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Universal Design for Learning in Physical Education: Access and Opportunity

Physical education classes today are more diverse and heterogeneous than ever before. Teachers must plan ahead in order to accommodate the needs of every student. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that uses a variety of teaching methods to eliminate barriers and increase access to learning and provides ALL students equal opportunities to learn and succeed. The UDL framework for the classroom, developed by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) is an evidence-based educational framework that benefits all learners, including, but not limited to, students with disabilities.

Put simply, UDL contains all the features of a dynamical systems way of thinking, in which one considers the learner, the environment, and the task when planning and implementing activities. The focus is on arranging environmental and social conditions in ways that allow for all students to be more successful as they participate in motor activities

The three components of UDL include: Principle 1Multiple Means of Engagement –  in the ways students are engaged. Principle 2Multiple Means of Representation –  The educator provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, Principle 3: Multiple Means of Action & Expression –  inthe ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and

The following are description of the three components of UDL taken in part from the Infographic through NCHPAD.

Multiple means of engagement is the why of learning—utilizing strategies to get students motivated and excited about learning, to help them sustain interest in learning tasks, and to know how to regulate themselves. One of the first things to consider is reducing students’ discomfort and distraction and to urge each student to take risks without being forced out of his or her comfort zone. Once factors affecting student comforts such as room lighting, temperature, furniture, equipment arrangement, noise, and emotional climate are addressed, considerations about getting students’ interest in learning are next. One of the best suggestions to capture students’ interest is to give students choice and autonomy and offer tasks that are meaningful and authentic. Students’ favorite sports, teams, music, colors, superheroes etc., when embedded into a lesson can add to their engagement and motivation.

Multiple means of representation is the what of learning—how information is given or delivered to students. Giving information to students is the first part; using text and pictures, demonstrations, videos, posters charts, 3-D models, or even cues as supports, ensures that all students will be able to make sense of the content. Consider the teaching modality (face-to-face, hybrid, asynchronous, and remote) and the students you are working with. Consider your language, use of symbols and how the skill is presented. You can also choose to show a lesson or a video with a student demonstrating skill and fitness exercises to highlight the fact that all learners can demonstrate physical activity and skill development. Students who use English as a new language, who use nonacademic language outside of school, or who need challenges to skill acquisition will benefit from multiple means of representation. As a teacher, you will be building a culture of acceptance while providing supports to create a learning environment where all students succeed and feel comfortable asking questions. Some examples of means of representation applied to physical education are: 1) using students for demonstration, 2) showing a video of the skill or sport to be practiced, or 3) demonstrating the skill or activity yourself with the students verbally following along.

Multiple means of action and expression—is the how of learning—how can you assess and have evidence on what your students know? Consider removing barriers to learning by utilizing support and being flexible with the students’ capacity and ability to show you what they know. In this area, provide ways for students to move—to jump, stand, wave their arms, stretch, and bend as a “true” expression of their learning given the type of modality you are using. Give options for students to express what they know and can do, and you will be surprised at what you can learn. For example: when assessing how fast students can run, allow them to choose the distance and the way they want to run, who they run with, the music that is playing, and the goals that they set. To ensure authenticity, have the students pre-set these as goals so they are clear on what they are being assessed on. When assessing the serve in volleyball for example, provide choice as to ball selection, distance from the net, and the way they serve which could include underhand, overhand, or by throwing the ball. The goal or assessment here is to successfully serve a ball over the net. Help students set goals and manage information and by teaching students how to monitor their progress toward learning goals. This can also enhance their engagement in class

An important aspect of UDL for teachers is to know that it must be infused into the lesson plan from the beginning and not added as an afterthought. In addition, UDL concepts are available for all students in the class so that each student can access learning without being singled out. So, if the teacher offers a tee as an option in baseball, it should be an option for all students, and a rope-less jump rope can be used by all students remembering that this provides choices to students. You will be surprised just how many students elect to use equipment that will enable them to be successful. See Table 1 for more examples.

Table 1. Examples of UDL in Physical Education

Multiple Means of Engagement • Timers to alert students to prepare for class. • A clipboard that displays equipment needed and skills to be practiced. • An opportunity for students to socialize particularly if they are learning remotely. • Music is playing and the screen or gymnasium is inviting.

Multiple Means of Representation • Audio, visual, kinesthetic, and approaches specific to the needs of the students in the class. • Utilize a variety of teaching strategies including peer supports and visual cues, such as poster boards and other reminders.

Multiple Means of Action and Expression • All students are assessed in the class according to his or her ability and skills. • Prepare students for assessment so they comprehend and value what and why they are demonstrating what they know


The UDL Guidelines. (2020, October 06). Retrieved January 12, 2021, from https://udlguidelines. medium=web&utm_campaign=none&utm_ content=aboutudl 2.

About Universal Design for Learning. (2020, December 02). Retrieved January 12, 2021, from http://www.cast. org/our-work/about-udl.html#.WukPFdMvxME 

Lieberman, L., Grenier, M., Brian, A., & Arndt, K. (2020). Universal Design for Learning in Physical Education, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

Lieberman, L. & Grenier, M. (2019) Infusing Universal Design for Learning into Physical Education Professional Preparation Programs, Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 90:6, 3-5, DOI: 10.1080/07303084.2019.1615790


The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) in collaboration with the National Consortium for Physical Education for Individuals with Disabilities (NCPEID) has created the interactive visual resource Laying the Foundation for Universal Design for Learning in Physical Education to provide general information on the core components of UDL. In addition, the tool suggests recommended strategies to facilitate the implementation of UDL in all physical education settings-no matter what the teaching modality.

PDF on Universal Design for Learning in Physical Education

Video on Universal Design for Learning in Physical Education

Lauren J. Lieberman Ph.D.
SUNY Brockport

Michelle Grenier Ph.D.
University of New Hampshire (Emeriti)

Dr. Michelle Grenier Ph.D. University of New Hampshire (Emeriti)

Dr. Michelle Grenier Ph.D. University of New Hampshire (Emeriti)

Professor Michelle Grenier, Ph.D., C.A.P.E., is an internationally recognized expert in the field of inclusion and adapted physical education. She has authored or coauthored several Human Kinetics publications including Physical Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Comprehensive Approach, Physical Education for Students with Moderate to Severe Disabilities and her most recent publication, Universal Design for Learning in Physical Education. She has published over 50 peer reviewed articles as well as several book chapters. As an emerita faculty member in the Department of Kinesiology-Health and Physical Education at the University of New Hampshire Dr. Grenier oversaw the adapted physical education concentration at the undergraduate and graduate levels. She is currently an adjunct faculty at the University of South Carolina in the M.S. in Adapted Physical Education.

Michelle is the currently the president of the National Consortium of Physical Education for Individuals with Disabilities (NCPEID), is the New Hampshire state APE representative, and former chair of the national APE (AAHPERD) association. Dr. Grenier serves on several journal editorial boards including Palaestra and Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly.

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