Why should I bother with UDL?

When I taught high school, regardless of the subject I taught (literature, philosophy, drama, religion), my students often came to class wanting to know Why what we were learning was important, relevant, or valuable. As a novice teacher, I failed to understand the importance of “The Why” and thus fell short of respecting its power.

“We learn gerund phrases because that’s what you learn in this unit of 10th grade English! Of course!”

I may have said it a little better than that most of the time, but to be honest, that’s probably not too far from what I felt and how I thought in that first year or two as a professional educator. As I became more experienced, though, I started to take this question more seriously. I was able to shake the defensiveness that this question often caused me and began to see it as an important question for them to ask and me to answer. For this reason, I began to try to tie what we learned in class to students’ interests, to current events, to future aspirations.

This was all long before I knew about UDL or the neuroscience behind it that stresses just how critical emotional engagement in learning really is.

Now, as I have transitioned to a scholar and practitioner in a higher education context, I’ve been able to see how this aspect of humanity and the neuroscience of learning transfers to adult learners. Many students shuffle through their “gen ed” courses to “get them out of the way” so they can get to their major subjects that they really care about. I wonder how much opportunity is missed for substantive learning in those first two years of college when students have that mindset. UDL provides us with tools and strategies to help address engagement and motivation in all levels and across all disciplines.

Faculty and staff are also charged with learning new things, and thus also often want answers to the “why” question. Raise your hand if you’ve ever attended a professional development session or sat in a faculty meeting in which you felt like you didn’t know why you were there (and thus wished you weren’t). I can’t see you, but I’m sure your hand is up.

What an irony it would be if I presumed to share about UDL, a framework that prizes engagement and motivation but didn’t start by addressing The Why. With so many frameworks and theories around, why should faculty and staff in higher education care about UDL? Great question. Let’s take a deeper look.

The Why of UDL (7m 44s, closed captioned)


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