DI and UDL: Is there a difference?

A woman in a blue shirt and a long pig tail has her hands upturned and eyes wide in a pose of confusion.Confused about the differences between Differentiated Instruction (DI) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL)? A previous post explains the two concepts in basic terms, and from two perspectives – one from Katie Novak and the other from New Zealand Ministry of Education. But what about the literature on this topic? 

 A recent systematic review provides an insight into the views of the two approaches to inclusion. And yes, there is a bit of “fuzziness” between the two.

The systematic review confirmed that confusion exists when examining the two frameworks. They explored twenty-seven peer-reviewed articles and found three interpretations of the two approaches. One was to diminish one approach in favour of the other, another was to include DI within UDL, and incompatibility was the third approach.  

The authors conclude the approaches are complementary theories; DI is embedded within UDL and that DI is a model independent of UDL. However, descriptions of the interrelationships in the literature tended to rely on perception rather than evidence. 

The authors reference studies that show they are both are inclusive pedagogical models. They have the potential to transform education systems by counteracting the existing one-size-fits-all approach. 

The article provides a salient overview of the importance of pedagogical approaches that aim to reach all students, as a foundation to truly inclusive education.

The title of the article is, ” Exploring the interrelationship between Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Differentiated Instruction (DI): A systematic review”. It’s open source from ScienceDirect.

See more on UDL on CUDA website.

Differentiated Instruction and UDL. What’s the Difference?

A photo of a woman wondering different thingsSchools work hard to meet the needs of their learners. There are various frameworks of inclusivity, which sometimes can be confused. So what is the difference between Differentiated Instruction (DI) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

In Pathways to the Future report, the West Australian Department of Education explains,

“Inclusivity is not just for students with disabilities, but also for all students, educators, parents, families and community members. Inclusivity is an attitude or belief system that becomes embedded in policies, practices and processes. It needs to be nurtured in every educational setting.” (p.30)

The above quote is both an inspiring and practical statement of inclusivity, it is also embedded in global and national legislative obligations.

Australia signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008. Together with the Disability Discrimination Act and the Disability Standards for Education, schools have a legal obligation to provide inclusive practices that ensure full equality and protection for persons with disabilities, under the law.

So what’s the difference?

So how do teachers and schools work to meet these legal/moral/social obligations? All teachers know that DI, or “differentiation”, is expected to meet the individual needs of learners. But when UDL enters the pedagogical mix, how do they align? 

UDL expert and author on the topic, Katie Novak, created a dinner party analogy to explain the difference. The illustration is that making individual meals for each guest is akin to DI. The host chooses what each guest will eat, despite individualising it for them. UDL, on the other hand, is a buffet. All diners have choice and the diner drives that choice.

The New Zealand Ministry of Education Guide, explains the two another way. It suggests that UDL is an “overarching approach focused on the inclusive design of the whole learning environment at the outset”. They state that DI, on the other hand, is a strategy that addresses “…each student’s individual levels of readiness, interest, and learning profiles”.

In the two minute video below, Katie Novak explains the dinner party analogy.

You can find more about UDL on the CUDA website

Online Learning Technologies and UDL

Image of a laptop computer in which an online learning lesson is taking place with a teacher standing in front of a chalkboard.Students around the globe are learning online. How do we make the most of online learning technologies and UDL?

David Rose, Jenna Gravel, and Yvonne Domings explain that UDL goes beyond digital technologies.  They discuss this on their question-and-answer on the CAST website. The team acknowledge that modern technology makes implementation and elaboration of UDL easier. Next, they remind us that the UDL principles are guides to successful teaching for all students. As such, educators apply the UDL principles with and without digital technology.

With students around the globe learning online, digital technologies in education have come to the fore. As a result, many resources and critiques of technologies have been shared. Find these on official education sites and social media.

A useful example is the ‘Resources’ section of the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA) website.  In addition, the Digital Technologies in Practice section contains a range of resources.

Without making direct links to UDL, there are many connections to the three UDL principles. One example is in the online information pamphlet called ‘A–Z Digital Technologies vocabulary F–6. For instance, this outlines the language of digital technologies, correlating directly with Checkpoint 2 in the UDL framework. Importantly, there are also new links to materials that may help you get a deeper understanding of the key ideas and key concepts of Digital Technologies.

In addition, if you are seeking a starting point for making a connection between online learning technologies and UDL, the article, Making Your Classroom Smart: Universal Design for Learning and Technology’ by Carrie Anna Courtad provides a match between technology tools and each of the three main principles of UDL.

Finally, read more on ICT and UDL on our website.

Smart Classroom Design

An example of educational software. being used in classWhen well implemented, the UDL framework and technology combine to assist in smart classroom design.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) helps shape teaching and learning by focusing on flexibility. Making Your Classroom Smart: Universal Design for Learning and Technology discusses the three tenets of UDL. It then outlines how technology supports each of the areas to support smart classroom design.

The three tenets are Engagement, Representation, and Action and Expression. The framework recommends providing learners with multiple options for each principle. The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) provides the UDL framework and related resources.

The article presents a variety of technology tools to support student engagement. The tools allow for students to self-monitor, attend to their focus and offer cognitive training. Additionally, the author suggests programs that support scaffolding for learning or make the curriculum more accessible.

Technology that provides for multiple examples of the same concept makes print materials accessible, highlights critical elements, and provides graphics or pictures when illustrating concepts are some features recommended to support Representation.

Offering a variety of ways a student can express their knowledge, serves the goal of the Action and Expression component of the UDL framework. Assistive technologies promote opportunities for some students in this area. The report highlights other programmes that allow teachers to build in reflection, and present their knowledge and skills verbally, in writing, or orally. The report provides examples of the technology, their function and cost.

Smart classroom design relies on curricular goals and material designed in a UDL manner before instruction, never retrospectively. The combination of technology to support students’ learning should also include a concrete framework to assist in the well-considered design of technology into curriculum goals and teaching and learning.