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Universal Design for Learning-Implementation and Research Network: Collaboratively Scaling UDL

The weekend of October 15-16, 2010 marked the formation of the UDL Implementation and Research Network (UDL-IRN). Consisting of K-12 educators and higher education researchers from across the United States and Canada, this multinational group convened in Chicago to lay the groundwork for a new initiative focused on research, implementation, and scaling up Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

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UDL is defined in the U.S. Higher Education Opportunity Act (2008) as “a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that:

  • Provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and
  • Reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient.”


Convened by Dr. James Basham (University of Cincinnati) and Jeff Diedrich (Michigan’s Integrated Technology Supports), the purpose of this initial grassroots meeting was to

  1. Build common understanding of the critical elements necessary to implement UDL;
  2. Establish a research agenda; and
  3. Discuss possible vehicles for promoting UDL implementation and research in both K-12 and post-secondary education to support efforts to take UDL to scale.


Participants arrived at agreement on the following points:


The UDL principles derive from the learning sciences, not architecture, and primarily address instructional design. In this sense, instructional design for all students (rather than accommodation or access) needs to be front and center. Participants affirmed that the three principles of UDL (i.e., providing multiple means of representation, action & expression, and engagement) provide a solid theoretical basis for addressing instructional design that supports all learners yet there is significant discrepancy between UDL theory and its accurate implementation.


Participants agreed that UDL needed to remain flexible yet identification of critical elements was necessary for scaled implementation. Critical elements serve as a foundation for implementing with fidelity and meaningful data collection.


It was determined that a robust research agenda focused on the implementation of UDL was required to determine:

  1. If there is statistically significant evidence that UDL improved student outcomes and;
  2. Best practices for implementation


Participants agreed to build a network of researchers within the UDL–IRN to advance the field. In addition, it was decided that a journal focused on UDL implementation and research was needed to further support scaled implementation.


The group recognized the extraordinary efforts of CAST to promote the theoretical foundation of UDL and the National UDL Task Force in moving forward a national UDL policy agenda. The UDL-IRN was formed to complement and support these efforts by focusing on implementation and research. The UDL-IRN will work independently but collaboratively with both CAST and the National UDL Task Force to support scaled implementation of UDL.


The initial meeting was successful in starting the discussion of scaled implementation and research though it was recognized that additional stakeholders needed to be included in the conversation. Therefore, the UDL–IRN will expand to include a broader group of stakeholders, including but not limited to general education, special education, and curriculum designers.


It was agreed that UDL is critical to transform the current educational system. To that end, the UDL–IRN seeks to move forward by mobilizing a network of dedicated professionals and stakeholders as well as tools to help provide guidance for scaled implementation. The focus of the UDL-IRN will be on all learners throughout the United States and beyond.


This meeting initiated dialogue in scaling the implementation of UDL practice and research. Over the next several months, the UDL–IRN will:

  • Begin work to secure start-up funding;
  • Engage additional stakeholders;
  • Grow and broaden the network;
  • Establish preliminary tools for scaled implementation and research.

    Finally, this group will work closely with the National Center on Universal Design for Learning by establishing a presence within the Center to collaboratively address scaled UDL implementation and research.

    Individuals and groups interested in staying informed and potentially becoming involved are encouraged to sign-up and receive updates about the UDL-IRN and how to become more actively involved.

    Last Updated: 03/11/2011

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