Over the past year, when in-person engagement was not possible due to pandemic restrictions, many YouthBuild programs transitioned to virtual learning and programming as a strategy to provide services to participants. As states begin to ease restrictions, YouthBuild programs may continue to use virtual learning environments to meet participant needs. 

Program staff may be asking themselves, "How can we design virtual learning environments that are effective and inclusive for our participants and staff?"   Below are two approaches programs can consider using as part of this work.

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an asset-based approach to instruction that supports effective teaching for diverse learners. The UDL framework includes three focus areas that support instructors in creating learning plans that offer more customization to engage all types of learners. CAST, the organization that developed the UDL framework, has provided three key questions to consider when planning online lessons.

  • Does the lesson provide options for engagement that can help all learners?
  • Does the information presented provide options for all learners?
  • Does the activity provide options for all learners to act strategically and express themselves? (CAST, https://www.cast.org/impact/universal-design-for-learning-udl, accessed 4/15/21)


The National Center on Accessible Educational Materials has developed the POUR framework for designing and evaluating virtual learning environments for accessibility. The framework’s principles include four qualities of inclusive and accessible virtual learning.

  •  Perceivable content:
    • Should closed captions or transcripts be included?
    • Is the text readable and legible?
  • Operable content:
    • Does the content have clear headings to help learners understand when you move from one idea to the next?
    • Do learners have sufficient time to engage in the content? Do some learners need more or flexible time?
  • Understandable content:
    • Is the structure predictable for the learners? If not, will the change in structure confuse the learner or unnecessarily burden the learner?
    • Are the directions clear?
  • Robust content:
    • Are learners able to use all the functions of the learning platform? (This may depend on the device they are using.)
    • Do any learners need assistive technologies? (voice to text, translations, readers)

(National Center on Accessible Educational Materials, https://aem.cast.org/create/designing-accessibility-pour, accessed 4/16/21)

To learn more, register for Designing an Effective and Inclusive Virtual Learning Environment for Academic Success, which will be held on May 25th at 2 pm E.T.  In this webinar YouthBuild USA and CAST will present teaching and learning strategies instructors can immediately implement.

Related Resources

CAST: Remote Learning Resources

Supporting Second Change Students with Universal Design for Learning

Education Toolkit and Universal Design for Learning Video Series

Educational and Instructional Practice E-Learning Series