Universal Design for Learning
According to the Center for Excellence in Universal Design, "Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. An environment (or any building, product, or service in that environment) should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it. This is not a special requirement, for the benefit of only a minority of the population. It is a fundamental condition of good design. If an environment is accessible, usable, convenient and a pleasure to use, everyone benefits. By considering the diverse needs and abilities of all throughout the design process, universal design creates products, services and environments that meet peoples' needs. Simply put, universal design is good design."
There is a movement in the education sector that is advocating for universal design in learning (UDL). Twelve years ago, the US Department of Education endorsed the National File Format Technical Panel's National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS). The National Educational Technology Plan, also from the US Department of Education and the Common Core Standards, both targeted at K12, reference UDL. The 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) defines and emphasizes UDL at the college level. We believe there are great implications for elearning in the corporate training world.
UDL provides a framework for reducing barriers and maximizing learning opportunities for all. It's more than just making your elearning Section 508 compliant. Today, we add alt tags on pictures so screen readers can identify the image beyond "img23479.png" for people with visual impairments and provide closed captioning or audio transcripts for individuals with hearing challenges. This makes learning accessible, but Universal Design for Learning goes beyond that. UDL considers the preferences of learners. If I am working through an elearning class while my partner is sleeping, I may prefer to read the transcript provided for the hearing impaired. If I'm working through a MOOC, I may prefer to listen to the lecture while I'm driving. These are preferences, and UDL allows for the learner to have options for learning, just like a parent will choose the ramp to access a building when pushing a stroller. The ramp may have been implemented for people with mobility issues, but its universal design serves more people.