Instructional Technology/Learning Management Systems/Universal Design

What is Universal Design?

Universal Design seeks to make instruction available and accessible to all learners. Limitations for learning should not present themselves due to differences in learning style, ability, or background.

Universal Design does not support a one-size-fits all philosophy. To the contrary, it emphasizes that learning opportunities need to be flexible to meet diverse needs. If materials are designed for universal use, they will not need to be altered for use. Differentiation will occur naturally.

Research is being completed to further develop an understanding of and practical uses for Universal Design. The Center for Applied Special Technology is focusing on brain research and multimedia technology as research avenues that will further comprehension for designing effective instruction for all people.

Origins of Universal DesignEdit

Universal Design originated in the field of architecture. It seeks to meet the needs of a diverse public by making buildings accessible to all users. To ensure that this occurs, the fundamentals of universal design must be incorporated into the design process from the initial stages of the project.

Universal design should benefit more than one group of users. For example, curb ramps on sidewalks aid people in wheel chairs, people pushing strollers, and people riding bicycles.

Principles of Universal DesignEdit

Universal-design principles emphasize equitable use, flexibility, and adaptability.
These standards are met by creating materials with the following qualities:

  • Simplicity: Materials should be simple, intuitive, and easy to comprehend, regardless of the user's prior knowledge or skill set.
  • Clarity: Materials should provide clear directions, questions and expectations.
  • Accessibility: Materials should be usable with minimal physical effort.
  • Legibility: Materials should be sized spaced for ease of viewing.
  • Positive: Materials should minimize accommodate unintended actions or errors with feedback.
  • Supportive: Materials should provide built-in supports, such as help, multi-modality, and faculty-contact information.

For more information on the principles of Universal Design visit either of the following web sites:
Center for Universal Design, NC State University
Universal Instructional Design, Ohio State University

Jakob NielsenEdit

Nielsen is a fore runner with regard to making things available to people. His research focuses on universal design, usability, and accessibility for the Internet. He has developed Web design guidelines that serve as a checklist for whether or not a website possesses user centered design. He has patents on 76 different items, most are different things that can be used to make the Internet more accessible to a wide range of people with special needs.


Five attributes can be assessed to determine the ease of interface usage.

  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks?
  • Efficiency: How quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability: How easily can they re-establish proficiency?
  • Error: How many errors on the site? What occurs if an error is made?
  • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the site?

Web AccessibilityEdit

The World Wide Web Consortium(W3C) develops and maintains the protocols used on the Web to insure interoperability to promote universal access. The W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has proposed guidelines for all Web authors. Designing a well-organized Web site helps visitors navigate through the information presented. Some web development packages, such as Macromedia Dreamweaver, now possess the capability to preview page designs as they would look in different web browsers.

  • Maintain a simple, consistent page layout throughout your site.
  • Keep backgrounds simple. Make sure there is enough contrast.
  • Use standard HTML.
  • Caption video and transcribe other audio.
  • Make links descriptive so that they are understood out of context.
  • Include appropriate ALT/LONGDESC attributes for graphical elements on your page.
  • Include descriptive captions or other options for making graphical features accessible.
  • Provide alternatives for content in applets and plug-ins.
  • Condensing text content
  • Spell-check and proof read
  • Locate and correct broken links
  • Include contact information and copyright notice
  • Provide contact information
  • Provide URL redirection when pages relocate

Test your Web site with a variety of Web browsers, and always test your pages with at least one text-based browser and with multi-media browsers with graphics and sound-loading features turned off. This way you will see your Web resources from the many perspectives of your users. Also, view the resources at your site using a variety of computing platforms, monitor sizes, and screen resolutions. Make sure you can access all of the features of your Web site with the keyboard alone, simulating the experience of Web users who cannot use a mouse. Make use of accessibility testing software such as A-Prompt, Bobby, and WAVE; they will point out elements that could be inaccessible. Then, revise your HTML to make your site accessible.

Return to Instructional Technology
Return to Learning Management Systems