Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Principles for Teaching Online

Strengthen your online teaching by incorporating Universal Design for Learning principles into your virtual lessons.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Principles for Teaching Online
  • Planning
  • Teaching
  • Remote Teaching & Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Principles for Teaching Online


Incorporating movement. Humans are born to move—incorporating movement can help students be more present and focused and keep students engaged and energized.


Utilizing visuals. Video is an excellent medium for incorporating clear and exciting visuals that engage students and lead to a stronger understanding of the material.


A humorous cartoon of a gray elephant, tall blue bird, green and brown turtle, and green snake standing in front of the "One Size Fits All Store" which has a Sale sign in the window.
Illustration by Jack Corbett

GIVE has chosen to incorporate this framework because of the ways it can support Teaching Artists in giving all students various ways to learn, express their learning, and succeed in the classroom. UDL is NOT one size fits all, nor is it the only way to approach creating inclusive in-person or virtual classrooms. For an overview on UDL and the GIVE UDL Checklist, explore this GIVE Resource on Universal Design for Learning Best Practices.

Remote Teaching and Learning Tip:

The way you support these modalities in remote work may differ if you are teaching live online or sharing asynchronous content via recorded video. Teaching Artists from ArtsConnection created the following best practices guides to support you in doing so: Leading Inclusive Live Classes OnlineRecording Videos for Asynchronous Classes

Utilizing Visuals

  • Visuals can illustrate a concept or vocabulary word, demonstrate possibilities, keep students focused, or keep the lesson organized.
  • Visuals can be both distracting and engaging. Check out this GIVE Resource on preventing sensory overwhelm, including tips for remote teaching and learning.

  • Create a visual agenda to check off as you move through your lesson.
  • Hang visuals hanging behind you, hold them up to the camera, share videos, or pictures via screen share.
  • If you’re recording your lesson, you can use interactive tools like visual fly ins, or video/picture in video
    • If you’re a beginner to video editing, check out a step-by-step tutorial for iMovie in the Learn More section at the end of this resource.
  • Incorporate sign language into your class so students can signal their needs/opinions in a nonverbal way.
    • Read more about sign language in the classroom and some examples to get you started in the Learn More section at the end of this resource.
  • Model activities visually in live or recorded videos. This can also happen through the use of step-by-step images in a pdf.
  • Consider giving verbal descriptions of the images and instruction for students with low vision or who are blind. If you have students who use a screen reader, it will likely not transcribe videos and slideshows, so consider verbal descriptions as often as possible and/or create a text only version of materials.

Check out this example from an ArtsConnection TA for ways to incorporate visuals.

Engaging Multiple Senses

  • Sensory experiences can help children focus and relax.
  • Create opportunities for students to disengage with their screens and re-set, by including sensory experiences as part of your lessons: Tactile, Auditory, Visual, Proprioception, etc.
  • Offering students content-related ways to bring their environment into their “square” (like sharing sounds, smells, and textures from what’s around them) may create a more connected, three-dimensional remote learning experience.
  • These could be real or imaginary sensory experiences.

  • Have students turn off their video and listen to auditory content—or turn their video on and off throughout to share specific responses.
  • Make a guessing game out of students finding an object from their environment and describing it to the class using sensory details.
  • Build scavenger hunts into a lesson. You might ask students to find an item that relates to a particular story or creative task—or objects connected to new vocabulary words or concepts.

Incorporating Movement

  • Humans are born to move. Incorporating movement can help students be more present and focused and keep them engaged and energized. 
  • Be sure to consider students’ abilities, environments, and safety when they are learning remotely. Give plenty of options to be seated or standing, to move fast or slow, etc.  
  • When we are stressed or anxious, we often take shallow breaths into our chests. By breathing deeply into our stomachs, we can use our breath to calm both our bodies and minds.

