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Universal Design for Instruction in the Library

January 27, 2012

The three universal design for learning principles

Librarians have a great deal of information to “Keep up” with and the wide world outside the discipline sometimes receives less attention despite interesting ideas with great confluence in the wonderful work librarians already do. Universal Design is one of those great ideas.

First, some notes on terminology. “Universal Design” was a movement started by Ron Mace, an architect, to recognize the real users of buildings instead of making them for that most mythical and mysterious of all races: regular people. Some folks use wheelchairs or are clumsy or have trouble reading fancy lettering. Further, designing with these real world users in mind creates a better experience for everyone. Interest in applying this idea to education grew with the success of this movement, not least the Americans with Disabilities Act.

What this idea is called in the education field, depends on who one asks. Variously, “Universal Design for Learning” (UDL, geared toward K-12), Universal Design for Instruction (UDI, geared toward higher education), Universal Design for Higher Education (UDHE) inter alia are used to describe the specific bodies of research and enumerated guiding principles stemmig from the same fundamental idea (designing for the real range of humanity makes a better education for all).

The image at the top lists the 3 Principles of Universal Design for Learning, which I personally advocate. I think these three statements capture perfectly the essence of the idea and are easy to remember. The 9 Principles of UDI are more specific and narrowly defined.

Librarians already know that different people learning differently. The UDL Principles (those pictured at the top) conflate with librarianship in the classroom, at the reference desk and in working with faculty. One of the key tenets of UDL is multiple means of engagement and one of the top ways of accomplishing this is student choice which gives a sense of ownership. In research, this can mean mentioning outlines and mind mapping as a way of taking notes. In teaching, it can mean giving students a choice between a paper, a mashup video or an online presentation, which more and more libraries are supporting. Another way to use the UDL Principles could be a kinesthetic activity for teaching website evaluation.

This is the very short list of uses. If anyone has used UDL/I Principles in their library, give the example in the comments.

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