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Robert L. Hurt , California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Bob Hurt.jpgToday’s college students are the most diverse advisors have ever encountered; with that diversity comes the need to design advising experiences to meet certain fundamental goals while simultaneously ensuring that advising materials, delivery methods and interpersonal communication are accessible and meaningful to each student. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) offers advisors a framework for designing and delivering high-quality advising to students with varying backgrounds and learning styles. This article will first lay out some background about UDL, then focus on applying its principles in advising contexts.

UDL Background

UDL grew out of the broader architectural concept of universal design. The basic idea of universal design is straightforward: built environments should be usable by all people without the need for after-the-fact additions (Burgstahler, 2005). For example, rather than adding on accommodations for the disabled to an office building, the principles of universal design would advocate designing features into the office building to make it accessible from the start. As a result, the building would have maximum functionality for everyone and still be aesthetically pleasing and cost effective.

At its core, universal design is built around seven fundamental principles (Connell et al., 1997):

  1. Equitable use. The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
  2. Flexibility in use. The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  3. Simple and intuitive. Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
  4. Perceptible information. The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
  5. Tolerance for error. The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
  6. Low physical effort. The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
  7. Size and space for approach and use. Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

The concepts of universal design can also be applied to the design, delivery and assessment of instructional materials in higher education. Izzo (2007) stated:

Universal design is an approach to designing course instruction, materials, and content to benefit people of all learning styles without adaptation or retrofitting. Universal design provides equal access to learning, not simply equal access to information. Universal design allows the student to control the method of accessing information while the teacher monitors the learning process and initiates any beneficial methods.

Universal design for learning (UDL) is not about watering down curricula or expected student outcomes; students should still be challenged to think critically and master basic principles in their learning process. UDL is about breaking down barriers to student learning, making materials more accessible to all students.

Drawing on Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education (Chickering and Gamson, 1991) and the ideas for universal design noted above, Izzo (2007) offered the following basic principles for UDL:

  1. Identify the essential course content.
  2. Clearly express the essential content and any feedback given to the student.
  3. Integrate natural supports for learning (i.e. using resources already found in the environment, such as a study buddy).
  4. Use a variety of instructional methods when presenting material.
  5. Allow for multiple methods of demonstrating understanding of essential course content.
  6. Use technology to increase accessibility.
  7. Invite students to meet/contact the course instructor with any questions/concerns.

Since, at its core, advising is a form of teaching, the principles of UDL can also be applied to advising contexts.

UDL and Advising

With respect to UDL and advising, Burgstahler (2006) stated:

Make sure everyone feels welcome, can get to the facility and maneuver within it, is able to access printed materials and electronic resources, and can participate in events and other activities. Train staff to support people with disabilities, respond to specific requests for accommodations in a timely manner, and know whom they can contact if they have disability-related questions.

Here are some simple, yet effective, ways to promote the principles of UDL in advising:

  1. Provide adequate physical space in advising offices for movement and maneuvering. Offices and rooms that look “uncrowded” are more inviting, in addition to being more accessible to everyone.
  2. Deliver advising information in a variety of ways: printed material, PowerPoint presentations, videos and via the Internet. Thus, students with diverse learning styles can choose their preferred method for accessing advising information.
  3. In preparing printed materials, use built-in “styles” to differentiate headings from text. Screen readers (software that converts printed material into spoken words) can then provide a list of main headings as a search tool, rather than reading an entire document to find one specific piece of information.
  4. Also for printed materials, use common fonts without embellishments to improve readability. For example, Arial text is much plainer than Times New Roman.
  5. Differentiate material based on position or shape, not on color. For example, in a sheet that lists students’ degree requirements, place all general education requirements on the right side of the page rather than printing them in blue text. While color distinctions may be visually appealing, they are not accessible to students with certain visual disabilities (such as color blindness).
  6. Allow students to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways. For example, some students may want to explain aloud the process for calculating a grade point average. Others may prefer to write down a series of steps; still others may demonstrate their mastery by preparing a computerized spreadsheet.

Those six ideas are just a beginning for applying UDL principles to advising. Advisors can dialogue amongst themselves and with students and other stakeholders, then apply their own sense of creativity to create advising environments that welcome and promote success for everyone.

Robert L. Hurt
Accounting Department
College of Business
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
[email protected]


Burgstahler, S. (2005). Universal design: Principles, process and applications. Seattle, WA: University of Washington. Retrieved August 8, 2007 from www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Programs/ud.html

Burgstahler, S. (2006). Equal access: Universal design of advising. Seattle, WA: University of Washington. Retrieved August 15, 2007 from www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Academics/equal_access_adv.html

Chickering, A. and Gamson, Z. (1991). Applying the seven principles of good practice for undergraduate education. Somerset, NJ : Jossey-Bass.

Connell, B. R., Jones, M., Mace, R., Mueller, J., Mullick, A., Ostroff, E., et al. (1997). The principles of universal design. Retrieved August 8, 2007, from https://projects.ncsu.edu/design/cud/pubs_p/docs/poster.pdf

Izzo, M. (2007). Fast facts for faculty: Universal design for learning. Retrieved August 15, 2007 from http://telr.osu.edu/dpg/fastfact/undesign.html.

Cite this article using APA style as: Hurt, R. (2007, December). Applying the concepts of universal design for learning to advising. Academic Advising Today, 30(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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