  • Lead students through breathing exercises. You can also help them understand that when we are stressed or anxious, we often take shallow breaths into our chests. By breathing deeply into our stomachs, we can use our breath to calm both our bodies and minds. ​
  • Ask students to respond with a movement as well as words
  • Model and invite students to “zoom in” and “zoom out” by getting close to and away from the camera
  • Play “Video Twister” in by calling out instructions like “Right hand to bottom left of your square” or “Nose to top right of your square”
  • Offer a guided stretch break, even in asynchronous and non-video content
  • Incorporate dance and body language into activities and/or transitions

Student Participation

  • Remote learning provides opportunities for students to be in control,  be experts in their own right, and the ability to participate using their preferred modes, and timeframes. 
  • Student participation can take many different forms online. Be sure to check your assumptions about why students have their video on or off, why they did or did not share what they created during an activity, etc. For more on supporting meaningful engagement online, check out the GIVE Resource on Remote Learning: Adaptations for Classroom and Behavior Management

  • Provide multiple forms of instructions along with video learning: 
    • Post ample but clear instructions on the learning management system you use or send it via email to students. 
    • If you’re teaching live, share written instructions in the chat along with verbal instructions. 
    • When relevant, share your screen to model activities step by step while providing verbal instructions. 
  • Explore tools and apps that invite student engagement in interesting ways. These can be used to get student input and feedback, check for understanding, or share responses and creative work. Those used by GIVE Teaching Artists include but aren’t limited to: 
    • Chat 
    • Reaction functions
    • Polls
    • Jamboard
    • Mentimeter
    • Whiteboard
    • Padlet 
    • Peardeck
  • When recording videos, be sure to include pauses when you’re inviting students to think about something, repeat something, or complete a task. This supports participation by offering a stronger sense of connection and flow. 
  • If teaching synchronously via video, offer different groupings to engage students for each activity. Include larger group discussion, individual working time, and, if possible, breakout groups. Use breakout groups judiciously depending on students’ age, engagement level, and needs and be sure to pop in to each group to offer help and check in, just as you would during an in-person class. 
  • Leave ample time for reflection between activities and at the end of the lesson, regardless of whether you are teaching synchronously or asynchronously. 
  • Encourage students to rename their screen name to be what they’d like to be called or add something to their name that connects to the lesson. 
  • In live/synchronous classes, you can nominate co-hosts or co-leads for an activity or ritual. Sharing the responsibility can help build community.


  • Work with your organization and school to decide what accessibility standards you should uphold. For example, in closed captioning or other written materials, some standards might require certain fonts or text size. This may be different for each organization or school.
  • Technology is not always accessible to all, so be sure to check with the classroom professionals about what works for their students. 
  • Use the technology that is consistent with what’s already used by the school, teachers, and students. 

  • Do an ‘Access Check’ at the top of the live class and throughout to see if needs are being met. Make sure you do it verbally and in the chat.
  • Use closed caption, translations, and/or interpreters when needed during the live class. Send an email ahead of time to see if there are any specific needs from students, classroom professionals, or caregivers.
  • Different platforms have different accessibility offerings. Do your research to know what’s available on the platform you use. Many captioning tools are imperfect. Be sure to test it out to see if it works for you and students.
    • Google Meet: Click the CC button and communicate to students to do so as well. 
    • Zoom: You can download a free extension called RevLive Captioning and the host can activate it. Students will need to be reminded to click the CC button. 
    • Youtube: You can add auto captions to any video that you make and upload. Be sure to review and make corrections as needed. 
    • More possibilities, depending upon your needs, can be found in the Learn More section at the end of this resource. 

NOTE: If the organization or school that you work wants more precise captioning (more accurate, adjusted font size, words on screen, etc.) you can have a conversation about using a third party captioning service for pre-recorded videos (Rev, ) , which is especially helpful if you are translating multiple languages. You can also look into CART which is live captioned by a person which leaves less room for error. 

  • If you are working with interpreters, have a conversation with the interpreters or classroom teachers about any support you or they may need. Communicate with students how to pin or highlight the interpreter (or do so yourself) so that the interpreter isn’t getting lost in a sea of other boxes. 
  • You can play with DIY accessibility tools as well. For example if you are learning lyrics you can share them on the screen in a powerpoint or type them into the chat live. You can print out any visuals and hold them up in your frame and physical space so that students can see without having to screen share. 


External Resources