Constructivism and Universal Design for Learning

"Comparing Universal Design for Learning Framework and Constructivism Theory related to Technology Integration" Janet

The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework introduced by the Center for Applied Special Technologies (2002) gives new opportunities for instructional designers to design curriculum rooted in the constructivism theory due to its practice of designing curriculum with the locus of control on the learner. According to Craig & Van Lom (2009), universities and high schools around the world are looking to incorporate the use of mobile devices such as iPods, cell phones, and Netbooks into the instructional curriculum (Alexander, 2004). The goal of the institutions is to integrate these mobile technologies to enhance the education of students in new and innovative ways.

Constructivism theory proposes that "knowledge is being actively constructed by the individual and knowing is an adaptive process, which organizes the individual's experiential world" (Mayer, 1992). A major concept of the UDL framework is the integration of new technologies to enhance the instruction and improve the learning.


Karagiorigi and Symeou (2005) discuss how instructional designers are challenged to translate the philosophy of constructivism into actual practice because constructivism poses the existence of many levels of abstractions of knowledge construction. The first level of abstraction stemming from sensory-motor experiences or from a perceptual experience, and if an experience is repeated with some level of reliability, we can conclude that, under the particular circumstances, it is a viable construct.

Karagiorigi and Symeou (2005) cite Ernest (1995) who stressed, "There are as many varieties of constructivism as there are researchers" (p.459). One variety of constructivism is social constructivists, who believe that our construction of meaning is grounded in the groups to which we belong through social interaction. Culture provides different types of tools to help us construct meaning:

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  • one tool being language - characterized by a dynamic process of interchange during which meanings are chose.

*another tool to consider is technologies - such as multiplayer video games and mobile devices that break down language barriers and result in new opportunities to establish groups and communication methods.

One of the main beliefs of the constructivist is that people develop and build understanding from their own personal and subjective experiences. Craig and Van Lom (2009) discuss how mobile technology is an effective tool when instructional design is designed based on the constructivism theory. For instruction design, a teacher can be excellent and excel at implementing constructivist learning theory when they introduce curriculum in conjunction with mobile technologies.

Cisco Systems, Inc. (2011) While the Cisco Networking Academy ( did not state their curriculum is based on the UDL concept, it appears to be an example where curriculum utilized the concepts of the UDL framework and the constructivist theory of learning. Cisco developed Aspire, a game that teaches the business and financial side of IT support. Students take calls from customers, develop solutions and create work orders. Work orders require pruchasing materials, paying bills, scheduling tasks. At some point the learner may find they have more work than they can handle. An excellent example of learners having the locus of control and developing their own abstract level of knowledge.


(Artwork by Andrew Greenstone)

Mount Desert Island High School located in Maine has begun to provide instructional materials in electronic formats for all students, so that "it’s not necessarily an accommodation for students with unique needs. That is, it’s a model of universal design for learning (UDL) because all students have access to flexible formats of materials that inherently allow the use of assistive technologies, such as text to speech, screen magnification, and portable media players" (Curry, 2010, pg. 2).

Constructivism theory of learning may be an older established learning theory, but the principles are being resurrected through the UDL framework and the incorporation of new innovative technologies into the learning environment.

These new approaches to instructional design take the principles of constructivist theories and apply them to today's diverse group of learners. Introducing multiple methods of instruction that incorporate different technologies insures knowledge is being actively constructed by the individual and knowing is an adaptive process. The UDL framework designed to integrate technology organizes the individual's experiential world and provides multiple avenues for the learner to develop constructive processes (Center for Applied Special Technology, 2002).


Boghossian, P., (2006) Behaviorism, Constructivism, and Socratic Pedagogy, Educational Philosophy and Theory, Vol. 38, No. 6
Center for Applied Special Technology, (2011) Teaching every student in the digital age, retrieved July 1, 2011 from

Cisco Systems Incorporated, (2011) Cisco Networking Academy, retrieved July 1, 2011 from

Craig, T., Van Lom, M., (2009) Impact Constructivist Learning Theory and Mobile Technology Integration, Theories of Educational Technology, EDTech, Boise State University, retrieved July 12 from

Curry, C., (June, 2010) A Discussion with Mount Desert Island High School: Notes from the June 3rd Webinar, Main Learning Technology Initiative, retrieved July 15, 2011,

Karagiorgi, Y., Symeou, L., (2005) Translating Constructivism into Instructional Design: Potential and Limitations, Educational Technology & Society, Vol. 8, No. 1, pg., 17-27

Mayer, R. E. (1992). Cognition and instruction: Their historic meeting within educational psychology, Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 84, pg. 405-412