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Universal Design for Learning
The Engagement Principle

Options for Sustaining Effort and Persistence

Educators can incorporate equityOpens in a new window into curriculumOpens in a new window design, materials and learning spaces to support learners in persisting through challenge in their learning process. Below are three “checkpoints” or strategies for the guideline of options for sustaining effort and persistence. If you click on each of these checkpoints, you will find examples of how these strategies can be implemented into practice.

Options for Sustaining Effort and Persistence

Below are four “checkpoints” or strategies for the options for Sustaining Effort and Persistence guideline. If you click on each of these checkpoints, you will find examples of how these strategies can be implemented into practice.

Heighten saliency of goals

Build in periodic or persistent “reminders” of both the goal and its value to sustain effort and concentration in the face of distracters.

Provide opportunities for learners to make connections between the work they are doing and their own long-term and short-terms goals.

Vary demands and resources to optimize challenge

Build in options so that learners can choose from a variety of entry points to meet their needs based on what will be stimulating enough to keep them interested and motivated versus overwhelmed or bored.

Foster collaboration and community

The distribution of mentoring through peers can greatly increase the opportunities for one-on-one support.

Consider also flexible rather than fixed grouping, which may allow better differentiation and multiple roles, as well as providing opportunities to learn how to work most effectively with others.

Increase mastery-oriented feedback

This type of feedback is critical in helping learners to sustain the motivation and effort essential to learning. Mastery-oriented feedback is feedback that guides learners towards mastery rather than a fixed notion of performance or compliance. It also emphasizes the role of effort and practice rather than “intelligence” or inherent “ability” as an important factor in guiding learners towards successful long-term habits and learning practices. These distinctions may be particularly important for learners whose disabilities have been interpreted, by either themselves or others, as permanently constraining and fixed.

E.g.: “I’ve noticed that when you speak, you provide lots of detail. Have you thought about starting with speech to text when you begin an assignment?”

Mastery-Oriented Learning and Feedback

Let’s take a moment to explore the fourth checkpoint: mastery-oriented feedback or learning.Opens in a new window

First, we acknowledge that the term mastery can evoke negative connotations about the use of power. This serves as another example of why it is important to look at UDL with a complementary lens like anti-oppressive practiceOpens in a new window to bring this consciousness to the forefront during the reflective practice. In the context of learning and what is being referred to here in the UDL guideline of Options for Sustaining Effort and Persistence, mastery-oriented feedback Opens in a new window(also known as mastery-oriented learning) involves educators guiding and coaching learners to “master” concepts and skills at their own pace before they move on to new concepts.

The term was first coined by John B. Carroll (1963). Carroll wished to reproduce achievement levels of students who had access to one-to-one tutoring, and noted a correlation between aptitude and having sufficient time to learn. Building on the work of Carroll, Benjamin Bloom (1971) sought ways to structure the classroom environment that made personalized pace, formative feedback, and opportunities to address gaps available to all. 

In conventional learning environments, students generally move forward at a fixed or fairly fixed pace, doing the best they can before moving on. For many learners, this means moving forward before sufficient mastery has been achieved, often leading to a lower percentage grade. In this situation, a learner’s grade is not an indication of the learner’s ability. Instead, it is an indication of the effects of barriers such as lack of time and opportunity to practice and correct mistakes. With mastery-oriented learning and feedback, students are able to check their progress, address gaps, and revisit and review materials (as a grad student does) in order to achieve mastery before moving on.

Mastery-oriented learning is based on the idea that almost any student can learn almost anything given an infinite amount of time. As mentioned in Module 1, many institutional processes work against ideal conditions for learning, for example, by having a fixed end of term. However, within this constraint, we can offer the building blocks of mastery-oriented learning and feedback so that students can engage at their own pace, build new learning on previously mastered concepts and skills, and value mistakes when they’re made. In mastery-oriented learning, making mistakes is key to the learning process.


How can you make it safer for learners to fail and share that experience with one another? What systemic framing of failure within educational systems needs to be discussed in the learning environment in order for learners to become comfortable with the discomfort of failure?

Educator Strategies for Minimizing Threats6:30 min

In this video, college professors Jeff Brown, Sarika Narinesingh, and Warren Ford share how they minimize threats that may prevent learners from taking risks and how they counter forces that lead to inequitable distribution of power and privilege.

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