As early educators, understanding the foundational concepts of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is necessary before understanding how UDL applies to the early childhood world. This brief overview of the history and principles of UDL will help continue the discussion as we move into the last part of our series on UDL in ECE next week.

History of Universal Design for Learning

UDL derived from the field of architecture, known as Universal Design (UD) (Spooner et al., 2007). Universal Design implemented principles designed to address barriers of physical space for all people, which included those with physical and mental disabilities (Spooner et al., 2007). UD was initially used for guiding the planning of physical spaces.

Seven Core Design Principles of Universal Design

1. Equitable use

2. Flexibility in use

3. Simple and intuitive

4. Perceptible information 

5. Tolerance for error 

6. Low physical effort 

7. Size and space for approach and use     

The Evolution of UDL

UDL was developed in 1998, and was touted as a possible solution for providing educators the tools to develop the ability to teach all students. UDL was designed by the Center for Applied Special Technology, also known as CAST. This center established the National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum (NCAC; 1999); a five-year program designed to improve accessibility of the curriculum to students with disabilities (CAST, 2015). NCAC was a federally funded project, and through this project, UDL was constructed to cover a large variety of learning differences among all students. One way to do this was by utilizing materials and methods deemed as “flexible” to accommodate learners within educators’ lesson plans. Although NCAC has been eliminated, some of the projects’ accomplishments, such as UDL, continue today. UDL can assist educators in designing adjustable objectives, strategies, and assessments which welcome all learners regardless of ability.

Framework for UDL 

3 components:

• Multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge,

• Multiple means of expression to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know, 

• Multiple means of engagement to tap into learners’ interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation.


Center for Applied Special Technology (2015). Retrieved from

Spooner, F., Baker, J. N., Harris, A. A., Ahlgrim-Delzell, L., & Browder, D. M. (2007). Effects of training in universal design for learning on lesson plan development. Remedial and Special Education, 28(2), 108-116.

Stay tuned for the last part of this three-part series on DSE/ECE/UDL.