A group of students sitting around a desk in an academic English class talk to a teacher

Inclusive educational design

Removing barriers

Approximately 8.7% of Imperial's student population have a disability. Around 50% have English as a second language. 100% of students have their own learning preferences. Removing barriers to learning assists all students regardless of their individual needs.

Genuinely inclusive learning and teaching cannot be an afterthought.  It needs to be central to the educational design process at programme and module level and to be communicated to teaching staff and students so that educational rationale and expectations are explicit.   

Here are some key educational principles, prompt questions and associated resources to ensure that inclusive practice is integral to your decision-making and planning processes. 

Information about all programmes is communciated via programme specifications and programme handbooks

Inclusive educational design

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) express what students will be able to know and do by the end of a programme, module or teaching session (i.e. lecture, lab or seminar). ILOs help students and university teachers to prepare themselves appropriately and to monitor progress towards learning what is important in your discipline.

See detailed guidance on how to write and use ILOs

In order for your teaching and learning to be inclusive, transparent and fair there needs to be constructive alignment between:

  • the intended learning outcomes (ILOs)
  • teaching and learning opportunities (e.g. in lectures, labs, seminars, tutorials, online)
  • formative and summative assessment (Link to Monika’s)

i.e. do the teaching and learning opportunities support students in achieving the ILOs and do the chosen assessment methods support and measure students’ achievement of ILOs.

See our detailed guidance on how to achieve constructive alignment in your educational design and teaching.

It is important to identify and clearly state a programme’s competency standards.  These are the ‘academic, medical or other standard applied for the purposes of determining whether or not a person has a particular level of competence or ability [to complete a programme].' (Equality Act, 2010 Sch 13, para 4(3)).

When identifying these competence standards these are important aspects to consider:

  1. Is this a genuine standard and essential to the subject being studied?
  2. Are there aspects of this standard which could present barriers to disabled students?
  3. If so, are there ways that the standard could be expressed so that these barriers were eliminated or reduced without compromising its academic integrity?

Our responsibility:

HEIs have a legal responsibility to develop non-discriminatory competence standards and to design programmes to address these competence standards.

HEIs also have a responsibility to ensure that assessment methods address the competence standards. Adjustments to ways that competence standards are assessed may be required so that disabled students are not put at a disadvantage in demonstrating their achievement.

Contact the Disability Advisory Service for guidance on developing your competence standards.

Based on architecture and industrial design approached from an accessibility perspective, Universal Design (UD) has recently found applications in educational contexts. The educational definition of UD is still fairly arbitrary (i.e. for some educationalists, UD applies only to the teaching materials used such as slides, posters, multimedia sources, whilst for others it spans all educational aspects from curriculum design, mode of delivery, types of assessment, to even the physical spaces designed for education such as flexible learning spaces). A universally-designed curriculum should ideally include:

  • recognition tasks that develop learners’ abilities to gather facts, and categorise what they see, hear and read (e.g. identifying an author’s style is a recognition task)
  • strategic tasks that develop learners’ abilities around planning/performing, organising and expressing their ideas (e.g. solving a mathematical problem or writing an essay are strategic tasks)
  • affective tasks that appeal to learners’ curiosity and interest (i.e. how learners are challenged, excited, or interested in a particular topic) (Hall, Meyer & Rose, 2012).
  • Hall, T.E., Meyer, A., & Rose, D.H., Eds. (2012). Universal design for learning in the classroom: Practical applications. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Newell, A.F. & Cairns, A. (1987). Designing for extra-ordinary users. Ergonomics in Design
  • Universal Design for Learning, Centre for Applied Special Technology
  • Introduction to Usability & Universal Design (Jakob Nielsen)
  • A Universal Design good practice guide and a student toolkit developed by Universell, a Norwegian project
  • Best practice guide [pdf]

It is important to consider whether your curricula content is informed by different social and cultural perspectives.  The following questions should help you to critically evaluate this:  

  • Do you include examples, cases studies and ideas that represent a range of experiences and perspectives, along the lines of culture, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious and age?  If not, can you justify why sources and examples represent a predominantly specific perspective?
  • Do the important contributors to science, medicine, engineering and business that you refer students to represent a variety of identities?
  • Does your reading list represent a range of international sources and areas of interest?
  • Do you discuss diversity, or the lack of it, in academia and/or industry in your discipline?
  • Does the programme allow for consideration of inclusive practices in the wider world? e.g. are students considering how doctors, engineers, scientists and other professionals can work to improve inclusivity?

Below are useful resources for considering the inclusivity of your programme's content i.e. syllabus.

  • Diversity and Inclusive Teaching Practices in STEM, Center for Teaching Excellence of the University of Virginia
  • Inclusive Teaching Resources and Strategies, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, Univeristy of Michigan
  • Universities Scotland Race Equalities Toolkit Learning and Teaching.
  • 'Why is my curriculum white?' a 20min video created by the UCL students’ union. The NUS Black Students Campaign National Students Survey identified that, '42 per cent did not believe their curriculum reflected issues of diversity, equality and discrimination' and that, '34 per cent stated they felt unable to bring their perspective as a Black [BME] student to lectures and tutor meetings’


Why is my curriculum white?
  • 'Building inclusivity: engagement, community and belonging in the classroom' a video by Bob Matthew, University of Stirling


Building inclusivity: engagement, community and belonging in the classroom

Active learning is inclusive by its nature. It enables students and teachers to monitor students’ understanding and progress towards the achievement of learning outcomes. There is evidence that active learning has a bigger positive impact on minority groups. Below are evidence-based examples to illustrate how you can design active learning in your curriculum:

Programme evaluation is an important and often under considered phase. It is worth considering:

How often is the curriculum reviewed for inclusivity? Download the Inclusive Teaching and Learning Checklist which should help with this evaluation process.

Are there opportunities for students to be engaged in the design of the curriculum?  The departmental students well-being and academic representatives are ideal partners.