Universal Design for Learning

Special Guest Blogger Leah Frauendienst, Instructor of Mathematics


Students are highly variable in their learning needs and response to instruction.  Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach to curriculum development that aids in meeting the diverse learning needs of a student population and provide equal opportunities for all learners.

A Brief History of Universal Design for Learning

In the early 1980’s David Rose and Anne Meyer grew frustrated with writing individual support plans for students with disabilities that seemed to have little overall impact.  After learning about the Universal Design movement in architecture, Rose, Meyer and their fellow colleagues at CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology) established the idea of Universal Design for Learning.  UDL considers a flexible curriculum rather than a one size fits all approach.  The UDL principles and guidelines were based on relevant research and were created to make UDL into an actionable construct.

Universal Design for Learning Guidelines

On the highest level, UDL consists of three main principles:

Principle 1:  Provide Multiple Means of Representation

Principle 2:  Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression

Principle 3:  Provide Multiple Means of Engagement

A total of nine guidelines are divided evenly among these principles.  The UDL guidelines are intended to help educators address the predictable variability within a student population.

UDL Guidelines from CAST

These guidelines are by no means a prescription for curriculum development, but they help to put research into practice.  In fact, a series of checkpoints are provided for each guideline to aid in implementation.  These checkpoints offer possible practices and are not intended to be comprehensive.

Implementation of UDL

Implementation of UDL is a dynamic process and does not need to be implemented at a course-wide level.  The guidelines can be utilized for specific assignments or scenarios.  It is helpful to consider the checkpoints, but again the checkpoints are not intended to be exhaustive.  Using this gradual approach to UDL will create a more universally designed course over time.


Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education 

Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann, Samantha G. Daley, and L. Todd Rose.  A Research Reader in Universal Design for Learning.  2012.

David H. Rose and Anne Meyer.  A Practical Reader in Universal Design for Learning.  2006

Anne Meyer, David H. Rose, and David Gordon.  Universal Design for Learning – Theory and Practice. 2014

Special Thanks

I’d like to thank Leah for writing this introductory post on UDL. In the next three blog posts, we will take a closer look at each of the UDL principles and consider how they can be applied to your courses. You are also invited to attend a one-hour professional development session on Friday, March 31st at 2:00 p.m. to learn more about UDL. We hope to see you there! 

Best regards, 

Rhonda Gregory, Director
Distributed Education

Quality Matters and Accessibility: Update, Take 2

By Rhonda Gregory, Director of Distributed Education

“Content [alone], or subject matter, does not make a course. In a course, the content is organized into a carefully designed structure that is intended to make it as easy as possible …for the student to learn” (Moore & Kearsley, 2012, p. 14)

A long time ago in a galaxy far-far away (you remember—2015), Vol State adopted Quality Matters™ as our rubric of choice to evaluate the instructional design of Distributed Education courses. My last update was almost a year ago, and I wanted to share about our progress. We’ve worked hard since 2015 providing workshops, holding one-to-one consultations, and reviewing and revising master courses. In fact, through fall 2016, we have reviewed 49 of the 152 online or hybrid master courses currently in our inventory. That’s 32%! We couldn’t have done this without faculty engagement with the process. Over 30 faculty members have completed at least 1 QM review for a peer. Thank you!

Well done!


Quality Matters


The Quality Matters Rubric for Higher Education, Fifth Edition (PDF) provides a set of standards to evaluate the design of online and blended courses. The Rubric, developed from reviews of the research literature and best practices in course design, is supported by detailed annotations that explain the application of the standards and the relationship among them. A scoring system and set of online tools facilitate the evaluation by a team of three reviewers. Review teams consist of three individuals: one faculty peer; one department chair or division dean (or their designee); and one Distributed Education team member who manages the review process as team chair.


The Rubric includes eight General Standards and 43 individual standards within these areas. The General Standards are as follows:

  1. Course Overview and Introduction
  2. Learning Objectives (Competencies)
  3. Assessment and Measurement
  4. Instructional Materials
  5. Course Activities and Learner Interaction
  6. Course Technology
  7. Learner Support
  8. Accessibility and Usability

Rubric Scoring:

Reviewers determine if standards are sufficiently “Met” or “Not Met” (at least 85% as rule of thumb) and do not award or subtract points. Points are automatically awarded in the system based on majority rules.

  • All three (3) point standards are mandatory
  • 2-point standards are important
  • 1-point standards are recommended

Overall, a course must earn at least 84 points (an 85%) and meet all 3-point standards to pass. Distributed Education reserves the right to hold any course review until standards and accessibility are sufficiently met.

The General QM Process at Vol State:

  1. Developers attend a QM informational meeting and identify peer reviewers.
  2. Distributed Education (DE) initiates a course review in the MyQM system.
  3. Developers complete and submit a course information worksheet in MyQM.
  4. DE provides review team access to master course in eLearn and to MyQM.
  5. Review team evaluates the course and collaborates with developer on updates as needed.

The entire process should be formative, collaborative, and supportive. As needed, developers are expected to implement changes during the review based on the feedback of the review team members.

End Goal: Achieve Minimum Standards & Improve Quality of Design

What’s next?

hands raised to volunteer

Let’s keep up the great work! More classes are being reviewed every month, and we need peer evaluators who are experienced and passionate about online learning. As a peer evaluator, you can help shape the educational experience of DE classes for Vol State students for years to come. If you’re not already involved, but would like to be, contact me.

The office of Institutional, Effectiveness, Research, Planning, and Assessment (IERPA) will be asking faculty to complete a survey this semester on our behalf. We’re open to your feedback, suggestions, and ideas for improving the process. After all, student success is goal #1 – and well-designed courses help support that mission. Please be sure to complete and return that survey when it comes to your inbox.

Need more information?

Start with the Standards for Online Course Development and Instruction – our special webpage dedicated to this topic for a full copy of the QM Rubric, expectations for master courses, syllabus templates, accessibility resources and more.

When ready, contact me or any of us in Distributed Education about training and professional development options available to faculty. 

Email: eLearn@volstate.edu