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Universal Design for Learning
The Engagement Principle

Options for Recruiting Interest

As explained in the video Introduction to Multiple Means of EngagementOpens in a new window in the previous section, all individuals differ markedly in the ways in which they connect emotionally, derive purpose, experience autonomy, and are willing to persist through challenges while learning. There is no one singular method or strategy that will respond to this diversity. Keeping learners engaged means they are provided with multiple ways to partake in learning, helping them to personally identify "why" they are learning something and what real connections this learning can have to their lived experience.

A strategy to recruit all learners equitably is to provide sources of information that are meaningful and relevant to different racial, cultural, ethnic, and gender groups. This proactive approach is culturally sustaining because it empowers students by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes (Fovet, 2021). 

Options for Recruiting Interest

Below are three “checkpoints” or strategies for the options for recruiting interest guideline. If you click on each of these checkpoints, you will find examples of how these strategies can be implemented into practice.

Optimize individual choice and autonomy

Providing choice for learners helps them design the learning conditions that work for them. Providing a variety of organizational tools can also help learners manage cognitive loadOpens in a new window and screen fatigue. Opportunities for agency and independence are vital to engage and interest learners. Consider providing opportunities for learners to choose:

  • the type of rewards or recognition available;
  • the tools used for information gathering or production;
  • content, colour, design, graphics, layouts;
  • the sequences or timing to complete subcomponents of tasks; and
  • the design of classroom activities and academic tasks.
Optimize relevance, value, and authenticity

Vary activities and sources of information so that they can be:

  • personalized and contextualized to learners’ lives;
  • culturally relevant and sustaining;
  • socially relevant; and
  • inclusive of different racial, cultural, ethnic, and gender groups.

Design activities so that learning outcomes are:

  • authentic;
  • communicate to real audiences;
  • reflect a purpose that is clear to the participants;
  • allow for active participation, exploration, and experimentation;
  • invite personal responses, evaluation. and self-reflection to content and activities; and
  • include activities that foster the use of imagination to solve novel and relevant problems.
Minimize threats and distractions

Vary the level of novelty or risk:

  • Charts, calendars, schedules, visible timers, and cues can increase the predictability of daily activities and give advance notice of novel events.
  • Create class routines.
  • Create a welcoming, non-judgemental, and supportive classroom climate. 

Vary the level of sensory stimulation:

  • Moderate the presence of background noise or visual stimulation by adding noise buffers or limiting the number of features or items presented at a time.
  • Vary the pace of work, length of work sessions, availability of breaks, or timing or sequence of activities.
  • Vary the social demands required for learning or performance, and the requirements for public display and evaluation.
  • Involve all participants in whole class discussions.

Are learners being given the right amount of choice in course, assessment, and activity design? Do learners feel valued in the learning environment? Are the activities and information valuable to learners?

The UDL FrameworkOpens in a new window incorporates checkpoints for each guideline so that educators can anticipate the barriers learners may experience and proactively remove or mitigate these barriers. To see some examples of how to design learning spaces with barriers in mind, explore the Barriers to Learning Activity Cards below:

On one side of the card is a common barrier to learning. Before you turn it over, predict what a possible solution could be to help overcome that barrier. Turn the card to view a possible solution and the UDL checkpointOpens in a new window (where applicable). Remember that one barrier will likely have multiple solutions.

Flip card activity

Barriers to Learning


If using a mouse, trackpad, or touch device, press the card, or the Flip the card button to flip the card and show the possible solution. From here you can navigate to the next card. To return to a card, use the previous button.

If using a keyboard or screen reader, press the tab key move between the next, previous links, and any links within a card. You can use the Left arrow and Right arrow keys to flip cards and navigate between cards.

Card 1 of 6
Front of card 1
A photo image of Nancy Grave's painting called Distract. It is a modernist style painting of sky, ground and on the right side a tree. There are many lines and shapes of different colours woven through to depict a busy visual space.

Barrier: Distractibility

Source: "Nancy Graves" by rocor is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

When people see themselves in their learning, they feel welcomed.

Nadia Richards, Manager of Anti-racism Integration, GBC

Using an intersectional lens to scan our educational environment can help identify opportunities to welcome and reflect the range of learners’ lived experiences in positive ways. It also helps us to note instances of stereotypes and negative inferences that can interfere with learner interest and ability to be present. Past experiences of marginalization generally result in a hyper alertness to further harm so that “motivation is more about the assessment of difficulty than the size of the reward” (Shanker, 2022).

Student Voices: The Power of Honouring Social Identity2:07 min

Hear college student Nico Abad talk about the power of honouring social identities.

Next sectionOptions for Sustaining Effort and Persistence