Learning Shorts: Understanding Universal Design

Universal Design in Online Instruction

by Melanie Thornton –

women planningImplementing the principles of universal design in online learning means anticipating the diversity of students that may enroll in your course and planning accordingly.

Designing a course with principles of universal design in mind is an ongoing and creative process. One does not achieve the level of usability aspired to with a simple checklist, but with an open mind and a commitment to making design and inclusion a priority.

In fact, I have come to think about universal design as more of a guiding philosophy than a set of principles. The philosophical intent of universal design is to create an environment that is as inclusive of and welcoming to diversity as possible. When a person is excluded by my design in some way, I see it as my responsibility to evolve my design further.

That said, there are also technical skills and know-how that can take you down the road toward creating that environment. Below are a few suggestions that if taken into consideration, can enhance access and usability greatly. Knowing and incorporating these elements on the front end of the design process can save hours down the line.

Learn more:  Ten Steps Towards Universal Design of Online Courses.


Melanie Thornton works at the University of Arkansas where she is the Leadership Development Facilitator for UA CURRENTS. She provides professional development on topics related to leadership, disability, diversity, and design. Melanie previously worked at UALR as the Associate Director of the Disability Resource Center and the Director of Project PACE at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Understanding Universal Design for Learning is part of a semester-long Learning Shorts series on Accessibility and Universal Design in conjunction with the Department of Educational Leadership, the Disability Resource Center, and Scholarly Technology and Resources (STaR).

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