in Teaching and Learning - Accessibility and Universal Design for Learning

Imagine that you’re a well-known architect. Your latest project is a high-profile one: designing a new multi-story public museum that will house one-of-a-kind exhibits and priceless treasures.

You already know that building accessibility into the design must take place upfront. Retrofitting a space to meet the needs of all visitors simply wouldn’t make sense — and from a cost perspective, you’d be driving up the budget unnecessarily. The museum’s opening would likely be delayed. Worst of all, your actions would send the message that meeting all visitors’ needs wasn’t a top priority.

Thankfully, none of that transpired, since you incorporated principles of universal design from the very beginning.

In Support of Accessibility

Outstanding architecture stems from thoughtful planning, and the same can be said of engaging academic courses. Those that are well designed not only meet compliance standards, but their inclusive nature spurs student engagement and retention, and accommodates all styles of learners. In order to get there, faculty members and instructional designers take various factors into consideration in the design of a course, including available educational technologies, pedagogical approaches, classroom layouts and activities.

Institutions of higher education are earmarking resources for universal design, noting that the holistic approach often boosts the performance of all students. Indeed, a broad cross-section of colleges and universities consider it to be a key issue.

With over 350 member institutions spanning a variety of Carnegie classifications, states, and a number of countries, ELI is the hub of a very robust teaching and learning community. For this reason, ELI annually seeks input on trending key issues in postsecondary teaching and learning. The selected issues then serve as the framework, or focal points, for organizational discussions and programming throughout the coming year. More than 900 community members voted on the 2016 key issues, with ‘Accessibility and Universal Design for Learning’ coming in at #7.

Resources with Actionable Insights

The downloadable ELI Key Issues infographic describes Accessibility and Universal Design for Learning as follows: Putting the focus on faculty development, student literacy and universal access makes learner expression a priority.

In addition, ELI has produced several resources on the topic:

Kristi DePaul of Founders Marketing provides editorial support and regular contributions to the Transforming Higher Ed column of EDUCAUSE Review on issues of teaching, learning, and edtech.