Week # 15- UD and Other Learning Theories or Approaches

UDL and Other Learning Theories or Approaches


Differentiation as a teaching theory is designed to address the needs of diverse learners. It aims at facilitating students’ accessibility to the general education curriculum. This approach assists teachers to design ways to provide multiple approaches to content, process and product demands through “retrofitting” and differentiating instruction. Differentiating instruction is greatly based on three key elements. These are students’ readiness, interest and learning profile “student’s learning style and preferences, interests and intelligences”. Individualizing adaptations and accommodations on the three components:

 a) Content: what the student need to learn or how the student will get access to the   information.

b) Process: activities in which the student engages in order to make sense of or master the content.

 c) Product: Concluding projects that ask the student to practice, apply, and extend what he or she has learned in a unit.  .

So, differentiated instruction is a process to approach teaching and learning for students of differing abilities in the same class. The intent is to maximize each student’s growth and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is . . . rather than expecting students to modify themselves for the curriculum. (Hall, 2002)

Across the literature, experts (Anderson, 2007; Rock, Gregg, Ellis, & Gable, 2008; Tomlinson, 2000) suggest these guiding principles to support differentiated classroom practices:

  • Focus on the essential ideas and skills of the content area, eliminating additional tasks and activities.
  • Respond to individual student differences (such as learning style, prior knowledge, interests, and level of engagement).
  • Group students flexibly by shared interest, topic, or ability.
  • Integrate ongoing and meaningful assessments with instruction.
  • Continually assess; reflect; and adjust content, process, and product to meet student needs.

Universal Design for Learning is used to refer to the creation of differentiated Learning experiences that minimize the need for modifications for particular circumstances or individuals. (Mayer&Rose, 2002; Udvari-Solner, 1996).

UDL is based on three principles for adaptable curricula. These are:

a)       To support recognition learning, provide multiple and flexible methods of presentation.

b)       To support strategic learning, provide multiple and flexible methods of expression and apprenticeship.

c)       To support affective learning, provide multiple and flexible options for engagement.

If these principles are incorporated in the curriculum design then in fact that will automatically lead to differentiation of instruction on the three access designing points:




Principle 1: Support recognition learning, provide multiple and flexible methods of presentation. Content: multilevel material, multisensory& varied in form

multilevel goals.

Principle 2: support strategic learning, provide multiple and flexible methods of presentation. Product: multilevel, authentic, performance assessments
Principle 3: Support effective learning, provide multiple and flexible options for engagement Process: instructional format, instructional arrangements, instructional strategies, social/physical environment, co-teaching approaches.


In fact, the two approaches are very compatible and share the same essential goal of helping all students, including those with disabilities, learn to high standards. They emphasize many of the same practical aims (Hall, Strangman & Meyer, 2003)

 However, the main and salient difference between UDL and Differentiation is that UDL is done from the beginning for all students thus, the tools and methods of differentiation are built right into the curriculum which save teachers’ time and energy while differentiated instruction is done in response to learner needs or preferences as they are identified during instruction. DI as a method focuses on the individual’s weaknesses and deficits while UDL approach is more interested in defining students’ strengths.

Using universal design learning provides a conceptual framework that may include differentiating complex content to be acquired and used based on learning systems, approaches and styles, and multiple intelligences, as well as varying cognitive, physical, sensory, motivational, cultural, gender, and language ability levels (Gardner, 1993, 1999; Given, 2002; Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2004).

From what I have examined while learning about the two approaches, I came to a conclusion that both approaches are not necessarily standing on different ends of the line. On the contrary, I believe that UDL is like an umbrella that DI comes under. UDL is a framework that shifts the burden from the educators and learners to place it on the curricular that should be flexible to respond to diverse learners needs, level the playfield for all and designed to decrease barriers to accessibility so leveling the playfield for all learners without imposing one pathway to learning and teaching and without having to rely completely on teachers to make modifications.

But a question will be still asked; when a curricular is universally designed and when instruction is delivered by the most effective teachers, how many students will still need further accommodations or modifications?


  1. Differentiated Instruction with UDL | National Center on Accessible 


2. learning revolution – UDL and Differentiation in E-Learning






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