Universal Instructional Design

Universal Instructional Design (UID) is a philosophy of practice that aims to ensure teaching and learning is accessible to the widest group of people. Consider the differences between these two scenarios (Silver, Bourke, & Strehorn, 1998):

A Universal Instructional Design Approach

Students find that many of the accommodations they would have requested are already addressed as part of their course experience. Course design and teaching approaches benefit many students due to flexibility and increased accessibility.

A Disability Approach

Modifications to an instructor’s approaches or assessment are made for students with disabilities, but it requires them to self-identify, request specific accommodations, and wait for these adjustments to be implemented.

Principles of Universal Design, Universal Instructional Design and Universal Design for Learning each offer educators a range of considerations that can be applied to course design and instruction. The following table provides a summary of key principles in UID and their implications for instruction (adapted from Black, Weinburg, & Brodwin, 2015).

Universal Design Principles

Universal Design for Instruction

Equitable Use

Instruction is designed to be useful to and accessible by people of diverse abilities.

Flexibility in Use

Methods of instruction and resources used offer students variety, flexibility, and choice such that different options/modalities are provided for engagement and comprehension.

Simple and Intuitive

Instruction is straightforward, eliminating unnecessary complexity.

Perceptible Information

Information is communicated effectively to the student regardless of ambient conditions or the student’s sensory abilities.

Tolerance for Error

Instruction anticipates variation in individual student learning pace and prerequisite skill.

Low Physical Effort

Instruction is designed to eliminate nonessential physical effort to allow maximum attention to learning.

Size and Space for Approach and Use

Instruction is designed regardless of a student’s size, posture, mobility, and communication needs.

Community of Learners

Interaction and communication among students and between students and faculty is promoted.

Instructional Climate

Instructional climate is welcoming and inclusive, and high expectations are promoted for all students.

Universal Design for Learning

Multiple Means of ...

Providing options for...



Perception: Use multiple ways of customizing and engaging with information such as built-in alternatives for auditory and visual information.

Language and symbols: Clarify vocabulary, syntax, mathematical notation, and promote understanding across languages.

Comprehension: Activate background knowledge, highlight patterns, guide information processing, with the overall goal of maximizing transfer of knowledge between contexts.

Resourceful, knowledgeable learners


Physical action: Vary the methods for navigation and response, optimizing access to tools and assistive technologies.

Expression and Communication: Use multiple media for communication, multiple tools for construction and composition, and build fluencies through graduated levels of support, practice, and guidance.

Executive functions: Guide goal setting, support student planning and development, and enhance students’ capacity for monitoring progress.

Strategic, goal-directed learners


Recruiting Interest: Optimize individual choice, autonomy, relevance, and value while minimizing threats and distractions.

Sustaining Effort and Persistence: Heighten the salience of goals and objectives, vary the demands and resources utilized, and increase mastery-oriented feedback.

Self-Regulation: Promote expectations and beliefs that optimize motivation, facilitate personal coping skills and strategies, and develop self-assessment and reflection.

Purposeful, motivated learners

Strategies for Engaging Universal Instructional Design

Reflect on the above principles and note two things: (1) your current teaching practices that already uphold these principles, and (2) possible areas of development or enhancement. This sets the stage for you to make valuable, significant improvments through small, incremental changes. After identifying one principle that you’d like to improve upon, focus on that principle for a while. Explore possibilities for developing a practice around the principle you've selected and plan out ways that you might add to or alter your teaching practices to address the principle.



If you have further questions about incorporating Universal Instructional Design into your teaching or course design, please contact one of our educational developers.



Black, R. D., Weinberg, L. A., & Brodwin, M. G. (2015) Universal design for learning and instruction: Perspectives of students with disabilities in higher education. Exceptionality Education International, 25, 1-16.

Silver, P., Bourke, A., & Strehorn, K. C. (1998). Universal instructional design in higher education: An approach for inclusion. Equity & Excellence, 31(2), 47-51.