For teachers working to incorporate an integrated curriculum into their classrooms, understanding the pedagogical philosophy of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) may help reinforce the need for differentiation. The notable tenets of UDL are that the pedagogy emphasizes the need to benefit all students (universally) and provide individualized learning strategies for each student to optimize their education. On the surface, this sounds like common sense; however, implementing differentiation strategies throughout a school or district can take a significant amount of time and effort.

However, as more districts adopt the idea that educational technology is essential, they will likewise have to acknowledge that each student has a unique way of learning. Moreover, this philosophy has also been expanded to cover professional development for educators themselves. Overall, differentiation needs to be broadly recognized and utilized to create fully blended classrooms.

What is UDL? 

According to Scholastic, UDL was pioneered by Center for Applied Special Technologies in the 1990s. UDL mirrors the universal design movement in architecture, which is centered around the idea that environments should accommodate everyone. With this broad spectrum in mind, UDL is a philosophy that fosters the idea that every student learns differently. For example, when creating a presentation, some students may perform better by constructing a PowerPoint, whereas others may prefer a traditional essay or video project.

This strategy carries over to students with learning disabilities and educators themselves. In the past, professional development for teachers has often been a mundane service that many educators have found ineffective. UDL emphasizes the belief that, like students, teachers have personal preferences regarding how they learn and implement new ideas in their classrooms.

Speaking with Scholastic, author and school administrator Katie Novak elaborates, “Just as there is significant variability among students, staff have [varying] interests and ways they like to learn, as well as time they have to commit to learning about new practices.”

While formal UDL training, taught by CAST in an institute at Harvard University, can be a rather hefty investment for many educators, the broader concepts of the concept can be implemented simply by focusing on differentiation. Students have always learned using different strategies, and this has only become more noticeable as technology offers up new mediums and educational tools. With that said, educators can no longer simply lecture and expect results. The fully blended classroom requires educators to identify the unique factors that contribute to every student’s success.