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Using UDL in synchronous and asynchronous online classes

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

October 15, 2020

Student working on computer and taking notes in a notebook.Universal design for learning (UDL) is a framework or way of approaching teaching and learning that focuses on providing diverse opportunities for learning to all students, removing barriers, honoring students’ strengths and unique learning styles, and meeting their needs equally. Approaching teaching and learning in this way benefits all students, not just those who have been identified as needing accommodations for visual, hearing, physical or learning impairments. This includes students who think and process out of the box, who have not been formally diagnosed with learning challenges, who are twice exceptional, who have been historically marginalized by the education system, who rely on different forms of intelligence, who are English-language learners, who have experienced trauma and/or who are returning to school at a later stage in life. UDL gives all students equal opportunity to engage, learn and succeed in higher education.

UDL is essential in our online environments for equitable course design and teaching and to engage all students incorporating their learning strengths and needs.

Take a SIP of this: UDL in online design, teaching and learning

Follow these tips to incorporate UDL guidelines in synchronous (learning at the same time, often via a digital meeting room) and asynchronous (learning at different times and places) online interactions.

Engagement (the “why” of learning): stimulating interest and motivation for learning


  • Start your sessions with your intentions for the day and your “whys” for including this content in your course.
  • Have students share their “whys” for learning the specific content of that class in the chat window or orally.


  • Include students’ lived experiences, professional goals, current concerns and interests in your course examples, content and images to engage in the “why” of learning.
  • Have students reflect in a “why” journal where they connect that week’s learning to real life and things that matter to them. For example: “Learning about the periodic table made me look at my environment differently.”

Representation (the “what” of learning): presenting information and content in different ways


  • Use a physical whiteboard or one in the virtual platform to demonstrate the “what” as you teach.
  • Invite guest lecturers to present course material from their unique perspective, style and location.
  • Use the chat function in your session for questions, clarifications and resources for and from students.


  • Provide digital and nondigital (printable) forms of readings, problems and course material. Some students prefer to print out materials to read away from the computer.
  • Make a lecture using Flipgrid or Voice Thread so students can ask questions and reply directly to your lecture.
  • In discussion, have students connect the what (readings/content) and the why through asking students to make a text-to-text connection (connect how this reading makes you think of another reading), a text-to-self connection (connect how this reading connects to your personal experiences in some way) or a text-to-other connection (connect how this reading connects to others’ experiences in some way, including voices heard in the news, a story, a song, a friend’s experiences, etc.).

Action and Expression (the “how” of learning): providing multiple ways for students to express what they know


  • Use competition or games to help students demonstrate and express their learning.
  • Conduct virtual presentations giving students control of the classroom.
  • Conduct polls or quizzes where students can see in real time what everyone is answering.


  • Provide digital and nondigital ways of completing assignments and activities for class. Go outside, write in a journal, draw a picture or complete a math proof on paper. To turn it in, they can just take a picture.
  • Provide options to demonstrate knowledge incorporating students’ artistic skills such as drawing, video production, poetry, music, dance/movement and gaming.

*With new technology, make sure to check the Accessibility Statements to assure Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and compatibility with Canvas. For example:

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Visit the Well at for more great ideas and resources for Strong Instructional Practices in your higher-education classroom.

Topics: Academics, Best practices, SIP, Strong Instructional Practice, Student Success

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