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