universal design for learning

Certified BrainPOP Educators Talk Universal Design for Learning

Posted by Andrew Gardner on

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a learning design framework that outlines principles for making curriculum and learning experiences accessible for all. The UDL guidelines have been developed in response to research and theories in psychology, cognition and learning sciences.  At its core, UDL is based on three principles: providing multiple ways to represent knowledge, engage in the learning experience and express understanding.

As part of last year’s Certified BrainPOP Educator course offered through the New York Teachers Center and NYIT, participants read a short article about the theory and engaged in an online discussion about its relationship to BrainPOP’s resources.  Here, we highlight what course members said about the ways BrainPOP meets many UDL guidelines.


Valerie: “The animations provide key concepts non-linguistically with the actions and sounds.”

Jessica: “The movies provide closed captioning, graphics, symbols and verbal definitions.

Roseann remarked  about individualized controls on the BrainPOP interface: “Students are in control of the pacing and volume of the video and can play them over and over.. Even the tone helps infer meaning.  For example, the tone in a video about the Holocaust is different than a video on photosynthesis.”

Marifran: “The dialog between characters rephrases concepts,” which, she notes, allows for students to hear similar content repeated in a different way.

Angie summed up how using BrainPOP allows her to change her teaching focus: “By using BrainPOP, my focus can truly be on teaching students to comprehend the information they receive and transform it into a part of their knowledge base. The content highlights big ideas and relationships.  The available activities, games, printables, Q & A and quizzes provide multiple ways to guide processing and support memory and transfer, thus adding to a student’s usable knowledge base. Students can be offered choices that allow them learn in a way that works best for them.


Jim: “Successful engagement is really about understanding your student. Something that is exciting and fun for one student, like a team competition, may be unsettling or anxiety producing for another. By providing many engagement options, BrainPOP gives you the opportunity to find what interests them on a topic.”

Suanne added that her students “are engaged by the characters of Tim, Moby and Annie.  They are also non-threatening.  Their voices are not too loud for my sensory kids.”

Angie cited the safety of using BrainPOP and the fact that “there are no external threats and distractions to draw their eyes elsewhere.”

Regarding the titles that appear on BrainPOP’s GameUp, Valerie shared that “students challenge themselves and others while games provide heightened salience of goals and objectives, varying levels of challenge and support but also foster collaboration and communication among classmates when this strategy is used in a collaborative environment,” all aspects of engagement guideline #8.

In many cases, Jessica explains, “games actually allow students to figure out coping strategies and do self- assessment while applying what they have learned in the movie.”


Angie considered how a teacher can use the Mixer to design an individualized quiz  “I can see some of my students who can handle smaller chunks of information taking on the material one step at at time to achieve overall mastery.  These students would receive quiz codes that would link to a similar, yet different quiz than their classmates.”

Marifran said, “BrainPOP’s games and activities offer students the opportunity to create strategy, plan and execute, skills that are underutilized by young people who have their schedules dictated to them.”

Carol explored the various “activity pages,” many of which have four different tabs that ask students to express their knowledge in writing in different ways: sequencing of events, checklists, graphic organization, and traditional full-sentence written expression. The games ask students to problem-solve in scaffolded, supported ways that differ based on the content and game mechanics.

Of course, BrainPOP isn’t 100 percent UDL-compliant, but there were many thoughtful suggestions about how we might improve.

Kathryn explained her desire to to see different versions of a game, perhaps a lower level with specific directions given to help the struggling learner, and additionally a higher level of the same game that perhaps asks the student to complete different types of tasks within the same concept.” 

Suanne reminded us that “voice activation would be a nice feature for physically impaired students,” as would selectable text that could be read by a screen reader.


Thinking about BrainPOP through the UDL lens helps clarify the various ways that BrainPOP can help learners of all abilities in diverse settings.  What are your thoughts about BrainPOP and UDL? Please share in the comments!