Providing Multiple Means of Engagement

by Carol Seibert

This is the last installment in a four-part series discussing Universal Design for Learning. It first appeared in the LeaderLink eNewsletter.

If you could listen in on the thoughts and conversations of diverse learners in your classroom, you might hear the following:

“Why do I have to learn this? I can’t imagine WHEN I would ever need to know about (skill/information).”

“I can’t understand that textbook no matter HOW hard I try, so why bother?”

“Oh great… another boring video. TIme for a nap.”

“With everyone talking and moving around in this classroom, I can’t concentrate. I’ll NEVER finish my part of this presentation!”

“This is so cool! I’ll check it out on the Internet later.”

Which learner do you think will experience the greatest learning success?

Engaged Learners are Effective Learners

The importance of student engagement and motivation in successful learning is well documented. In their book Learning to Read in the Computer Age (1998), Anne Meyer and David Rose cite several studies to emphasize the importance of engagement and intrinsic motivation in learning success.

Intrinsically motivated students tend to persist longer, work harder, actively apply strategies, and retain key information more consistently (Guthrie, McGough, et al., 1996; Guthrie, Van Meter, et al., 1996; Malone, 1981; Piaget, 1951; Shulman & Keislar, 1966).

Research is clear: learners who are not engaged and motivated are not learning as effectively as their engaged and motivated peers. This month, we are going to offer ideas for integrating the third Principle of Universal Design for Learning into your curriculum.

Principle #3: Provide multiple means of engagement to connect learners to the “why” of learning, provide resources at appropriate levels of difficulty and challenge, and address learners’ diverse interests and learning preferences.
Engage and Motivate

Environments that offer multiple means of engagement connect learners to the curriculum in the following explicit and meaningful ways:

Choice of Content and Tools

Offer choices of content and tools to provide diverse learners with the opportunity to engage in learning that is most meaningful and motivating to them.

  • Print, audio and/or computer books, magazines and newspapers
  • Internet resources (such as web quests)
  • Digital cameras (still images and video)
  • Audio recorders and players (including iPods)
  • Graphics libraries (photographs and clip art)
  • Instructional, word processing, presentation and simulation software
  • Adjustable Levels of Challenge

We each learn most effectively when the challenge is enough to stretch us beyond our current level of functioning while still being within our capacity to learn effectively (Vygotsky, 1962). Offer multiple resources at a variety of levels to meet the unique needs of individual learners.

  • Learning software/games with multiple difficulty and content levels
  • Choices in explicit learning goals that allow learners to set realistic goals and appropriate challenges themselves
  • Print content at a variety of difficulty levels
  • Variety of scaffolds to support learning (e.g. audio to support print text, graphics to illustrate complex information, etc.)

Choice of Rewards

Individual learners have different ideas about what motivates them in terms of external rewards and/or punishments. In fact, research suggests that emphasizing extrinsic rewards can diminish a learner’s motivation, and even reduce the quality of learning outcomes (Condry, 1977; Corno, 1993; Kohn, 1993; Lepper & Greene, 1978; Malone, 1981). A more effective strategy provides the learner with immediate feedback, not unlike the immediate feedback the learner receives in a much-loved video game. Such feedback builds a learner’s awareness of his or her own personal accomplishments, challenges and progress.

Choice of Learning Context

Diverse learners have unique preferences and requirements regarding their learning context. Address this diversity by offering a variety of options:

  • Individual, small group and whole group tasks, discussions and projects
  • Choice of environments that offer a range of noise and activity levels (e.g. interactive classroom environment, quiet study areas, etc.)
  • Multiple levels of scaffolding, instructions and/or task structure (e.g. designing a web quest or internet research project with several levels of structure, from independent web searches to teacher-guided links with scripted questions and tasks)

Learners As Unique As Their Fingerprints

Brain research is making it increasingly clear that no two individuals experience, learn about or respond to the world around them in the same way. Our response is as unique as our personal fingerprint.

This presents educators with an exciting challenge: to create a learning environment in which ALL learners can be successful. As we learn to apply the three principles of Universal Design for Learning in our classrooms and instructional design, more and more learners will begin to experience success. Success in the classroom builds lifelong learners.


Meyer, A. and Rose, D. (1998). Learning to read in the computer age. [online book]

Rose, D. and Meyer, A. (2002). Teaching every student in the digital age: Universal design for learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Digital Media—A Tool for Increasing Learner Success

Good digital media is versatile: it provides multiple opportunities and ways for diverse learners to experience success. Don Johnston Incorporated is one company that provides software to help you quickly and easily provide a range of opportunities for learners to acquire, practice, apply and demonstrate skills and knowledge, express thoughts and opinions, and become personally engaged in learning. The software includes FREE templates and multimedia resources.

Email your questions and comments about UDL to Carol Seibert at:


To learn more, go to the following links:

Universally-Designed Product Information (SOLO®, Read:OutLoud®, Draft:Builder®, Write:OutLoud®, Co:Writer® and more):

UDL Professional Development

… from the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST)

Downloadable Resources

… from Don Johnston Incorporated (including SOLO Templates, Co:Writer Topic Dictionaries):
… from CAST (Teaching Every Student (TES) Website)
… from CAST (Learning to Read in the Digital Age)

Be sure to check out these two SOLO Assignment Templates for teaching and practicing reading and writing strategies the UDL way:

Interview a Friend 2 Paragraph — Learners interview a friend and write a short article about that friend.

Human Body Vocabulary — Use this SOLO assignment template to help learners select, research and learn new vocabulary words related to the Human Body.

Read the first 3 installments of Carol’s series, Success for All Learners:

Part I—From Dream to Reality Using Universal Design for Learning

Part II—Providing Multiple Means of Representation

Part III—Providing Multiple Means of Expression

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