The Universal Design for Learning Implementation and Research Network Logo


Critical Elements of UDL Implementation

This document provides the UDL-IRN’s current belief structure related to the implementation of UDL. When UDL provides a basis for instruction and curriculum design, these core beliefs should holistically provide the foundation of these practices.


  • Maintains high expectations for all learners.
  • Maintains high expectations for all instruction.
  • Clarifies the means to meet these high expectations.
  • Engages all learners to maximize each learner’s potential.
  • Purposefully provides multiple ways of representing information to meet the needs of all learners.
  • Uses learner-centered proactive instructional design that includes both learning strategies and tools.
  • Designs instruction that connects and supports the critical understanding of the big ideas.
  • Embeds reflective instructional practice that rapidly responds to learners through continuous feedback, progress monitoring, and databased decision making.
  • Purposefully integrates multiple means of expression for students to demonstrate knowledge, understanding, critical thinking and synthesis of ideas.
  • Leverages the supports, engagement, and flexibility offered by technology.
  • Proactively overcomes instructional, curriculum, and environmental barriers that impede learner success.
  • Leverages innovation that emerges from addressing the needs of diverse learners.

Download Beliefs of UDL in Practice (PDF)

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) represents a paradigm shift in education that has the potential to improve outcomes for a broad range of learners. The UDL-IRN working with the Michigan Integrated Technology Supports (MITS) and in collaboration with CAST has identified four critical elements intended to serve as a foundation for UDL implementation and research. Educators aligning instruction to UDL must minimally include each of the four critical elements shown below.


  • Goals and desired outcomes of the lesson/unit are aligned to the established content standards.
  • Goals are clearly defined and separate from means. They allow multiple paths/options for achievement.
  • Teachers have a clear understanding of the goal(s) of the lesson and specific learner outcomes.
  • Goals address the needs of every learner, are communicated in ways that are understandable to each learner and can be expressed by them.


  • Intentional proactive planning that recognizes every learner is unique and that meeting the needs of learners in the margins – from challenged to most advanced – will likely benefit everyone.
  • Addressing learner strengths and weaknesses, considering variables such as perceptual ability, language ability, background knowledge, cognitive strategies and motivation.
  • Anticipates the need for options, methods, materials and other resources – including personnel – to provide adequate support and scaffolding.
  • Maintains the rigor of the lesson – for all learners – by planning efforts (1) that embed necessary supports and (2) reduce unnecessary barriers.


  • Teachers use a variety of media and methods to present information and content.
  • A variety of methods are used to engage learners (e.g., provide choice, address student interest) and promote their ability to monitor their own learning (e.g. goal setting, self-assessment and reflection).
  • Learners use a variety of media and methods to demonstrate their knowledge.


  • Formative assessments are frequent and timely enough to plan/redirect instruction and support intended outcomes.
  • A variety of formative and summative assessments (e.g. projects, oral tests, written tests) are used by the learner to demonstrate knowledge and skill.
  • Frequent opportunities exist for teacher reflection and new understandings.

Download UDL Critical Elements (PDF)

As a framework, UDL requires educators to think proactively about the variability of all learners. In consideration of the UDL Critical Elements, educators implementing UDL should use a backwards design instructional process that incorporates the following five steps.


Establish a clear understanding of the goal(s) of the lesson and specific learner outcomes related to:

  • The desired outcomes and essential student understandings and performance for every learner. (What will learning look like? What will students be able to do or demonstrate?)
  • The desired big ideas and their alignment to the established standards within the program of study that learners should understand.
  • The potential misunderstandings, misconceptions and areas where learners may meet barriers to learning.
  • How will goals be clearly communicated to the learners, in ways that are understandable to all learners.


  • Curriculum barriers (e.g. physical, social, cultural or ability-level) that could limit the accessibility to instruction and instructional materials.
  • Learner strengths and weaknesses specific to lesson/unit goals.
  • Learner background knowledge for scaffolding new learning.
  • Learner preferences for representation, expression and engagement.
  • Learner language preferences.
  • Cultural relevance and understanding.


Prior to planning the instructional experience, establish how learning is going to be measured. Considerations should include:

  • Previously established lesson goals and learner needs.
  • Embedding checkpoints to ensure all learners are successfully meeting their desired outcomes.
  • Providing learners multiple ways and options to authentically engage in the process, take action and demonstrate understanding.
  • Supporting higher-order skills and encouraging a deeper connection with the content.


Establish the instructional sequence of events. At minimum plans should include:

  • Intentional and proactive ways to address the established goals, learner variability and the assessment plan.
  • Establish a plan for how instructional materials and strategies will be used to overcome barriers and support learner understanding.
  • A plan that ensures high-expectations for all learners and the needs of the learners in the margins (i.e. struggling and advanced), anticipating that a broader range of learners will benefit.
  • Integrate an assessment plan to provide necessary data.

Considerations should be made for how to support multiple means of…

Engagement: A variety of methods are used to engage students (e.g. provide choice and address student interest) and promote their ability to monitor their own learning (e.g. goal setting, self-assessment and reflection).

Representation: Teacher purposefully uses a variety of strategies, instructional tools and methods to present information and content to anticipate student needs and preferences.

Expression & Action: Student uses a variety of strategies, instructional tools and methods to demonstrate new understandings.


Establish checkpoints for teacher reflection and new understandings. Considerations should include:

  • Whether the learners obtained the big ideas and obtained the desired outcomes. (What data support your inference?)
  • What instructional strategies worked well?
  • How can instructional strategies be improved?
  • What tools worked well?
  • How could the use of tools be improved?
  • What strategies and tools provided for multiple means of representation, action/expression and engagement?
  • What additional tools would have been beneficial to have access to and why?
  • Overall, how might you improve this lesson?

Download the UDL Instructional Planning Process (PDF) 

This resources provides a plan with essential elements and recommendations for designing and implementing UDL.

Download the PDF


Suggested Citation:
Nelson, L.L. & Basham, J.D. (2014).
A blueprint for UDL: Considering the design of implementation. Lawrence, KS: UDL-IRN. Retrieved from