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Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Implementation
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UDL 101: It’s not all about choice

A popular way to talk about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is to emphasize choice. Choice is fabulous. Choice is essential. Every guideline begins with “Provide options for,” which encourages us to add in choice. But when the conversation (or workshop instruction) ends there, no one benefits.

UDL exists to help instructional designers plan lessons and environments that foster expert learners. Choice is part of helping learners become purposeful and motivated. Choice is part of learners becoming resourceful and knowledgeable. Choice is part of learners becoming strategic and goal-directed. But they can only grow in these areas if we give them time to reflect on their choices.

During instruction, learners must be given explicit guidance and time to think about their choices. Did their choices help them reach the stated goal (hint: this is why you need to articulate the instructional goal)? Did their choices help them move toward the outcomes of expert learning (hint: frame your questions around the expert learning terms)?

In case you need a bit more to engage with this topic, here’s some research you can tap into. First, meaningful and scaffolded reflection is really, really needed if you want to have an impact (Cavilla, 2017; Coulson & Harvey, 2013). In addition, the process is stronger when students are responding, not just receiving the reflection prompts (Hsu, Lin, Yeh & Chen, 2022). Finally, written/student composed reflection has been demonstrated to have a strong impact (Larsen, London & Emke, 2016), but that reflection can take place during online learning (Change, 2019) or face-to-face and across age groups (Martin, Polly & Kissel, 2017; Main, 2020; Cavilla, 2017).

The takeaway: Choice is not enough. You must add in time and structure to help your learners gain skills around reflection and the skill or topic you are teaching.


Cavilla, D. (2017). The effects of student reflection on academic performance and motivation. Sage Open, 7(3), 2158244017733790.

Chang, B. (2019). Reflection in learning. Online Learning. Online Learning, 23(1), 95-110.

Martin, C. S., Polly, D. & Kissel, B. (2017) Exploring the impact of written reflections on learning in the elementary mathematics classroom. The Journal of Educational Research, 11(5), 538-553. DOI: 10.1080/00220671.2016.1149793

Coulson, D., & Harvey, M. (2013) Scaffolding student reflection for experience-based learning: a framework. Teaching in Higher Education, 18(4), 401-413. DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2012.752726

Hsu, F. H., Lin, I. H., Yeh, H. C., & Chen, N. S. (2022). Effect of Socratic Reflection Prompts via video-based learning system on elementary school students’ critical thinking skills. Computers & Education, 183. 104497.

Larsen, D. P., London, D. A. & Emke, A. R. (2016). Using reflection to influence practice: student perceptions of daily reflection in clinical education. Perspect Med Educ 5, 285–291. DOI: 10.1007/s40037-016-0293-1

Main, K. (Ed.). (2020). Teaching middle years: Rethinking curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. Routledge.