Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that uses scientific insights into how people learn to help optimize learning experiences by meeting the needs of all students (The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) (2018) – CAST is a nonprofit education research and development organization that created the Universal Design for Learning framework and UDL Guidelines, now used the worldwide to make learning more inclusive.) I have already discussed its principles and application in a previous article. In this article, I would like to expand a little more on the Multiple Means of Engagement guideline of UDL and its implementation.
CAST’s UDL Guidelines are currently being updated as part of their UDL Rising to Equity initiative, and the organization seeks feedback from researchers and practitioners alike to make sure these guidelines keep being relevant and useful for educators in all disciplines.
This guideline refers to the ‘Why’ of learning as it relates to the affective networks that touch upon ‘individuals’ interest and motivation to learn something new. For this guideline to be applied effectively, educators need to foster a learning environment where students are adequately challenged and motivated to learn. For this, it is crucial that educators:
Optimize individual choice and autonomy: Motivated learners are more empowered to take charge and responsibility for their learning. Allowing them to decide on recognition methods for their work, the content and context used for assessing skills, and the tools they use to gather and organize information can foster self-determination and pride in their accomplishments.
Optimize relevance, value, and authenticity: Students are more connected to learning experiences that are meaningful and relevant to their lives outside the classroom. Therefore, ensure the learning activities provide socially relevant tasks, inclusive of, and appropriate for diverse cultures, ages, and ability levels. Plus, make sure they are also personalized and contextualized to the ‘learner’s lives. Similarly, include activities that prompt students to solve problems and work collaboratively in real-life scenarios.
Minimize threats and distractions: Learners are more likely to meaningfully engage in learning when they feel they are in a safe space— a space where they will not be judged or ridiculed for making a mistake. To minimize potential threats to ‘students’ psychological safety and avoid distractions that may hinder learning, make sure you vary the level of novelty and risk by providing class planners and routines, provide variations in the pace and intensity of work, include independent and group work, and involve all learners in class discussions.
Heighten salience of goals and objectives: For students to really grasp the purpose and significance of a learning activity, they must be reminded of its goals. Therefore, make sure to display lesson and activity goals in diverse formats and places (i.e., discussion boards, course syllabus, etc.), require learners to state the goals in their own words, emphasize the difference between long- and short-term goals and have open discussions on the parameters required to achieve excellence while being mindful of ‘students’ cultural background and interests.
Vary demands and resources to optimize challenge: Even if all learners can benefit from being challenged in the classroom in order to create and produce new knowledge and meaning, not all of them need to be challenged in the same ways. Therefore, provide alternatives in the accepted tools and intensity levels, and emphasize process, effort, and improvement standards over external evaluation and competition.
Foster collaboration and community: Communication and collaboration are skills all learners need to develop to succeed in different academic and professional environments. Fostering communities of learners and peer mentoring opportunities should be a focus for educators. Provide flexible instead of fixed groupings to allow multiple role exploration, give each group clear goals, roles, and responsibilities, support group performance expectations by creating clear rubrics and instructions.
Increase mastery-oriented feedback: Learners need assessments guidance that emphasizes effort and process. Provide feedback that is relevant, timely, constructive, and does not focus on peer comparison and competition.
Promote expectations and beliefs that optimize motivation: Learners feel more motivated when they can set goals that inspire confidence and ownership of learning. Offer tasks and activities that foster self-regulatory and self-reflective skills. For instance, prompts and checklists can help students set self-regulatory goals like reducing the frequency of engaging in distractions.
Facilitate personal coping skills and strategies: To help students develop healthy responses, educators can use real-life scenarios to model the effective use of coping skills and managing frustrations. Also, educators can challenge assumptions by simply using more inclusive language, e.g., how can I improve on certain areas? instead of I am not good at chemistry.
Develop self-assessment and reflection: Students can benefit from focusing on progress toward goals and from learning from mistakes. It is recommended to display data that shows student progress and achievements; such data can be displayed as checklists, charts, and before and after photos, among others.
Erika Giraldo has over 10 years of experience as a teacher and as an educational technologist. Passionate about enhancing accessibility and inclusivity in digital learning environments, she is dedicated to leading teams, assessing content, creating training, and developing human capital. Committed to evaluating the needs of both faculty and students, her goal is to provide pedagogically sound advice that helps individuals choose the best educational solutions possible.