Date Presented 04/01/2022

The benefits of universal design for learning (UDL) in classrooms have been shown to support lower education and undergraduate students, but its use has not been integrated into higher education, such as medical and allied health graduate programs. UDL can support students, regardless of the presence of a disability, in increasing performance potential in the school setting. This scoping review identifies gaps in the research on UDL implementation in medical and allied health graduate-level learning.

Primary Author and Speaker: Karolina Gawron

Additional Authors and Speakers: Nicole Mohan, Madison Tomlinson, Laura Vanpuymbrouck

Multiple scholarly sources have highlighted the need for universal design for learning (UDL) implementation in allied health and medical education however very few have actually implemented the valuable framework into graduate curriculum to discover the potential benefits to student learning.

PURPOSE: UDL is a philosophical and practical approach that can be used in academic contexts which aims to proactively ensure that fully inclusive spaces of learning for diverse learners are the standard of practice across an institution. This is done by eliminating barriers to participation and supporting all learners to achieve their capacity for successful completion of an academic program. More often faculty and program administrators respond on a case by case basis to implement accommodations for a student versus proactively take efforts to create a learning experience that is more easily accessed by all. Despite being heralded as a means to increase access for all students in elementary (Gauvreau et al., 2019) and high school (King-Sears & Johnson, 2020), and an increase in students with disabilities attending higher education (Meeks et al. 2019), there is limited research regarding the use of UDL in higher education, specifically medical and allied health programs. Therefore, the aim of this study is to identify gaps in the research on UDL in higher education which might then be used to inform future researchers on the necessity of further research.

DESIGN: This study conducted a scoping review of the use of UDL in higher education, specifically allied health and medical education. Currently, there is little research about UDL in higher education, making a scoping review necessary to act as an overview and guide to future research. The inclusion criteria were articles that either implemented the UDL framework in medical or allied health education and demonstrated outcomes or ones that identified and described the need for UDL in these programs. The exclusion criteria included (a) studies conducted outside of the United States, (b) lower level education, (c) non-medical graduate level programs or non-allied health graduate programs, (d) omitted outcomes related to UDL implementation, and (e) non-peer-reviewed articles.

METHOD: This study utilized the Arksey and O’Malley (2005) methodological framework. We used the following search engines: PubMed, CINAHL Complete, ERIC, GoogleScholar, and Scopus. The data analysis process utilized Covidence to organize the articles throughout the screening and full text reviews. Three researchers screened articles based on their title and abstract. The articles that were accepted through the screening process were analyzed based on the full-text. A vote of at least 2 out of the 3 researchers was needed to include the research article in the scoping review.

RESULTS: Our findings show little research exists that examines the implementation of UDL and its impact on supporting students with disability in higher education. Findings also provide a synthesized list of recommendations from across studies that can be used to further the reach of the UDL framework in medical and allied health graduate programs.

CONCLUSION: Much of the evidence found on the use of UDL in medical and allied health graduate level programs is based on observations and professional perspectives; furthermore, very little evidence has been conducted through use of experimental study designs. Future research is recommended to examine the acceptability, feasibility, and utility of UDL in higher education.

IMPACT: There is a serious need for UDL in allied and medical school programs but research regarding actual implementation of this learning framework is lacking and requires additional support through research evidence.


Gauvreau, A. N., Lohmann, M. J., & Hovey, K. A. (2019). Using a universal design for learning framework to provide multiple means of representation in the early childhood classroom. Journal of Special Education Apprenticeship, 8(1).

King-Sears, M. E., & Johnson, T. M. (2020). Universal design for learning chemistry instruction for students with and without learning disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 41(4), 207–218.

Meeks, L. M., Case, B., Herzer, K., Plegue, M., & Swenor, B. K. (2019). Change in prevalence of disabilities and accommodation practices among US medical schools, 2016 vs 2019. JAMA, 322(20), 2022-2024.