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.

To disclose or not to disclose

A distance view of Miami University where the study was carried out.How likely are university students to disclose their disability? The answer is related to whether the disability is visible. The concern of being stigmatised is real and is a form of exclusion. Of course, if the disability is visible then stigma is already part of the student’s life. A recent study found students with invisible disability will be less likely to make use of the institution’s accommodations for disability. However, if the teaching staff were helpful and accommodating anyway, the need for seeking institutional support was reduced. An interesting and relatively easy read for a thesis

The title of the thesis is “Effects of Institutional Factors on College Students’ Self- Disclosure of Disability Status and Their Utilization of Disability Services“. Here are two excerpts from the discussion section.

“Students with invisible disabilities in the current study were less likely to use accommodations and self-disclose their disability status to the institution, and students with visible disabilities had used accommodations more often than their peers with invisible disabilities. Research has indicated that students with invisible disabilities perceive revealing one’s disability status as an important decision because it moves the person from a non-stigmatized identity to a stigmatized one.

“This study also found that when professor knowledge and understanding were well-received, students were less likely to self-disclose. This is consistent with research that has indicated students who did not disclose said they felt they didn’t need accommodations because their professors were helpful and accepting of their disability without needing institutional documentation (Cole & Cawthon, 2015). When students do not feel supported by professors, they are more likely to advocate for their rights and self-disclose to the institution, which occurs more regularly for students with invisible disabilities (Marshak et al., 2010).


UD for Learning – overview at a glance

CAST UDL logoFor anyone who has not encountered the term Universal Design for Learning, this is an instructive 4 minute video. It links the concepts of an inclusive built environment with inclusive learning programs and practices. Good for teachers, trainers, lecturers and anyone interested in inclusive practice. There are three key aspects to UDL:

  • 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, and
  • Multiple means of engagement to tap into learners’ interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn

Universal Design for non-designers

overhead view of a table with several laptops open. One person is handing another a documentThe concept of universal design is not the sole responsibility of people who consider themselves a designer. Universal design and inclusive practice involves everyone regardless whether they are a trained designer, a policy writer, an academic, a dancer or a carpenter. It’s difficult enough to appeal to trained designers to think inclusion throughout their design process, let alone getting non-designers on board with this concept. A group in China is looking at ways to reach out to non-designers for a cross-disciplinary approach to universal design education. Their paper, A Strategy on Introducing Inclusive Design Philosophy to Non-design Background Undergraduates, focuses on how to integrate design in what they term, crossover education, with non-design students. You will need institutional access to SpringerLink for a free read.  If not, try the Google Books link for a few more pages.

Abstract: Focusing on how to integrating design into crossover-education, which is a controversial topic in china’s education. And in china, all china’s colleges and universities are trying their best to set up crossover education. Cause firstly they all think that it is vital important for the college students to broaden their horizon, secondly, more and more projects need diverse and professional genius to cooperate to be finished. They need to know the design thinking. But the problem is coming, differing from design-major background students, how to make design curriculum transforming a better and easier way to accept and assimilate by the other background students. How to cultivate the design thinking in crossover education, I think, which is the most things we as educator need to concentrate. This paper focuses on how to introduce inclusive design philosophy to non-design background undergraduates. This is one of the parts of a research project “Applied universities’ design education reform and practice based on the principle of inclusive design” supported by the Shanghai Education Science Research Program (Grant No. C17067).

Not Stupid, just Dyslexic

A boy sits at a desk, pen in hand ready to write on the paper.Going out of your way to find a solution for one group of people doesn’t always work. That’s what they found when they tried to find the best solutions for helping people with dyslexia. It turned out that the best solutions were those that made reading easier for everyone – the universal design approach. The special reading and writing solutions set them apart and made people “feel stupid”. The conclusion of this study therefore advises that it is better to work within the universal design paradigm than try to develop separate materials for people with dyslexia. The title of the paper is, “I’m not Stupid” – Attitudes Towards Adaptation Among People with Dyslexia. It is available from SpringerLink but you will need institutional access for a free read. It is also a book chapter in International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction.

Abstract: A significant portion of the population have dyslexia, which is commonly associated with reading and writing difficulties. In the context of developing materials well-suited for users with reading disorders, one solution has been to develop materials especially targeted at dyslexic users. However, how are the attitudes among users with dyslexia towards adaptation? In this paper, we report the findings from qualitative interviews with 20 adults with dyslexia. The main finding was that they were sceptical towards adapted products, among others because it made them “feel stupid” and because the adapted format affected the reading experience negatively. In this paper we argue to instead work within the universal design paradigm, trying to develop products and services usable by all people, thus reducing the need for particular user groups to utilise “special solutions”.