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The UDL Framework Part 3 - Engagement 'The WHY of Learning'

Well, we are onto part 3 of the UDL blog series and we are ready to share with you our findings and practical takeaways for the second principle in the framework, ‘Engagement’. Hello to those of you who have been on this journey with us and read the two blogs prior to this one. For those of you who want to catch up on this series, check out the first introduction blog here and the blog on the first principle of ‘Action and Expression’ here.

Engagement is a crucial element of a learning experience and each of us differ significantly in the ways in which we become engaged. Neurology, culture, personal relevance, subjectivity or even background knowledge can impact our levels of engagement (CAST, 2018). Some of us may become engaged by spontaneity and unfamiliarity where as others become disengaged or even frightened by this and prefer familiar and structured experiences (CAST, 2018).This is why it is important to cater for a diverse range of learners.

Let’s get into what we found. 

1. Optimize Individual Choice and Autonomy [Checkpoint 7.1 from the UDL Guidelines]

Offering learners choice can enable them to develop self-determination, pride in accomplishment and an increased personal connection to the learning (CAST, 2018). Do you want to be forced to learn something in a particular way? Thinking back to when I was at university, I had to write things out on paper in order to memorise and comprehend the information effectively. If a lecturer had forced me to only type my notes, I would have lost interest in the learning and most likely accepted that I was going to fail. If your learners experience this, you can wave their engagement goodbye. 

Practical takeaways
  • Involve learners in the design process.
  • Give learners choice in how they practice their skills (e.g. speak to a mentor, write in a notepad, explore YouTube videos).
2. Optimize Relevance, Value and Authenticity [Checkpoint 7.2 from the UDL Guidelines]

Imagine being tasked with completing a learning experience that has no relevance to your life or goals? Would you feel motivated to complete it? Learners are engaged by information that is relevant, captures their interest and that adds value to their lives. Every learning experience they complete should show them why it’s worth their time. 

Practical takeaways

Deep Dive Human Centred Design YouTube Video by Belvista Studios.

3. Minimize Threats and Distractions [Checkpoint 7.3 from the UDL Guidelines]

This is a really interesting consideration and to be honest, one that we may not think about often enough at Belvista Studios (until now of course!). The UDL Guidelines explores the concept of a safe and distraction free environment for learners. In the case of eLearning, this would mean that learners are able to complete the learning experience in an environment that supports their learning. The difficult thing about eLearning is that once we release the learning experience, we don’t always have control over where or when it’s completed by learners. This is great in terms of flexibility for learners, however, not so great for ensuring an adequate and distraction-free, learning environment.

Not only could the environment be distracting, the skill level of the learner with technology could also impact their experience. For example if you ask a person who never uses a computer to complete an eLearning module on a computer, it is likely that they may struggle to some extent.

Practical takeaway
  • An example of how we have dealt with a situation like this was when we created an eLearning experience for groundsmen at a school. We were advised that the groundsmen didn’t use computers in their role. With this knowledge, we delivered the online learning experience in a group face-to-face session. The online learning was designed in a way that enabled supervisors to display group activities and reflection questions on screen using a portable iPad. This learning experience was better suited to the style of interaction and learning that the groundsmen were used to at work and helped minimise potential threats.

Screen from the group discussion groundsman eLearning module by Belvista Studios.

4. Heighten Salience of Goals and Objectives [Checkpoint 8.1 from the UDL Guidelines]

Have you ever been completing a learning experience and found yourself in a whirlwind of content, only to stop and think, “What is the point of this?”. Within a learning experience there are often numerous sources of content and objectives that may compete for attention or effort (CAST, 2018). This is why it is important to remind learners of the initial goal and overall intent of the learning experience, to maintain their engagement and motivation. You may compare this to going on a diet, becoming overwhelmed by your hunger and fighting for mental strength, however, as soon as you look at a ‘goal’ photo of the body you have always wanted, you may get a renewed spark of motivation. 

Practical takeaways
  • Prompt the learner to restate the goal through reflective questions or activities.
  • Encourage short-term objectives to reach the long-term goal.
5. Vary Demands and Resources to Optimize Challenge [Checkpoint 8.2 from the UDL Guidelines]

This one is an interesting one and it’s a concept that we consider often in our projects at Belvista Studios. The alignment of the challenge and the resources available to support the learner in completing the challenge is crucial to maintaining their motivation and engagement. You can’t expect a learner to successfully complete a task without the appropriate resources and you can’t expect a learner to maintain motivation if the resources provided result in the challenge becoming too easy. You may have experienced the dissatisfaction and disengagement of a game that was either too easy or too hard, the same goes for learning experiences. 

Practical takeaways
  • Allow learners to tell you their level of knowledge and adjust the content to suit.
  • Ensure that you have provided the learners with the necessary resources to complete the challenges they face.
6. Foster Collaboration and Community [Checkpoint 8.3 from the UDL Guidelines]

The UDL Guidelines discuss the importance of learners communicating and collaborating effectively with a community of learners (CAST, 2018). We as human beings, have learnt complex lessons from each other through knowledge sharing, story-telling and modelling. Whilst eLearning may be commonly known as a solo activity, it doesn’t need to be that way. When structured well, peer cooperation can significantly increase the engagement and motivation levels for learners as a result of the support that it offers (CAST, 2018).

Practical takeaway
  • Encourage learners to collaborate with their peers or supervisors outside of the online environment. 

An example Belvista Studios module encouraging social learning outside of the online environment.

7. Increase Mastery-Oriented Feedback [Checkpoint 8.4 from the UDL Guidelines]:

Mastery-oriented feedback refers to a specific type of feedback. Its aim is to encourage effort and practice over inherent ‘intelligence’ or ‘ability’ (CAST, 2018). If you have heard of the fixed versus growth mindset, this may ring a bell. This distinction is particularly useful for learners with disabilities that may be perceived by themselves or others as permanently constraining and fixed.

Practical takeaways
  • Encourage perseverance.
  • Emphasize effort and improvement.
  • Be informative rather than comparative or competitive.
  • Be constructive and provide positive strategies for success 
(CAST, 2018). 

That’s it for this blog. We hope that you have gained value from the information and practical takeaways. Keep an eye out for the last blog in this series on the third principle from the framework ‘Representation’. If you have been implementing takeaways from this blog series we would love to hear about it. If you would like to discuss the UDL in more detail, contact our passionate founder, Kim Tuohy via or on LinkedIn.


Alberta Education. (2015). [Alberta Education]. (2015, January 30). Making Sense of Universal Design for Learning [Video File]. Retrieved from 

CAST. (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from

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