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How is student diversity a factor in UDL?

In today's classroom, there is a better appreciation for the widespread diversity of all learners than ever before. Every student arrives with a very different set of skills, life experiences, abilities, and learning styles. At the same time, there is increased emphasis on standards and accountability that challenges teachers to help ALL students achieve. Indeed, students with disabilities represent just a small part of this diverse continuum.

Through the Center for Special Technology (CAST), Universal Design for Learning brought student diversity to the forefront and supported flexible design of curricula in order to accommodate the diverse needs of students. Based on the work of developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1962, 1996), CAST has identified three brain networks that coincide with Vygotsky's prerequisites for learning:

  • Recognition network: recognition of the information to be learned,
  • Stragetigic network: application of strategies to process information
  • Affective network: engagement with the learning task

Although all brains share these recognition, strategic and affective network operations, individual brains receive and process information very differently. As a result, curriculum must then be designed to accommodate these differences.

In keeping with the basics of UDL, products and services must be designed to be flexible in order to be usable by the widest range of individuals. As a result, students do not need to adapt themselves to the curriculum because the curriculum can accommodate their individual differences. Teachers must understand the diversity of students in the classroom and plan accordingly. This flexibility of design must encompass all aspects of curriculum, including instructional methods and materials, classroom environment, and assessment and evaluation.

With regard to student diversity, Universal Design for Learning is the opposite of the "one-size-fits-all" approach to learning.