Reflection on Universal Designs for Learning and Direct Instruction

Universal Designs for Learning (UDL) and Direct Instruction (DI) are two approaches that are adopted in schools to help children with special needs. Both of them are evidence-based strategies that are widely applied by teachers to meet the needs of students with disabilities. The UDL implies flexibility and barrier decrease when it comes to instruction in a classroom. In turn, the DI is focused specifically on instructional processes, including but not limited to modeling, scaffolding, et cetera. This paper presents a review of the differences between UDL and DI, their principles, teacher roles, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches.

Child-Centeredness and Teacher Role

Both UDL and DI can be identified as child-centered instructional strategies since they encourage teachers to become learning facilitators. In particular, the interaction between teachers and students is to be based on motivation and modeling instead of a teacher as a leader only. The construction of learning is a fundamental aspect of both approaches, which allows for providing sufficient support for children (Kame’enui et al., 2013). The fact that students are involved in the process of learning creation and organization also contributes to making them active participators (Swanson et al., 2013). As a result, children acquire the opportunity to have a better comprehension of learning activities and content. Student-centeredness creates an atmosphere of play, in which children feel engaged and comfortable to communicate, analyze, and share. Considering that UDL and DI are devoted to establishing the mentioned atmosphere, they can be categorized as child-focused approaches.

Active listening, timely feedback, and a high degree of support are integral parts of a teacher’s role in delivering UDL and DI. Specifically for UDL, the role of the teacher also contains the ongoing attention to the needs of students and challenging them accordingly (Edyburn, 2010). In comparison, the curriculum of children having DI is less dynamic as the achievement of a single is usually targeted. Since UDL provides varying instructions to all the students in a classroom, their interaction is to be monitored and facilitated by the teacher. In turn, teachers providing explicit instructions are also expected to act as role models, but their leadership is also valued. In DI, teachers’ role can also be defined in the context of organization, control, and expert assessment.

Principles of UDL and DI

In contrast to specific direct instruction, UDL largely determines the design of learning to solve problems. Teacher modeling and scaffolding are two strategies that are used by teachers to support the learning process and promote more effective student outcomes. The supports can be gradually removed or reduced to advance students’ cognitive and psychomotor learning skills. While providing DI, teachers are, as a rule, do not apply scaffolding, but teacher-monitored practice is inherent for both DI and UDL. As proposed by Edyburn (2010), technology is important for ensuring interactive learning that is inherent in the digital environment. While a great variety of materials is implied during the provision of UDL, this aspect is not emphasized in terms of DI.

Motivation and interest in learning are two other issues that are prioritized by UDL. When the curriculum matches the preferences of a student, it is more likely that she or she will be engaged in the process of knowledge development. At the same time, UDL encourages children to practice self-reflection that improves their self-regulation and self-awareness (Kame’enui et al., 2013). Although DI also stimulates students’ interest because of an individualized approach, it cannot strongly boost their self-regulation. The ideas of UDL are presented in a structured but flexible nature, which provides the opportunity to quickly and easily change instructions (Swanson et al., 2013). On the contrary, DI is more organized and difficult to adjust, which especially relevant to the structure of learning activities. The way of presentation impacts children’s cognition and perception, either stimulating their imagination (UDL) or making to solve standard tasks (DI).

Learning Evaluation and Methodology Complexity

In UDL, learning assessment is designed to stress the value of student diversity. This approach implies evaluating the learning outcomes, but DI mainly assesses the process of learning. The UDL pays attention to the individual needs and interests of students, while DI lacks to take into account curriculum integration and does not fully address the product of learning. According to Edyburn (2010), there is little support for the UDL in the academic literature, which is expected to limit its implementation in practice. Nevertheless, a highly intuitive nature of this approach impacts the decision of teachers to adopt it. Since the principles and policies of the UDL are not yet clear enough, some educators can implement them incorrectly or mistakenly think that they already applied it. In general, it is possible to suggest that the ease of using and appeal to students’ interests are the main criteria for the attractiveness of this method of teaching children with special needs.

Strengths and Weaknesses of UDL and DI

Compared to DI, UDL is a more flexible approach that targets diverse student needs and preferences. Since every student learns in a particular way, it is critical to offer a wide variety of tasks, assessment options, and contextual tools, which is provided by UDL. It includes instructions that can be applied to students with 504 Plans and those who were assigned Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). In turn, DI is more limited in terms of instructions as it is focused on students with disabilities only. Along with strengths, UDL has such a weakness as potential confusion by a variety of activities and assessments. For some students, it can be difficult to choose between the options and understand the connected requirements (Edyburn, 2010). Also, curriculum barriers can be underestimated for some children, which would potentially create learning problems.

The decreased time and need for special arrangements can also be noted as an advantage of UDL, which releases more time for learning activity and assessment. The attractiveness of UDL is related to the ease of its implementation since many educators can adopt it intuitively (Kame’enui et al., 2013). Another strong point of both UD and DI refers to their positive impact on cooperation and communication among students, as well as between a teacher and children. As for DI, its strengths involve its proactive design, detailed instructions regarding certain themes and concepts, and specific and achievable objects. In addition, a low level of confusion in students should be noted due to logical and elaborate organization of learning. However, the weaknesses may include poor creativity as a result of strict instruction organization and insufficient teacher competence.


In conclusion, UDL and DI are two most widespread and promising learning approaches for children with disabilities. While UDL includes a variety of assignments, evaluation tools, and materials, DI is a more structured and less flexible approach. The review of both methods shows that UDL needs to be researched to identify related gaps and biases, and DI should be reconsidered to better meet the needs of students.


Edyburn, D. L. (2010). Would you recognize universal design for learning if you saw it? Ten propositions for new directions for the second decade of UDL. Learning Disability Quarterly, 33(1), 33-41.

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ChalkyPapers. 2022. "Reflection on Universal Designs for Learning and Direct Instruction." February 1, 2022.

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ChalkyPapers. "Reflection on Universal Designs for Learning and Direct Instruction." February 1, 2022.