RIOT: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in Library Instruction

This RIOT post looks at an article by Ying Zhong that applies principles of Universal Design for Learning to library instruction course design.

UDL is a set of principles meant to be followed during course design that gives “all individuals equal opportunities to learn.” Developing curriculum that can be processed by a diverse student population is important as millennials, international students, and students with different learning styles come together in the classroom. Zhong’s article discusses the history of UDL, applies nine UDL principles to a library instruction lesson on Boolean searching, describes a survey given to students who received a UDL-infused class, and discusses directions for future research.


UDL originally comes from the concept of Universal Design (UD), which mostly applies to architecture. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act required that public buildings be retrofitted with ramps, elevators, and wider doorways. These changes accommodated wheelchair users and others with mobility impairments, and the idea caught on because other groups benefited. Curb cuts and closed captioning are examples of accommodations made for certain populations that ended up benefiting a variety of groups. Educators took notice of regulations that required accommodations for different kinds of students. The Center for Applied Special Technology extended UD to education by creating models that applied core principles to course design.

UDL Principles

I. REPRESENTATION: Provide content in different modes such as visual, graphic, or auditory

II. EXPRESSION: Provide students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned

III. ENGAGEMENT: Provide a variety of ways to involve students in learning

Faculty are legally required to provide some accommodations, which is usually done after the course is developed. UDL best practice has instructors apply these principles in the initial phases of course design, rather than retrofitting existing courses.

Applying UDL to Library Instruction

This is a new direction for UDL. The way in which UDL principles are most often applied in libraries is through providing assistive technology and services. In this article, Zhong goes further by applying nine UDL principles to a library instruction session that presents Boolean logic. This topic was chosen because it is an essential element of performing research, and is often presented graphically, which can be a difficult mode for some learners.

To get the full effect of applying these nine principles to a Boolean logic lesson, its best to read the article and check out the table. I will recreate the Representation section (provide content in different modes such as visual, graphic, or auditory) to give an idea of how much the preparation increases when thoughtfully applying UDL principles.


Traditional Instructional Methods
Instructor uses:

  • powerpoint presentation
  • lectures
  • notes
UDL Instructional Methods
Instructor uses:
  • accessible powerpoint to facilitate all students, including those with visual and hearing challenges
  • powerpoint has audio, video, and brief notes
  • powerpoint slides checked with LecShare software to meet ADA standards
  • syllabus, notes, handouts, and grading rubric are presented in both print and on webpage (both created as ADA accessible documents)
  • if video is used, synchronized, equivalent captions or transcripts should be provided
  • reading materials are online so that students with diverse needs can access materials with use of various technological supports (screen reader, text enlarger, online dictionary, etc.)

Zhong describes giving this UDL-infused lesson plan to two ENG 110 classes at California State University, Bakersfield. Fifty students received this instruction and completed a survey. The participants self-reported their preferred learning methods, some demographic information, and impairments or learning disorders. The findings showed that students preferred hands-on learning over lecture-style. They did, however, rely on powerpoint slides for concise notes. Group activities benefitted students more than individual learning exercises. Also, the students gave a positive evaluation to the application of UDL principles to their library instruction session.

Zhong concludes that more research is needed, and future experimentation should include a control group along with the experimental group receiving the UDL-infused lesson.

My take on this idea is that accessibility is a necessary part of any time in the classroom and instructors should strive to accommodate different styles of learning. Depending on the class, these guidelines could possibly serve as inspiration, while not necessarily being a requirement. To fully implement all of the recommendations laid out in this article would be very time-consuming for librarians juggling multiple departments and job duties. It does make sense to me, however, to have someone in an organization who can provide consultation on accessibility in course design.

To kick off our discussion, think about the following:

  • How do you accommodate different learning styles in the classroom?
  • What has worked well for your students?
  • Do you see this as an element of instruction that should be required or institutionalized? Meaning, should the UT Libraries require that instructors use certain principles when designing library instruction?
  • What multimedia or other elements do you incorporate to help out different kinds of learners?


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