About the A11Y Corner

The A11Y Corner is all about accessibility, with a specific focus on accessibility-related pedagogies that also support overall equity and inclusiveness. A11Y (pronounced “A-one-one-Y”, or A-eleven-Y”) is a numeronym for the word “accessibility”. It is used most often as shorthand, especially on social media platforms such as Twitter. When you see it, remember A11Y=Accessibility.

We’ll post content about once a month to highlight ideas, resources, and other information that address accessibility. In our first post, the spotlight on is Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and how it’s promotion of self-empowered learning impacts student retention. UDL and accessibility are often connected, and share the idea that information has to be shared in a variety of ways to ensure that we reach all students.

The Satisfaction of Self-Empowered Learning through UDL

As individuals, we want the freedom to make our own choices. Just as we are more satisfied when we get to choose the toppings on our pizza, we’ll also be more satisfied if we can choose how we learn. I personally would hate to be served pineapple pizza with no other options – not only would I be dissatisfied, I’d also be disappointed and hungry (I just can’t eat pineapples on pizza). 

And when it comes to learning, students who are allowed to choose from a variety of ways to learn, engage, and express themselves are more satisfied with the outcome of the course and they will more likely feel that they’ve actually learned something of value from the course. 

UDL focuses on empowering student learning through choice and options. Providing multiple ways to engage with course information stimulates students’ interest in learning. Basically, the more interested they are in learning, the more likely they will stay engaged. Research shows there’s a definite link between student engagement and retention (Kuh et al, 2008, Chen, Lattica & Hamilton, 2008; Conner, 2011; Hattie, & Anderman, 2013).

Thinking more about engagement in the classroom – it’s vital to learning because if we are engaged, it’s easier to make connections and relate what we’re learning to other relevant information. Making connections and relating to existing information is how we give new information meaning, which leads to a deeper understanding of what we’re learning. We need this deep understanding if we want to store the information in our long-term memory. Long-term memory storage is the goal – if it’s there, we’ve retained it and can retrieve it for later use. 

As UDL suggests, giving options when teaching a new concept and during assessments further empowers students because they get to choose how they receive information and then show what they’ve learned. There are many ways to include options in your course – a very easy one for teaching a new concept is to provide both articles and videos that address the topic you’re teaching, and let students choose which one they prefer to use to learn. For assessments, you could give students the option to write, record, or present (through slides, infographics, etc) their responses to an assessment.

What’s really great about UDL is that it thrives on self-empowerment. Students are given options, but they are responsible for choosing what works best for them. The instructor is there to guide self-reflection to help the student understand why the choice was correct or incorrect and how to use this reflection to determine future choices for learning.

Providing choices through UDL gives students access to the tools they need for learning, and the opportunity to learn in the way that’s best for them. It makes for a satisfied student who will be more likely to persist in completing their educational goals.


  • Chen, H, Lattica, L, & Hamilton. (2008). Conceptualizing engagement: Contributions of faculty to Student Engagement in Engineering.  Journal of Engineering Education, 97(3): 339-352.
  • Conner, T. (2011). Academic engagement ratings and instructional preferences: Comparing behavioral, cognitive, and emotional engagement among three school-age student cohorts. Review of Higher Education and Self-Learning, 4(13): 52-62.
  • Hattie, J., & Anderman, E. M. (2013). International guide to student achievement. New York: Routledge.
  • Kuh, G, Cruce, T, Shoup, R, Kinzie, J, and Gonyea, R (2008) Unmasking the Effects of Student Engagement on First-year College Grades and Persistence. Journal of Higher Education, 79, 5, pp. 540-563.
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